Grand Gold: The Heart Of Influence

Marketing to “Boomers” has been the call for many of us for a very long time. That call has been made, though perhaps not received! The truth is that consumer spending is found in discrete consumer segments and the media that target them. 

Take a look at the grandparent market. The nature of grandparenting is evolving. For the first time in human history, there are three distinct generations of grandparents in the United States. This continuum of the grandparenting lifestage is based on dimensions such as the age of grandchildren, affluence, and household structure. In this economy, grandparents are contributing to their children and grandchildren’s lifestyles in unprecedented ways. 

The changing nature of families

Many factors are affecting the structure of families and the role of grandparents. Divorce frequently puts the grandparent/grandchild relationship at risk, often with no legal recourse for grandparents. The high percentage (40%) of children born to unmarried parents creates a dilemma when parent relationships change, leaving grandparents wondering about their own rights. Multi-generational households are growing, either as a result of economic pressure on the grandparents or the parents. One in five grandchildren is living in households led by a grandparent, which creates a unique set of social, legal, and advocacy needs. 

Regardless of the living situation, grandparents across the age continuum provide for grandchildren; this reality, in turn, provides a new target for many consumer products and services. While much consumer attention is focused on the first-time grandparent and their spending, research shows that grandparents are financing everything from daily expenses to tuition, cars, auto insurance and college expenses. The ability to do this is reliant on the grandparents’ access to financial resources. Research from MetLife Mature Market Institute reveals one-quarter of grandparent age households report an income over $90,000, while another quarter report income of less than $25,000. (Read more at The MetLife Report on American Grandparents: New Insights for a New Generation of Grandparents [July 2011].)

Trends driving the grandparent market

Key trends emerged in our research into the grandparent market, and are shaping our approach to a larger study. These trends and their implications unlock new consumer needs, desires and values. Among these are:

  • The changing face of the American family
  • The new symbols of status in our culture
  • When Boomers become grandparents
  • The changing meaning of legacy

The very nature of status symbols and the act of leaving a legacy are shifting. This is driven by Baby Boomers entering this lifestage. Becoming a grandparent has become a new form of status; one that is driving smart businesses to focus on this lifestage. Not surprisingly, the experiential Boomer generation prides itself on the breadth of their hobbies, interests, skills and stories, and seeks ways to share these with their grandchildren. 

The idea of legacy is experiencing a similar change. Adults over 40 are responsible for the majority of charitable giving. Younger grandparents are focused on providing for their grandchildren daily, while older grandparents focused on leaving assets like cash and real estate to grandchildren. Senior generations gave quietly, while the new generation of Boomer grandparents share their causes with children and grandchildren as a means of sharing their values. 

Not like our grandparents

The arrival of the Boomer generation into the grandparent lifestage is driving great change. These new grandparents are educated, working, relatively affluent, and more diverse than any previous generation. They are harder to spot, as the actual age of people becomes harder to identify, and generations begin to blend seamlessly into each other. As they were with their own children, Boomer grandparents seek involvement in every level of their grandchild’s life. Long-distance grandparents are adopting technology to get and stay connected with their grandchildren. 

Many lifestages for older adults create consumer moments. Most of those are decisions made from the head. Grandparenting is a lifestage of the heart. When we engage consumers’ hearts, we have the ability to create bigger stories and build stronger brands. 

3 comments about "Grand Gold: The Heart Of Influence ".
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  1. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, April 30, 2012 at 3:59 p.m.

    Once again Lori hits the bullseye! Several years ago I read an article that confirms Lori's comments.

    It was about Adair Lara. At age 52, Lara was too hip and young to be a grandmother. The San Francisco author was four years older than the average first-time grandmother, according to an American Association of Retired Persons survey — and the exact same age her own grandmother was when Lara was born.

    That was the issue for Lara, author of the new "Granny Diaries: An Insider's Guide for New Grandmothers." "We're often the same age as our mothers and their mothers were when they became grandmothers," says Lara, "but it looks different and feels different on us. We're in our forties and fifties, in the middle of our lives and careers. The connotations in this culture have a lot of baggage — you should get an apron and learn to bake cookies."

    They're certainly not their own grandparents and they're barely their own parents. Instead of being an old person dealing with their grandchild, they're a young person — younger and fitter and richer. They do cool things with their grandkids: Alaskan cruises, whitewater rafting, and adventures keyed to different cities. Baby boomer women, in their forties and fifties, with busy lives and careers, are wrestling with their new identity as grandmothers.They're the urban, marginally hip, accomplished boomer who's too busy getting her Website up and running to take up needlepoint.

    They are leaving a legacy!

  2. Lori Bitter from The Business of Aging, May 1, 2012 at 1:43 a.m.

    Thank you, Jim! I love Adair's work and it's an excellent point of reference. I took a break from launching a new client site today to run errands with my daughter and grandson - and thought about this very thing! Our lives are VERY different from our own moms, and grand moms.

  3. Nancy Driscoll from, May 9, 2012 at 7:43 a.m.

    Great article. It's interesting that we even have to come to terms with the word "grandma" - it sounds so old! Boomers do love to spend on their grandkids, many of whom even live with them. One area of opportunity for marketers is travel. Show us opportunities to travel with our grandkids to places both generations would enjoy.

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