Winning With Boomers Takes Heart

by , May 24, 2010, 8:26 AM
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At age 46, Tom Lynch is a trailing-edge Boomer. But he has already made an important shift in his life, from focusing on becoming someone to being someone. It's a shift marketers need to understand if they want to effectively connect with today's older Boomer consumer.

For background, Tom is one of us -- a marketing guy. His career has been in marketing and advertising, on both the client and agency side: He's been with Gallo Wines, Glen Ellen Wines, his own interactive ad agency, the global financial services giant ING, and interactive marketing firm Razorfish.

But he's left all that behind for a new venture, one that fits with what motivates him today, and capitalizes on what motivates Boomers today, too.

Tom runs Worthwhile Wine Company, an importer of South African wines that are sustainably made. The concept is simple, according to Tom: "First, we have to deliver great wines -- if not, we won't be in business very long."

Then, he adds, "We have to make a difference. Our company needs to help make people's lives better."

Tom's operation does that by being a "triple bottom line" business (profits, people, planet). It is Fair Trade-certified, donates proceeds to a nonprofit in the U.S. and South Africa, and buys off-sets so each bottle entering the U.S. has the same carbon footprint as domestic wine.

This focus is a far cry from the rest of Tom's career, where he was "always trying to get U.S. consumers to buy more stuff that they probably didn't need."

The turning point came when he and his then-13-year-old daughter, Miranda, took a two-week trip to South Africa, visited a rural Zulu village and helped the inhabitants create sustainable food gardens. Miranda was so affected by the disparity between her life in Atlanta and life in the village that she started a nonprofit, Isipho, to help.

Isipho ("i-SEE-po") provides villagers training and tools to grow their own vegetables, thus reducing the birth defects, learning disabilities and illnesses brought on by severe and chronic malnutrition. Isipho also supports the schools with materials and teacher training with the aim of boosting literacy, school attendance and graduation rates.

Working with Miranda on the nonprofit at night while promoting conspicuous consumption by day did not fit right with Tom. The result was Worthwhile Wine, where he leveraged his experience in the industry with his desire to make a profit while still thinking about people and the planet.

In our work studying older consumers, Tom's personal transformation is common. Typically, around age 50 we see a shift away from "success" and more towards "significance" as an underlying behavioral motivation. David Wolfe, author of Ageless Marketing, points out that such a shift isn't a generational thing, it's a developmental thing. Reach age 50 and beyond, and one's motivation for many decisions in life shifts.

More importantly, Tom's shift also mirrors what is happening in the market with today's Boomer consumers. They have moved, too. Marketers need to understand this shift so they can connect with older Boomers. Part of the success of companies like Whole Foods, Starbucks, and even Ikea can be attributed to their socially responsible approach to sourcing their products. Going forward, companies and brands with a "triple bottom line" focus will be the ones that attract Boomer dollars.

Combining rational marketing value (price and quality) with human, emotional values is why we think companies like Worthwhile Wines will succeed. Boomers will vote with their wallets, which are now attached to their heartstrings.

0 comments on "Winning With Boomers Takes Heart ".

  1. Ute Hagen from YSC Your Success Counts GmbH
    commented on: May 24, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.

    Hi Matt. Good to hear from you. As always a very meaningful article. I see it happening with my friends left and right. And being in Germany now, it's no wonder that Germany is so advanced in their concern for the planet -- it's the strength of the numbers of the boomer generation. Marketers really, really need to understand this. Greetings from Germany Ute

  2. Ronda Wasser from Grandgifting
    commented on: May 24, 2010 at 11:34 p.m.

    Matt - Thanks so much for this poignant story. In visiting Tom and Miranda's Isipho website for just a few minutes I'm astounded at the power we Boomers have to change the world.

    We need not have been discouraged that it didn't all happen when we were 20-somethings: We just needed time to produce kids like Miranda to partner with us in the revolution.

    You've explained it perfectly: From "focusing on becoming someone to being someone"..." a shift away from "success" and more towards "significance"

    Thanks so much for this memorable story. May we all find our way to promoting the 'triple bottom line'.

  3. Haralee Weintraub from Haralee.com
    commented on: May 25, 2010 at 6:58 p.m.

    I love the insight of from becoming to being someone. We Boomers are who we are and embrace it!

  4. Elmer Rich iii from Rich & Co.
    commented on: May 26, 2010 at 4:21 p.m.

    It's useful to remember that there are physiological bases for these kind of personality changes - especially in men.

    Starting in the mid-40's the male brain starts to "wind-down" and becomes more interested in nurturing vs. instrumental behaviors and feelings.

    Women's brains don't change significantly until abt 70. In some cultures this normal developmental brain change has been institutionalized by women taking over businesses in mid-age.

    We have posted on this an will do more.

    http://bizbrain.tumblr.com/post/429419502/good-piece-on-behavioral-finance-and-cognitive

    http://bizbrain.tumblr.com/post/434825341/stanford-older-investors-prone-to-mental-misfires

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