Markets Focus: Boomer Women

Marketing to the maturing woman's heart, mind, and spirit

It happens at every technology conference. Some Web 2.0 smarty-pants touts what he considers the latest and greatest technology by boasting, "We made it so easy my mom can use it."

It's a good thing. Mom's brain is so addled keeping track of the soccer schedule, the dinner menu, and what's happening on "Desperate Housewives" that she doesn't have a spare neuron for fooling around with technology. Right?

Wrong.

Sure, women ages 30 to 55 are still the primary homemakers and child-tenders, but they're also breadwinners, and they take an equal place beside men, including in the arena of Internet technology. Today, 85 million women use the Internet, half of all users. Marketers who don't get that could be missing half their market.

Take electronics, for example. One of the hottest searches on Yahoo during the holiday season was "flat-screen TV," and 48 percent of searchers were female; 42 percent of those were in the 35-to-54 age group.

Stereotypes Don't Hold

"That blows up the stereotype that women don't understand or get involved in electronics purchases," says Diane Rinaldo, senior director of the retail category for Yahoo Search Marketing. While they are making purchases for children more often than men, the gap isn't that big. Just 58 percent of Yahoo searches for "toys" were done by women.

These women, the trailing age of the baby boomers and their younger sisters, are very different from the first boomers and very different from each other.

Having graduated from college in a soft job market, women in this age group feel the need to manage their environment, property, time, and their own and their family's safety and well-being, says Corinne Asturias, consumer strategist for market research firm Iconoculture. "They're grounded in reality, and they laugh in the face of contrived media messages," she says. While older boomers were extremely indulgent, their younger cohorts want the good life, but they need to be convinced of the value of what they buy.

To hit these hot buttons, marketers need to deliver on their brand promises. They can take advantage of nostalgia, but they'd better get it right. "People think of boomers as old hippies, but these women were never hippies. They were 8, 9, or 10 years old when Woodstock happened," Asturias says. "They're 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,'" not 'The Graduate.'"

Sharon Whiteley, president and CEO of the baby boomer-oriented site ThirdAge, concurs. "It's important for marketers to understand who we are as people - what's important in our lives, what's in our hearts and minds, and to have an appreciation for that."

Life's a Stage

The standard demographic slice-and-dice won't work when you want to reach these women. She may be a new mom at 45, a CEO at 30. And she won't be a senior until she's 70. Or maybe 80.

Whiteley calls this the "life happens stage." In the 40s and 50s, health issues begin to appear, parents may die, grandchildren may be born. There may be a divorce, or a second marriage.

"Marketers have used age as shorthand for where someone is in their life journey - and you can't do that anymore. You have to advertise to a life stage," says Matt Thornhill, president of The Boomer Project, a marketing research and consulting firm. Whether you're hawking perfume or 401(k)s, the message needs to focus on how you can meet her needs, not on her age.

These sandwich generation women are time-pressed, but they're hungry for information, Thornhill says. "They'll use the Internet mostly as a resource and research tool and probably a lot of e-mail to keep up with all the things they're supposed to be doing with and for their kids."

Whether it's an ad campaign or an e-commerce site, design and navigation should appeal to these 26-hour-day women, says Jeff Rosenblum, director of research and strategy for Questus, an interactive research, marketing, and design firm.

A New Look for Online

For example, pioneering online community iVillage recently realized that its original audience had moved on to a different life stage: Kids had been sent off to school, and careers were flourishing again.

The network turned to Organic to redesign its Web site to attract a younger audience while reinspiring the existing iVillage community. Organic began the task by creating several personas representing the diverse women in the iVillage audience. To ground the exercise in reality, they filled a purse for each persona with possessions reflecting her life stage.

Organic used carefully considered elements such as gradients and background patterns, moved to a higher screen resolution, and made bold use of Flash and video.

In another example, Questus redesigned the Discovery Channel site with a busy audience in mind. It simplified the layout of each page, streamlined a list of 30 product categories, and added the ability to shop by show.

Sociable Media

User ratings and reviews are very important to women; they're the online equivalent of "recommended by a friend," according to Rosenblum of Questus. "This corresponds to women's offline behavior," he says. Women enjoy conversations, showing off purchases, and sharing information.

ThirdAge has added "Conversations," an area with text and audio blogs, to enable women to connect online in new ways. This social behavior has marketers taking a close look at blog ads.

Elisa Camahort, CEO of BlogHer, which hosts blogs and blogging conferences, says advertisers are excited about using the company's ad network to reach women with an intergrated mulitchannel media plan.

One benefit of using the Internet to market to women, according to Rinaldo, is that it's a natural starting point for women's delight in sharing. For example, some advertisers include recipes in ads, as well as a way to email or IM them to a friend.