2015 Is The Tipping Point On Age-based Marketing

I was recently at a restaurant surrounded by tables of 60+ Boomers. Among them were enough iPhones to stock an Apple Store, and all were fiddling with the phones like a group of giddy millennials. It is clear that the Boomer generation is fully engrossed in web, social, and mobile media. A line has been crossed, and the stats back it up. Time to kill this myth and misperception once and for all. It was likely true five to seven years ago, but now it is over.

In contrast, every conversation I have with clients, prospective clients, and marketers is around how to reach millennials, like they are some new super-race of humans who have characteristics unlike anyone who has come before them. Yet another myth, as they have the same behaviors, hopes and dreams as people have had in their 20s and 30s for generations. My early-30s marketing director is in the same place I was at that age in terms of career/family concerns and motivations. The difference? I had the primitive web in 1995; she has the world in her iPhone that never leaves her side. Same age, same life stage behaviors.



I was born on the dividing line between the Boomer and Gen X cohorts. I also spend my days with a team of millennial digital markers and get to see this not-so-unique species up close. From my vantage point, the differences among Boomers, Gen X and Millennials are few and far between, albeit with some subtle changes in technology and social platform usage.

We are in the midst of significant transformation in terms of culture, demographics, and technology. The United States is getting more diverse and connected by the minute. The speed at which attitudes change is striking compared to the past, and it is a direct result of our digital connectedness. This year will likely be remembered as the year that same sex marriage became federal law, hot on the heels of transgender awareness going mainstream via Caitlin Jenner. The Confederate flag came down in South Carolina after a horrible tragedy that spurred an Indian-American female Republican governor to echo the calls that it was time to change. These events are amplified as more Americans access the web via smartphone than the desktop and near complete saturation of social media networks.

What does this mean for marketers? It’s time to stop worrying about your millennial strategy while ignoring Boomers. Let’s move past age-based demographics that don’t hold much weight in today’s America. Some suggestions:

1. Focus on life stages and changes. Going to college, getting a new job, buying a house, starting a family, having a sick parent, etc., are the drivers of purchasing products and services, no matter who or when they happen. With digital media becoming dominant, these life changes will send people to the web with questions and problems to solve, often first to Google, then to your website, where you need to have quality compelling content to answer the questions they may have. 

2. Target consumers by common interests and communities. People don’t age out of interests like they used to, and you can find communities of like-minded people all over the web and social media. U2 just played here in Boston, and the crowd was packed full of Boomers. Reaching them through the large-print version of Reader’s Digest would not have been successful.

3. Build a network of advocates and influencers. Consumers of all types depend on peer reviews and recommendations. In this era, people are media. It has never been more important to get consumers to become online advocates and to turn them into influencers.

Old ways and myths are falling hard these days. Stay out of the pile of old magazines and newspapers, and make sure your marketing is keeping up with the rapid changes in consumer behavior.

7 comments about "2015 Is The Tipping Point On Age-based Marketing".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, July 13, 2015 at 10:29 a.m.

    Those must have been big tables if they hold 60+ people.

    Seriously, you're right in that the labels are worthless. if you're a boomer, it's not hard to understand millennials. Look to your kids. And vice versa. Start thinking about your audiences as people and not cohorts or demographics and your marketing will have the humanity necessary to understand and connect.

  2. Jeff Weidauer from Vestcom, July 13, 2015 at 10:36 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more. The idea of marketing to a generation is a joke - in our connected world it makes about as much sense as marketing to people based on their astrological sign. There are just too many other variables that age alone doesn't take into consideration, and with all the methods for connecting to actual people and behaviors, there's no excuse. 

  3. Joe L from SumTotal Marketing, July 13, 2015 at 10:49 a.m.

    I completely agree.   

    What lends the most credibility to this is my own personal experience.  I always thought we (Gen X) were so completely different from our parents that their experiences were irrelevant to us.  We were more advanced.

    The older I get, the more I realize that the platforms for expression and interaction may have changed, but the meaning(s) of life continue on as always.

    I am sure every generation has thought itself somehow different.  Only we all eventually discover that love and loss, needs and wants, kids and diapers, and all the ups and downs of different life stages continue on.

  4. Arthur Koff from, July 13, 2015 at 10:55 a.m.

    This list provided in this article "Going to college, getting a new job, buying a house, starting a family, having a sick parent, etc., are the drivers of purchasing products and services" does not match the traffic to RetiredBrains from boomers and seniors.

    We have content in all of these areas butor  traffic comes to
    Getting a job
    Working from home
    Starting a business
    Senior discounts
    Retirement planning

    in this order

  5. Barbara Morris from Put Old on Hold Journal, July 13, 2015 at 1:32 p.m.

    What still needs to change is how "old" people are used for a laugh in advertising. I am tired of seeing old people, women in particular, portrayed as ridiculous or semi-senile. (Thank goodness Betty White's "Off Their Rockers" is gone.)  It's disrespectful, dishonest and ignores the fact that a growing number of us "old" people are still growing and productive and just as "with it" as those younger. We will forever be considered "aren't they wonderful for their age" anomalies until there is a cultural shift in the perception of the value and competence of old people. Advertising plays a huge role in whether or not that change happens. 

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 13, 2015 at 5:58 p.m.

    It's an economic showdown, not age.

  7. William Cosgrove from Devcode Services, July 14, 2015 at 8:25 a.m.

    A breath of fresh air in a sea of distorted and self-serving content we are exposed to on a daily basis. 

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