When Older Boomers Drive Away Younger Boomers
There’s a reason we often write about the brands that never got Boomers right, at least never got Boomers right after they started turning 50: there are so many of them. But some brands deserve credit for always having embraced the Leading-Edge Boomers as they aged: brands like AARP, AOL, Chico’s, the PT Cruiser, and the Medicare-focused health insurers.
These brands reaped a big reward for their “first-mover” advantage; they have lots of loyal customers aged 60-70. But now that success may be harming them, as the Trailing-Edge Boomer (who at 50 feels more like the niece than the sister of her 65-year old peer) may be resisting the brands that embraced her elders.
Unfortunately, no one wants to seem old, especially if it means associating with a brand that won its position by celebrating aging.
Case Studies in Technology and Fashion: Hotmail and Chico’s
Founded in 1996, Hotmail became an early market leader among email service providers because its service was easy to adopt and easy to use. (Microsoft bought the company in 1997.) As younger consumers migrated quickly from one new service to another, Hotmail’s customer base (which still includes hundreds of millions of people) started skewing older.
In the words of a recent Slate.com column, “A hotmail.com email address long ago became a mark of naiveté, an address for grandmas and other schemers. Telling people to contact you at Hotmail was an invitation for ridicule—the Internet equivalent of wearing a Kick Me sign.”
To compete with Gmail (which now outranks yahoo.com as the email provider of choice for the Boomer women who subscribe to our website – Hotmail accounts for 11% of our subscribers), Microsoft has recently relaunched Hotmail with not just a new design but a new brand name, and one familiar to corporate email users everywhere: Outlook.
Reviews suggest that the new Outlook (which doesn’t actually work like its clunky corporate cousin) may even be better than Gmail. But the race to success among email services may be more about image than functionality, and the new Outlook will prove its success only when it starts gaining users from AOL and Yahoo, the brands that attracted the Boomer emailer first.
Chico’s has already succeeded with a similar strategy. Its brand for selling intimate apparel, Soma, started as an offshoot of Chico’s and was originally sold only at Chico’s stores. Soma did well enough that Chico’s began introducing freestanding Soma stores; there are now more than 190. As Microsoft hopes its new Outlook service will do for Hotmail, Chico’s used a new brand to attract not only more customers but new customers, many of them younger women (even younger Boomers) who might resist Chico’s as a brand that serves their older peers.
It’s easy to start imagining ways that other brands could get out of this rut, whether they suffer from an aging customer base or aging brand equity that fails to attract the 50 year old.
Curves did a great job of capturing women of all ages into its simple fitness program, but a generation of fitness trends may be passing it by. Why not partner with a brand like CrossFit, currently popular but male-oriented, to introduce CrossFit by Curves, a woman-specific workout with intensity (and a new name) to attract younger customers?
Hospital chains have generally attracted older Boomers out of need, and the same will be true for younger Boomers as they age. But younger Boomers have spent decades seeking not only alternate sources of medical information and treatments; they want to play a more active role in their consumption of medical services. Why not rename a hospital as a “medical campus,” implying that the patients who visit it are as qualified to manage their own care as the professionals they are there to meet. The hospital industry needs to offer a partnership with patients of the future.
The list could go on (Could Chrysler have saved the PT Cruiser by calling it the “Cannondale Cruiser” to attract younger Boomer bikers?), and I hope readers will add their own:
How can your favorite Boomer-centric brand gain relevance among the 50-somethings who see their 60-something peers as “old”?