Socio-cultural Influences Affect Older Consumers In Different Ways

We are on the heels of the Golden Globes -- in itself not the stuff of a Boomer-focused column. But the selection of "The Social Network" (a/k/a "the Facebook movie") as Best Drama is worthy of our notice. By the way, it's also been named Best Picture by the Critics' Choice Awards, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. That only leaves the Screen Actors Guild and Oscars!

Interesting that there are very few "ripped from the headlines" stories that have made it out of the genre of a Lifetime movie or an episode of "Law & Order" to award status. One exception is "Wall Street," which enjoyed a sequel this year. Like "The Social Network," the original "Wall Street" tapped the energy and vibe of the nation's business world at a critical point in time. It is our pop-culture way of saying "This is big." But why?

Generally, I share quantitative consumer research and insights that inform marketing strategy in this space; today, I want to look at the role of socio-cultural influences and how that shapes consumers. Specifically, mature consumers and their relationship to social strategy.



The media, and many companies, are amazed at how older consumers have embraced social media tools. While senior penetration is lower than leading or trailing Baby Boomers, older consumers are engaged in social networks. Like reality television, social networks allow people to engage in real stories; mature consumers love a well-told story and authentic storytellers. Look at the number of "elder" bloggers or tweeps to see how this translates to social tools.

Let's generalize generationally for a moment. When we characterize differences between generational cohorts, the Greatest Generation and, to some extent, the Silent Generation or Ikes exhibit a "birds of a feather flock together" tendency in their social order. Friendships were born of similar experiences, life stage and culture. These generations fueled the popularity and growth of the classic retirement communities -- they could enjoy resort living with people "just like them." This generational value also makes social tools attractive. They can congregate in the virtual communities in exactly the same way.

Moving the generalization to Boomers, there is much more perceived individualism, even though leading Boomers flocked around music, social causes and political issues. Friendships range from fleeting to enduring. Younger Boomers epitomized "keeping up with the Joneses" during their acquisition years, while settling into their middle years trying to simplify their lives. These yin/yang tugs, the underlying generational insecurity masked by Boomer bravado, create the perfect storm for social platforms.

Given -- Mark Zuckerberg's genius was about connecting young people on college campuses. Understanding generational and cultural experience, it is easy to see how the platform transcends age and supports consumer need states. Of course, mature consumers are there!

The Oprah Effect

Let's close with another pop-culture phenomenon, also much in the news lately. Oprah Winfrey created a "portal" before we understood what online portals would become or how they would morph into engaging online relationships. For years, Oprah Winfrey practiced solo as a talk show host; but over time she became a portal -- almost a curator of the best minds focused on helping women achieve their best lives. She became our portal -- allow me the metaphor -- to Gayle King, Nate Berkus, Suze Orman, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Peter Walsh, Bob Greene and others. And when she did so, her empire thrived.

And now she's launched OWN -- and all of those careers she launched are at the heart of her programming. Her ability to tap consumer needs, cross generations and extend her "portal" beyond broadcast to print, online, events and merchandise speaks volumes. All decidedly built on the loyalty of Boomer women, and not unlike the hard work of sites like and, which have loyal and dynamic communities.

Zuckerberg may not need a second act. Like Oprah, he's tapped the national nerve, and made it profitable. Marketers should follow the money and the understanding of the power of his platform with mature consumers. You can argue whether the movie deserves all of these accolades, but you can't argue with the enormity of social media.

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