Boom Or Bust: Which One Are You?

When people ask me what Boomers think, my first response is, “Which ones?”

I won’t bore you with statistics. If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you know all about the purchasing power of these folks. Notice I didn’t say “demographic.” 

Ever since we’ve identified the Boomer consumer, marketers have continually lumped this group, born between 1948 and 1964 (approximately), into one large bloc. But as we’ve noted before, while targeting Boomers is now a requirement for any healthcare, consumer goods and services, technology and even retirement living business, it’s best not to treat them as a single stereotypical entity.  

A great study from the MetLife Mature Market Institute explains it best. Three groups — Late, Middle and Young Boomers — grew up during very different times, and had very different experiences. And, yes, they should be treated as three distinct target segments.  

But even within these segments, there are subsegments. Take the Baby Busters, for instance. We can thank the sociologists for designating 18 years as the length of each generation, but here’s how I understand it: Busters fall into the group arriving as the birthrate started to drop from its post-World War II highs, or from around 1956 to 1965. A hybrid of the Boomers and Gen Xers, this group came of age in the 1970s and 80s, and most of them were too young to serve in the Vietnam War, which was then winding down, or actively join the ’60s counterculture. Bruce Springsteen was their bard, not Bob Dylan (although I personally like them both).

Which leads to the next point: the most delineating characteristic of the Busters is that their sensibilities can swing toward both Boomer or Gen X attitudes socially, politically and culturally. Think of a registered Republican who votes for the independent candidate, likes vintage punk rock, and is environmentally active. This group has also been referred to as the “Jones Generation.” Opinions on the origin of that label run the gamut from “keeping up with the Joneses” to “jonesing” for a better life. A lot of these folks were swing voters in 2008, and were largely responsible for electing Barak Obama (born in 1961). 

Generally, they’re well educated, tech savvy, watch their diets, have “green” aspirations, buy online and from brick-and-mortar, and from the time they were kids, have devoured all forms of traditional — and now social — media. They’re concerned about their financial future, and some of them are beginning to balance the responsibility of raising their children and taking care of their aging parents. 

While many companies can benefit from developing strong brand relationships with Busters, it seems that a good number of these consumers are skeptical about marketing messages, and may (surprise) ignore something that does not directly resonate with them. 

Retailers and manufacturers may want to take a more subtle, consultative approach that’s less in-your-face. Research shows that this group is more likely to make a purchase after clicking through a website link, that they respond well to product placement in television and films, and that they enjoy a something old/something new mix of nostalgic references and new technology. Some brands that are right on target with this group include Toyota, Pepsi, Volkswagen, E*Trade and Kia.

Sounds complicated. So what’s the implication for marketers? Personally, I think the “stage not age” approach still applies here, the same as it does with any other Boomer segment. Understand that the “life stage mosaic” is complex, and, as it does for our Middle and Young Boomer counterparts, involves lots of moving parts: careers, kids, parents, culture and economics. Keep the message concise, the imaging interesting, and above all, keep it relevant.

For me, turning 50 is no big deal, and I’m not going to consider myself “old” until I’m 75. Or 80. 

Tags: baby boomers
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