The Same But Not Alike

by , Jun 15, 2009, 11:45 AM
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Marketers across all industries are looking for a shorthand method of understanding today's Boomer Consumer. Intuitively, marketers know it is unrealistic to group 76 million Boomers into one overreaching archetype or single-minded characteristic. All Boomers are different. But like all generations, they seem to share a set of similar core traits, formed when they came of age back in the late 1950s, '60s and early '70s.

In our work we've learned that Boomers on the whole are Driven, Transformational, and "Self" Centered.

  • Boomers are Driven. Think rock band Queen: "I want it all and I want it now." Boomers want control and they want immediate satisfaction.
  • Boomers are Transformational. They make change happen; they won't accept the status quo.
  • Boomers are "Self" Centered. They believe in entitlement and personal gratification. Their main question is, "What's in it for me?" Raised as the center of their home universe, Boomers can thank Dr. Spock and their parents for this focus on themselves. In comparison, consider latch-key Generation Xers and their self-image. Many had to deal with both Mom and Dad working or single-parent homes while they were growing up. They are self-reliant and independent. Very different from Boomers.

This framework is a good starting point in understanding the large and dynamic Boomer generation.

Boomers Are 76 Million Individuals

Those generational traits offer a simple lens through which you can view other factors that complete the big picture of today's Boomer Consumer. Not all Boomers are created equal, though, and it would be a mistake to see them as a homogeneous group.

When you have any population of 76 million (roughly Canada, Australia, Cuba and Chile combined), you're going to have incredible diversity and differences. Yes, some Boomers like snow skiing and knitting and French food and social media and duck hunting and just about anything else you can think of. But not all Boomers do.

Reporters and editors have needed a short-cut to identify who they're talking about, so they just use "Boomers" as a catch-all term for people currently in their late 40s, 50s and early 60s. Ultimately, this is a disservice to marketers who, although they can tap into the shared history and culture of Boomers, must also recognize that Boomers are at various life stages and live a variety of lifestyles. Any effort treating Boomers as one-size-fits-all will fail.

Some marketers do grasp the diverse nature of today's Boomers. For example, for the last few years Carnival Cruises has been running a TV and print campaign showing the different things one can experience on a cruise, summing up the message with the line "At any one moment there are a million ways to have fun." Carnival understands that Boomers come in all shape and sizes, and doesn't try to force them into a single definition of what to do while on a cruise.

Another example is a recent ad for tourism in Panama that states, "One beautiful country. Ten inviting destinations." The ad then lists the 10 distinct areas within Panama, from beaches to rain forests to cities. The marketers understand that Boomers will look over the list to see what's of interest to them, and will ignore the other, less relevant places.

Articles, news stories and features about "Boomers" may give the mistaken impression of a single collective of 76 million. But to engage Boomers today, they should be segmented like any "Adults" audience -- by income, education, values, attitude, geography, life stage, and so forth.

Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, see our editorial guidelines first and then contact Nina Lentini.

0 comments on "The Same But Not Alike ".

  1. Suzanne Calvin from The Dallas Opera
    commented on: June 15, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    I'm sorry, but this is such stereotypical nonsense! I was born smack in the middle of the "boom," one of five children, none of whom became accustomed to being "the center of their home universe" for long. Both our parents worked and eventually divorced, leaving the older kids to raise the younger ones. I started working to save for college when I was 12 or 13, having been told that I was on my own with such lofty ambitions. I won't bore you with the rest of the tale, but, suffice it to say that like most of my generation, I did the best I could with the cards I was dealt (and I did it largely on my own). I'm still waiting for the "immediate satisfaction" you think I crave. And my innate sense of "entitlement" has left me driving a nine-year-old low emissions Mazda, living in a house I've wanted to fix up for the past 18 years and striving to do as much as I can for my community-- both inside and outside my company. Please take a real look around before making the mistake of lumping my generation under such easy, inaccurate and intentionally demeaning terms in the future.

  2. Greg Zerovnik from Zerovnik & Co.
    commented on: June 15, 2009 at 12:57 p.m.

    As a leading-edge boomer myself (born 1946) and a part-time college instructor since 1989 (thus being constantly exposed to Gen X and now Gen Y students) I think your assessment of the 3 generalities is only partly true. The transformational part rings true, but self-centeredness does not. My impression is that there is much more of an air of entitlement among Gen X'ers than boomers. They are products of the Great Society philosophy that no one is responsible for their own actions, rather society has done them wrong. Their parents (my generation) were largely over-protective of them as they grew up. And Gen Y more so. Gen X is less concerned with social change, while Gen Y is more concerned about it. I think this is reflective of the "skip-a-generation" nature of social development that seems to require each new generation to reject some values of the previous one in order to claim its own identity. Then the next generation reverts back, in the course of its own rebellion against conformity.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: June 15, 2009 at 1:15 p.m.

    Mistake number one: You did not speak to your audience. This audience. The media minded audience. Mistake number two: The same as number one.

  4. Anastacio Bueno from ConeXiones/Asenz Marketing
    commented on: June 15, 2009 at 1:34 p.m.

    Being a Hispanic Boomer, I like many of my friends want to access certain things either not available at the time or we could not afford. Such as: learning to dance the mambo or the tango or the cha-cha-cha. Because there were no VHS or DVD’s we could not see Spanish-language movies other than at the drive-in or regular theaters. For the Mexican Film industry the 30’s and 40’s is considered the Golden Age. With actor/singers like Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete Pedro Vargas-muy agradecido- and the most famous trio in the world Trio Los Panchos and comedians like the great Cantinflas and Tin Tan. Plus composer Agustín Lara. Where are the movies of one of the great cinematographers-ever-Gabriel Figueroa. Writers like Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz both from our era both Nobel Laureates in literature both Mexicans. Don’t get me going! Artist like Diego Rivera, David Alfredo Sequeiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo who stand side by side with other Spanish-Speaking giants of the 20th Century like Picasso and Dali. (Email me if you have any questions about these or to include some of your favorites) Please forgive me for any misspelled names-spell check went wacky with all the Spanish names.

    I guess I could go on and on. My point is; do not create a “catch all” for the Hispanic population. There are generations of U.S. citizens of Spanish Heritage who may or may not speak the language but carry the heritage in their soul and many Hispanic Boomers, like me, have transmitted that heritage to their children.

  5. Barbara Javitz from indieroad.net
    commented on: June 15, 2009 at 2 p.m.

    i agree with the last comment. Boomers are not too self centered. In fact, many of us who are career transitioning are, in fact, actively involved in the community

  6. Scott Brewitt
    commented on: June 18, 2009 at 4:32 p.m.

    I agree with Barbara's first comment. You're welcome to visit the seminars we put on or the podcasts we run to hear what this demographics really has to offer.

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