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.