Don't Sell The Product, Sell The Experience

It’s long been a paradox that, despite the fact that consumers ages 50 and up have the lion's share of the wealth and income in the U.S, marketers are over-enamored with the 18-49 demographic. The oft-stated justification for aiming at the younger generation is that they are more likely to be open to new products and/or switching brands; and their lives are more centered on consumption and consumerism.  

As someone about to gently ease out of this coveted cohort, I don't think that assumption is wrong at all. In fact, it makes some sense to me as a marketer with clients who want to reach new customers. But what about Boomers and their piles of wealth? Do we ignore them? Absolutely not. 

I know a good number of people turning 50 over the next 18 months, me included. I feel as healthy and youthful as ever, mostly thanks to strenuous exercise (thanks, CrossFit), good diet, and some fortunate luck (good genes, thanks to Mom and Dad). My days as a rabid consumer, however, are over. Priorities change, and Boomers’ financial lives revolve around saving for things like college tuition, care for aging parents, and eventual retirement.  



I remember when my father-in-law turned 50, he told me that he had bought every “thing” he ever wanted and was done buying “stuff.” The only spending he was doing from here on out was to bring him pleasure. (He actually used words and described activities that are not appropriate for a family blog, but you get the point.) At the time, I was 28 and about to begin a two-decade stretch during which I’d constantly be looking for the next raise, a bigger house, a better car, fancier clothes etc., and I could not wrap my head around his attitude.  Now I get it.

Boomers are at a juncture in their life journeys where having the hottest and greatest “new, new” thing does not appeal to them in the same way it does their younger counterparts. Brands are no longer as much a reflection of their identities as they once were (and still are for younger people). Boomers are looking for the deeper meaning, the second act, or just trying to enjoy the journey. 

The question is: How do you speak to and market to Boomers if you want to tap into their buying power?  Perhaps we can take some advice from Big John, a.k.a. my father-in-law, and focus on the experience, not the product.

Here are a few ways to build affinity and trust with Boomers by appealing to their new priorities:

Storytelling and Content. Storytelling can be a powerful marketing tactic as our brains are wired to learn via stories. When hearing a story about a product-enhanced experience, for instance, consumers can see themselves as the hero of the story enjoying your brand. Also, helping is selling, so instead of pushing sales-focused messages, surround your Boomer with content that entertains, informs, educates, and inspires. 

The good news is that Boomers grew up before the era of tweets, texts and the shortened attention spans of Millennials, so feel free to take a little time developing the plot! 

Be Visual. Without question the web is becoming more about images, pictures, video, and even infographics. These are great tools for conveying the feeling of an experience or the feeling of a greater purpose. You can show your product or service in action so the benefits come to life. Video is the perfect medium for communicating a sense of place and journey. And someone once said that a picture’s worth a thousand words, so…

Connect Emotionally. No matter what tactic, channel or medium you’re using, remember that emotion is a marketer’s secret weapon. Tapping into it allows you to cut across race, gender, social class, and beyond. That’s because underneath it all, people fundamentally share similar motivations and needs. If you can appeal to customers’ intrinsic needs while simultaneously communicating how your product improves the overall experience, you will win.

The bottom line is that Boomers are very much an important demographic, but reaching them requires different efforts than your 18-49 ones. You need unique campaign messages that appeal to mature priorities. These groups are not surprisingly driven by different emotions and motivations. Connect emotionally with Boomers, and they will be loyal customers and advocates for years to come.

2 comments about "Don't Sell The Product, Sell The Experience".
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  1. Richard Ambrosius from Positive Aging LLC, October 8, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.

    I agree with Jon. Marketers and the media continue to ignore the older market because they refuse to change their paradigm and keep looking for new excuses. I you think the 50 plus market stop buying "stuff" you have not been to a mall, Harley dealership, or downtown in awhile.

  2. Arabella Ignatieff from HEC Montreal, October 15, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.

    Isn't all marketing about telling a good story not only for the senior market? Nevertheless, I agree with Jon. I believe that the reason comes from the fact that especially in ad agencies and marketing department people are afraid to get old. Furthermore you are not the only one to believe that they are missing an opportunity a teacher Jacques Nantel wrote this book at HEC Montreal "On veut votre bien et on l’aura: la dangereuse efficacité du marketing" I am sorry it is not yet in english but he explains that seniors have the money and should be targeted instead of the younger population for instance like the adolescents who has debts.

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