Modern Marketing Meets the Most Valuable Generation

As Baby Boomers begin to adopt the latest technologies, marketers must realign their strategies, blending traditional and new media in order to target and retain older consumers.

Demographics currently define the average marketer's customer strategy. Many make assumptions based on age groups, allowing preconceived notions to dictate how they segment and target certain consumers. However, as technology begins to blur the lines between the generations, marketers have come to realize that such strategies must not focus on these clusters as collective entities, but as the dynamic array of individuals that they are. Today, brands are noticing that the need to market to a segment of one has never been more essential and vital for their company's survival in this increasingly competitive market.

Because technology has grabbed the attention of marketers across industries, most have invested much time and effort into developing their digital presence, primarily targeting Millennials, as these supposed "digital natives" hold the greatest potential for future success in the eyes of many brands today. But, if marketers look closely, they will see that, at the heart of all this rapid change, Baby Boomers are the ones who have seen it all. As Kimberly Collins, research vice president, CRM at Gartner, highlights, Boomers were the first adopters when mobile phones were introduced, embracing the big, bulky devices that have now evolved into the smartphones of today. Now, as tablets and smartphones become more affordable and widespread, Boomers are jumping on the bandwagon once again. Based on a study released by MediaPost, 40 percent of Boomer women own an iPad or other tablet-nearly five times the general population ownership rate.

In many cases, marketers believe that this group of consumers born between 1946 and 1964 simply doesn't want to fuss with technology, thus realigning their focus on the up-and-coming Millennial generation under the assumption that this younger group will be more receptive to digital marketing simply because they've grown up alongside evolving technologies. Most marketers neglect to take the time to understand the Boomer generation, for society notoriously values youth. However, no matter how receptive Millennials may be by comparison, brands must consider the economy and where the true potential for spend lies.

Currently, Boomers represent 44 percent of the U.S. population, according to Nielsen. Research also highlights that this generation holds 70 percent of America's disposable income, and buys 49 percent of all consumer-packaged goods. Further research conducted by Nielsen and BoomAgers notes that boomers are set to represent half the U.S. population by 2017, while inheriting $15 trillion within the next 20 years. Of those Boomers polled, 67 percent expect to spend more time on their hobbies and interests once they retire. But, as Ad Age notes, while Boomers make up about one-quarter of the population and have nearly $3 trillion in buying power, less than 5 percent of advertising dollars are spent targeting adults age 35-64.

Brent Green, author of Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business Marketing, Aging and the Future, sites one example of a friend who, though in the Boomer bracket, embraced today's commonplace technologies upon their inception. When the iPhone was initially released in 2007, only those who could afford the astronomical $600 price tag had the luxury of experiencing what this revolutionary device brought to the market. However, because Green's friend had the financial resources to purchase the product, he was willing to meet the higher price point in exchange for advanced technology. Marketers typically see Boomers as an "out of touch" generation, thus failing to take full advantage of their willingness and ability to pay more for the latest technology.

Baby Boomers carry much potential in their pockets, regardless of which marketing messages cross their paths. While Millennials are trying to establish careers, pay off student loans, and save for the future, Boomers are going through many life-changing transitions that involve careful, but generous, spend. Those in their 50s and 60s may be empty nesters, or parents taking care of both teenagers and aging family members. They may be showering their first grandchild with toys, or they may be embracing their lifelong desire to travel. No matter what their life stage, Baby Boomers seek goods and services that offer value and enhance their lives. Green notes that, at this point in life, Boomers have amassed many belongings. With garages and attics full of forgotten items, many may be looking to purge their possessions, so marketers must be sure to position their goods and services in a way that overshadows the desire to unload, often tapping into emotional relevance to appeal to the Boomer generation.

For the creators of Sabi, a provider of health and wellness products, marketing to older generations meant developing a product that solves a universal issue, bridging the gap between age groups with a product that's both functional and aesthetically appealing. These health and wellness products take the average person's pills and medication dosages into account, providing ease of use by applying simplistic pill bottle and travel case designs that makes the aging process a little less cumbersome. Focusing on its current line of pill dispensers, the brand understands the needs of older generations, particularly Baby Boomers, while also promoting these clean, crisp designs as an ideal companion for the travelling Millennial, as the average adult takes at least one pill each day, satisfying customer needs in an age-neutral fashion.

But, if marketers truly want to connect with Baby Boomers, they must first learn about and understand the habits and motivations of this extremely diverse demographic. Because of technology's polarizing effect, every consumer age group includes individuals who that relate with one extreme or the other, but aiming for that happy medium might not be an ideal strategy. Instead, as Collins explains, marketers must look at customer segments, opt-in choices, and channel preferences in order to understand how their target market operates so they may connect with them in the way they want to be contacted.

"It's not going to be a single strategy that will work for all," Collins says. "Marketers must recognize the nuances by understanding their acceptance of certain technologies, and then develop strategies based on the consumer's aptitude and willingness to use technology."

Green notes that traditional media has always been the Boomer's domain, with broadcast, such as television and radio, as well as print, such as newspapers and catalogs, acting as the backbone for relevant marketing strategies. "Baby Boomers are substantially direct-response motivates, especially classic direct response via mail and print advertising," Green says. "This generation grew up as print readers. Many catalog companies have flourished become of Boomers, such as Lands' End and REI. They are still more predisposed to one-to-one marketing via print media than younger generations." However, just as technology evolves, so do people and their behaviors. Marketers must learn about who they're looking at before they make any decision strategies, for generalizations and assumptions will only delay brand development, and potentially alienate customers in the process.