What We've Learned About Marketing To Baby Boomers - Part IV

In Part I, Part II and Part III of this series, we’ve shared the marketing implications of how Baby Boomers think. This is the final article in the series. 

Research has shown that customers' final decisions are not the direct product of the reasoning process; in fact, emotions drive Baby Boomers in their purchase decisions. The reasoning process will confirm their decision, but it doesn't start there. 

Your messages should resonate with the values and motivators of Baby Boomers. Although we all have core defining attributes and motivators that drive us, we manifest them differently as we move through the spring, summer, fall and winter of life. Selling to Baby Boomers is different primarily because of this shift in the manifestation of human values. Our need for autonomy, relationships, purpose, gaining knowledge/growth, rejuvenation and recreation are always with us. However, as we age, we manifest our values differently.



1. Each experience we have prompts the brain to create clusters of neurons (brain cells) with predisposed responses to new but similar experiences.

As the population of these dispositional clusters or Defining Attributes increases, a person becomes more habituated and reflexive in his or her responses. This activity decreases sensitivity to external influences, like advertising, making a person more autonomous.

Marketing Implication: Defining Attributes are the marketer’s equivalent of “hot buttons.” The older we are, the more hot buttons we have. This change is good news and bad news for marketers.

First the bad news: It’s harder to change people’s patterns after the early adult years. Now, the good news: When a marketer hits a consumer’s hot buttons, the deal is almost done. The challenge is learning what those hot buttons are. Fortunately, there is remarkable consistency in the general nature of hot buttons among people in the same season of life. Knowledge of the Defining Attributes of consumers in the fall and winter of life will guide you to connect with their hot buttons.

2. The initial determination of information relevance occurs unconsciously.

When a person sees an ad or a TV spot, the right brain initially determines if it has personal significance. The subsequent reasoning processes of the left-brain-only go to work on the ad after it has reached consciousness. The right brain conducts a process called information triage to reduce data flow to levels the conscious mind, with limited working memory (RAM) can handle. The primary criterion is relevance to a person’s interests.

Marketing Implication: Imagine having a conversation in your office or at a social gathering when you hear your name come up in another conversation not far from you. Your brain was hearing the other conversation all along, but only when you heard your name did it see fit to alert your conscious mind to the other conversation.

That’s what information triage is all about. Creating product messages that survive information triage is the biggest challenge in marketing. It has become fashionable to complain about advertising clutter. However, the clutter problem is in the brain, not on a television screen or in a magazine. When a message has relevance to a person’s interest, the right brain will take note. When we talk about having a “double take,” we acknowledge the right brain’s ability to pick up in a nanosecond something that has relevance to our interests.

Some Final Thoughts

The differences in consumer motivations and decision processes between consumers in the first and second half of life perplex many marketers who have yet to figure out how to market to older customers. The young are easier to analyze and sell. Now, with adults over the age of 45 in the majority, marketers are being compelled to figure out their values and behavior.

We’ve learned that it’s about new rules, new mindsets, and new processes. In short, it is a new, authentically customer-centric paradigm. New models challenge the mind because the mind has a natural bias toward preserving the old ways; even when old ways cease working as they once did. But when pain caused by an old paradigm’s breakdown exceeds peoples’ threshold of tolerance, they begin warming to new alternatives.

Finally, we’ve learned that today’s marketplace is unlike any before faced before. Most of its adult members are in the years when the influences of what Maslow called self-actualization begin to show up in behavior. Until the growth of 50+ customers, these forces had a little noticeable impact on the marketplace at-large. Now, however, such attributes of self-actualization oriented behavior are widely evidenced in your markets:

  • Perceptions – more conditional, less absolutist (shades of gray vs. black and white). Experiential Segmentation/Conditional Positioning approaches are effective in branding
  • Relationships– more autonomous, less dependent on sources (such as advertising) in making decisions. Honesty and authenticity leading to trust are essential.
  • Social behavior – more individuated, less subject to “herd behavior,” less easy to pigeonhole into segments
  • Decision making – more emotional (as in “gut feelings” or intuition), less “rational” in decision processes.
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