Of the many misconceptions about baby boomers, perhaps the one most perilous to marketers today is that those in the demographic aren’t tech savvy. In fact, according to a 2016 Boston Consulting Group survey, boomers’ top 20 favorite brands include Amazon, Apple, Dell, HP, LG, Samsung and Sony – all tech-related, and together more than a third of the list.
As we are increasingly challenged to meet our audiences where they are, it’s just as important to make digital channels a priority when targeting boomers as it is when trying to reach gens X, Y and Z. The caveat is, while online, mobile, in-store and social touch points are just as critical to reaching this market as it is to the others, it would be a mistake to take a one-size-fits-all-generations approach.
In some ways, boomers are strikingly similar to other demographics. For example, a report published by Synchrony Financial found negligible differences between boomers and millennials across a number of shopping behaviors. Both demographics are bargain-hunters, with 75% of each group reporting that a loyalty discount or coupon makes them more likely to buy. Across both demographics, women most often share their retail experiences on social media, and there’s very little difference between the generations in the percentage who research products online.
Even when behaviors are similar, it’s important to acknowledge that the drivers behind them may be different. A survey conducted by Thrive Analytics and the Local Search Association showed that boomers are nearly as likely to be checking their mobile devices for information while in store as are younger generations. Still, marketers shouldn’t assume that the why and how are the same across the board.
While every demographic seems to research price and product information while in store to make sure they’re making a wise purchase decision, millennials place a priority on peer approval, whereas boomers are more likely seeking valid reasoning by sources they deem trustworthy, and that includes sales representatives and other store staff. In fact, Synchrony Financial’s research placed store staff as the third highest influencer of purchases, following online shopping sites and advertising. The lesson for marketers is that, while boomers do use technology in store, it remains important to have knowledgeable staff readily available.
Another consideration that marketers targeting the boomer demographic should be keeping in mind is that the way we think changes as we age. A 2013 study published by Nielsen NeuroFocus (now Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience), discusses interesting physiological changes to our brains that occur over time. From a scientific perspective, our neurons shrink, primarily in the frontal lobe, and neurotransmitter systems decline. The “so what” for marketers is that these changes affect the way consumers receive and process the messages marketers are trying to get through.
According to Nielsen, changes to the brain as we age make us more emotionally stable. As a result, boomers find marketing appeals based on urgency less persuasive that those using positive imagery and messages. The lesson for marketers is that now-or-never messaging becomes less effective as we age, so when targeting the boomer demographic, you’ll drive more impact by emphasizing what will be gained instead of what might be lost.
Another take away from the Nielsen research is that, contrary to stereotypes, aging doesn’t cause us to lose long-term memory. Instead, the change is a reduction in memory recall. For marketers, repetition is an effective way to ensure messages are properly processed and later recalled.
Interestingly, our ability to sustain attention improves as we get older — as long as we’re not distracted. In fact, a study by visual engagement analytics firm Sticky found that baby boomers engage with digital ads significantly longer than do millennials. To best address the segment, simplicity should accompany repetition. The fewer stimuli, the more likely your message will be received and understood. From a design standpoint, the KISS concept should be in full force. Whether building a mobile app or online ad, stay away from clutter or other distractions and keep the main focal point in the center of the visual field.
Ultimately, boomers are tech-savvier than marketers often think, and in many ways, their interactions with technology are similar to those of younger audiences. Still, marketers need to keep in mind that there are important differences in thinking and preferences that call for different approaches, whether looking to engage with boomers in store, on mobile or online.