It seems like every day brings a new article with dos and don’ts for marketing to Millennials. I get it – it’s a big demographic which, collectively, wields great buying power that will grow as they pay off their student loans and settle into careers. For many brands, the focus on establishing relationships with these consumers is driven by the goal of maintaining their loyalty in the future. As a strategy, it makes total sense, unless your youth-driven approach winds up alienating a customer segment whose discretionary budgets are sizable in the here and now: Baby Boomers.
Not every brand needs to specifically target boomers, of course, but it’s still probably not a good idea to completely turn them off. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that Boomers are no longer the largest living generation. However, they are still widely considered the most valuable. Those born between 1946 and 1964 accounted for 70% of the disposable income in the United States in 2012, and they will continue to be the wealthiest generation in the country until at least 2030, when they are still projected to hold a 44.5% share of net household wealth. Adding to the clear proof of Boomers’ immense consumer power, they drive almost 50% of all retail sales whereas Millennials represent a mere 10%.
Still, the AARP estimates less than 10% of marketing dollars are spent targeting them.
There are multiple issues driving this discrepancy, but one that’s fairly easy to correct lies in marketers’ incorrect assumptions about this population. Boomers are not your elderly grandparents. Prince was a baby boomer. So was David Bowie. Johnny Depp, Demi Moore, Madonna, Oprah … all baby boomers. Not a single, crotchety, old fogy among them.
Are you guilty of falsely stereotyping what could be a valuable and sizable customer segment? Here are a few of the most common misconceptions:
1. Baby boomers are not tech-savvy
Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were born in the boomer years, and their generation was the first to experience the massive productivity increases that technology can drive.
Baby boomers are just as tech-oriented as are younger generations. Eighty-two percent of Boomers use Facebook, with 15.5% spending more than 11 hours per week on the site. Boomer women are also one of the fastest-growing categories on Pinterest. They also spend more time consuming and sharing content online than do other demographics.
There are, of course, some differences of which marketers should be aware. For example, boomers are more likely to use tablets and PCs than they are smartphones, and mobile web more often than apps. They also consume content from magazine and newspaper websites more frequently than do younger generations.
Key Takeaways: Baby boomers are technology-friendly, yet are not as reliant on mobile phones and much less open to mobile advertising. They favor Facebook for social networking and are avid sharers of content.
2. Baby boomers are reluctant to spend money and want to downsize
The annual U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey shows adults 55-64 consistently outspending the average consumer in nearly every category. In fact, if taken as their own economy, the 100 million Americans who are aged 50 and over would rank the third largest in the world behind the U.S. and China. Boomers account for nearly half of all consumer packaged goods sales and generate $7 trillion a year in goods and services.
Most boomers aren’t living the quiet retired life many envision, either. Sixty-three percent still
have at least one person in the household working full time. When it does come to retirement, however, two-thirds plan to spend more time doing things like shopping, traveling and entertaining.
The days of moving to a retirement community in Florida also seem to be behind us. A survey conducted by the Demand Institute revealed 63% of boomers plan on “aging in place,” meaning staying in the home they’re already in. They plan on spending within those homes.
Key takeaways: Boomers aren’t broke or stingy, in fact they’re the only consumer segment that has really made gains in real income since the 1970s. They’ve saved and invested for decades and are ready to spend on what they want after years of focusing on needs.
3. Baby boomers are old fashioned
While it’s true that people tend to get more conservative with age, boomers aren’t necessarily the pearl-clutchers many may think. They are, after all, the generation of Woodstock and “turn on, tune in and drop out.”
Nielsen’s 2012 study called Baby boomers “media-loving, eternally optimistic, self-indulgent consumers.” Now that they’re rid of burdens like college tuition, mortgages, and child care expenses, they're looking to re-tool themselves and re-define their lives. Now rid of debts and obligations, they have the means to do it.
Boomers also see no reason to let go of their sexuality. A National Council on Aging survey reported that 74% of the men and 70% of the women who have regular intercourse past the age of 60 are even more satisfied that they were in their 40s.
Key Takeaways: Boomers are making youthfulness and vitality a priority as they age, considering retirement a door that’s opening and not the end of their relevance.
As you can see, boomers are a huge segment of the population and very powerful part of our economy. For marketers, it’s important to recognize whether misconceptions about this group are negatively impacting their bottom lines. Boomers are, in fact, modern and tech savvy, and they’ve got more money to spend than any other demographic.