The news media have been reporting these “firsts” for Boomers almost since that first Baby Boomer was born, but they don’t always do such a good job of explaining why these events matter. In this case, I’m here to tell the marketing world that this news doesn’t matter.
If you’re trying to market to a generation that spans 18 years and nearly 80 million people, you won’t succeed by marketing to its single oldest member. You need to understand, and market to, its middle.
The real story about Boomers in 2011 is that the average Boomer turns 54 this year, and the generation that still spends more dollars on more products than any other is now firmly and completely ensconced in middle age.
Not old age – middle age.
What matters about Boomers is not that they are old (even assuming that people feel old at 65), but that no one in this famously youth-obsessed generation can still pretend that she (and millions more of them are women) is young.
Before now, marketers have been in denial about how to reach these consumers, assuming either that Boomers can be taken for granted to follow ads targeting their younger peers, or that they won’t resent being treated like seniors. Now that Boomers are so clearly neither young enough to justify the former nor old enough to appreciate the latter, marketers need to find new words and ways to engage the 78 million consumers who are in their own unique stage of life. How to start?
The first step is understanding what that lifestage means. At VibrantNation.com one phrase we have used to describe this stage for women is: “post-minivan, pre-retirement.” This has helped some marketers we work with understand that there actually is a meaningful stage of life between active parenting and moving to Arizona.
Whatever the phrase or research that works, once you recognize that this lifestage is unique, marketers can appreciate that you can’t successfully engage a woman by talking to her as if she were either her 27-year old daughter or her 75-year old mother.
In survey after survey at VibrantNation.com, we have found that Boomers perceive themselves to be in a dramatically different stage of life, defined by recent changes more than early events, and determined by a view of the future that looks dramatically different at 54 than it did at 44.
In a recent survey on diet and health issues, we found that for half of the Boomer women who consider themselves overweight, that condition is a recent phenomenon that started with menopause, and not either a lifelong condition or even one that began with motherhood. If you are Weight Watchers or Curves, you need to understand that many Boomers’ desire to control their weight is a new issue and intimately connected with their stage of life.
In a recent finance survey, we found that Boomer attitudes to financial planning have also changed dramatically in midlife – not because some Boomers are now 65, but because all Boomers can now imagine being 65. Their primary financial goal for the future is independence – meaning that their primary fear is that they will have to rely on others to survive old age. Banks and insurance companies that show women dependent on men need to understand that 97% of Boomer women assume that they will have to take control of their financial future for themselves.
In one category after another, Boomers tell us that marketers who understand their stage of life will get more of their business.
In real estate, most Boomers plan to stay in their current home for the next 10 years. If they do think about moving, it will be to try out a new city or neighborhood, not for health reasons or because they are ready for so-called “independent living.”
In the retail world, Boomer women are shopping online not just because of the convenience but because they resent the bad service they get in retail stores. Retailers need to be addressing the needs of the shoppers who make up 1/3 of their sales and who don’t feel their needs are being met.
And, finally, in a tech gadget survey we’ve conducted in anticipation of the upcoming Consumer Electronic Show (CES), 13% of Boomer women told us they own e-readers, suggesting that Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble should be paying particular attention to consumers whose lifestage gives them the time, discretionary income, and interests to buy these new devices.
As 2011 begins, make sure you spend more time thinking about the 54-year old Boomer than the 65-year old Boomer. Ask them how your products and services can serve the particular interests and needs of consumers at their stage of life, and ask them what kind of messages they respond to.
If you do, I predict that you will learn more about what it means to be no longer young, but not yet old, and you will gain more business from all Boomers – and not just their 65-year old uncles.