This week, we're going to look back in order to prognosticate about marketing to Boomers going forward.
At the start of the Great Recession two years ago, we wrote about the return to "Responsible Consumerism," where people focus not on buying more, but on getting more out of what they buy. It's a consumer mindset our grandparents had, thanks to the Great Depression. Our prediction was on three factors:
One, Boomers as a generation have reached the time in their lives when their goals shift from the material to the ethereal. Less about success, more on significance. Not a generational trend, but a human nature shift that happens around age 50 (read some of your old Psych 101 textbooks).
Two, consumers of all ages are embracing sustainability. Being green isn't just for tree-huggers and Kermit the Frog anymore; some 80% of consumers of all ages told us they think or act green. It's mainstream and here to stay.
Three, the Great Recession will wake up indulgent Boomers and get them to reassess their spending game plan.
Now, let's move forward in time to today and take stock of this movement.
Recently, we had the opportunity to hear J. Walker Smith of The Futures Group (formerly Yankelovich) share some of his perspective on Boomers and the current global consumer mindset. He has reached the same conclusion: that the consumer has moved to a new address, and it's time marketers catch up.
Smith labeled the last 30 years or so of the Boomers going through young adulthood as the "Era of Indulgence." Attitudes about the future were bullish, spending was about accumulating and trading up, everyone felt exuberant. Morning in America, indeed.
Along came the Great Recession, which, while painful, is only a temporary downturn. During it, consumers did immediately shift attitudes and behaviors about spending. They became economical, frugal, anxious and, quite frankly, sober (even though alcohol sales have remained strong). But Smith points out that this behavior is not a permanent change. Being frugal is a coping mechanism and is far from aspirational.
Smith says we're now entering the "Era of Consequences." Consumers are being responsible with their purchases, doing a better job of prioritizing, acting more vigilant with their money and being resourceful. One reason this is happening is because we have returned to an era of economic risk. Not all investments, including your home, will increase in value automatically. There are consequences.
In our role as observers of consumer behavior (emphasis Boomers), we couldn't agree more with this assessment. Our preference is still to think of this as a shift towards responsible consumerism as opposed to "consequences," which don't strike us as particularly aspirational either, but we're splitting hairs.
What is interesting is that this "responsible" mindset goes beyond consuming behavior. It has showed up in voting behavior. We suspect the word "responsible" comes up frequently among tea partiers. And thanks to the 2010 election, a "responsible" mindset has re-entered Washington (this year's hope and change).
For marketers trying to engage Boomers today, our advice is this: don't focus on your value only as defined by price and quality; include your values, too. Demonstrate that you understand the consumer mindset has shifted towards responsible consumerism, address the sustainability aspect of your product or service, and enable Boomers to see experiential benefits of making a purchase, not just material benefits.
Let's buckle up in the DeLorean and head off to a brighter future.