When I'm 64

Effective marketing for the Baby Boomer generation.
by : 

Sirona Knight

February 1, 2014
When I'm 64

What do Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna have in common? They’re all card-carrying members of the vibrant Baby Boomer generation. At 80 million strong, Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—represent one third of the U.S. population. Such a force to be reckoned with must surely be the focus of every major marketing campaign, right? Wrong. Less than 5 percent of U.S. advertising dollars targets Baby Boomers, despite Nielsen research that shows Boomers wield 70 percent of U.S. consumer buying power. Why the disconnect? Most ad agencies still operate from the assumption that their “core consumers” belong to a homogenous, catch-all 18-to-49 age bracket. But, conventional wisdom is about to be upended by this relatively untapped retail marketing and sales resource: the Baby Boomer.

In the next 20 years, Baby Boomers stand to inherit $15 trillion, while at the same time transitioning from making a living and supporting a family to making a life pursuing “encore careers” and cultivating hobbies in areas where their true passions lie. Nielsen research indicates 67 percent of Boomers plan to devote more time (and money) to their hobbies and interests as they look forward to “empty nesting” and an active retirement. In terms of dollars, they have annual spending power hovering around $2.3 trillion. And, although they may have packed up their bell bottoms long ago, the generation that ushered in the 1960s cultural revolution hasn’t lost its openness to new ideas and products, including a natural inclination toward body-mind-spirit modalities and a passion for organic products, sustainability, and greener living. For retailers in the body-mind-spirit market, Baby Boomers are undoubtedly your “super consumers,” those loyal customers who shop often and sing your praises to their friends and family.

Baby Boomers have a powerful collective consciousness that defines their values, attitudes, and worldview, one marked by a well-defined cultural identity and a high awareness of social issues. Beginning with a rapid increase in births post-World War II to the mid-sixties, Baby Boomers have shared many formative experiences, many of which are milestones of our pop culture and history—from Beatlemania to Vietnam War demonstrations, from Woodstock to Wall Street, from the first color TV to the first PC. Their collective consciousness encompasses all these experiences and much, much more.

Boomers were the driving force behind the original Earth Day 40 years ago and have not lost their high level of concern for what happens to our planet and how they can make it a better place to live. When making purchases, it is this same sense of social and environmental responsibility motivating them to buy gifts for themselves and others that help the world in some way. Being grandparents, retirees, and care givers for their own parents hasn’t quenched Baby Boomers’ thirst for adventure, new things, and new ways of thinking either. They’ve gone back to community college in droves, reinventing their careers with new areas of expertise and exploring a multitude of hobbies to express their creative sides.

Getting social with Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow up with television, glossy four-color ads in magazines and newspapers, and radio ads blared over and over again from transistor radios. Perhaps due to their immersion in media and the resulting myriad product choices from a young age, Baby Boomers like to accumulate as much information as they can about a product or service before they buy it. They will ask their family and friends, read customers reviews, and explore social media sites in their quest for the best-value, energy-saving electronics for themselves and their college-age children and the best organic clothing and chemical-free toys for their grandchildren. They use both traditional media and online avenues to get this information and make their purchases accordingly.

While Baby Boomers still use television, radio, and print media to get information on products, they also have a huge online presence that rivals Millennials. The latest figures from Nielsen indicate 80 percent of Baby Boomers use the Internet, a close second to the 90 percent of Millennials online. Baby Boomers aren’t always the first in line to buy new technologies, but once they determine one is useful, they’re quick to integrate it into their lives, which in turn influences their buying habits. They are far from technophobes. Remember, this is the generation that counts Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and the late Steve Jobs among its members!

Baby Boomers represent 33 percent of all online users. They also represent over one third of the people on social media and Twitter, and their numbers are growing rapidly. An American turns 50 every seven seconds. That’s more than 12,500 new Boomers every day! This means they will represent 45 percent of the total U.S. population by 2015.

More than 37 million Baby Boomers—that’s 76.1 percent of their generation—have embraced the world of social networks and blogs. The website Social Media Today reports 44 percent of Facebook users and 48 percent of LinkedIn users are over the age of 45. Baby Boomers frequent all social platforms and have as much presence on the major social media sites as their Millennial counterparts. Of these social platforms, Facebook is the most dominant, with the fastest growing segment on the site being Baby-Boomer women.

But it doesn’t stop there. Baby Boomers have flocked to other social networks such Twitter, Pinterest, Google, and LinkedIn. As Brent Green, founder of Brent Green and Associates marketing firm and author of two Boomer marketing books, states, “Many Boomers have created fairly comprehensive LinkedIn profiles because they haven’t finished their career or are hunting for opportunities to continue their careers.” He goes on to say, “I would definitely look at YouTube as part of a strategy to create an edu-tainment video to sell a product or service and push it on other media, such as Twitter or Facebook.”

Developing a Baby Boomer marketing strategy

When developing a marketing strategy to appeal to and tap into the buying habits of the Baby Boomer audience, think:

  • Universal, collective, and ageless
  • Nostalgic, formative, and generational
  • Life stages, phases, and changes

Ageless marketing uses universal, collective messages and eye-catching images that appeal across generations and cultures. Generational marketing uses nostalgic, formative experiences to prompt emotional responses and positive associations, so your Boomer clientele are more likely to connect with you and purchase your products and services. This is one of the most potent marketing tools you can bring into play. Life-stage marketing hones in on what phases and changes Boomers are going through in their lives, such as retiring, care giving, and being grandparents. You can focus on one of these approaches or, better yet, blend them for improved sales success.

Baby Boomers have embraced the Internet and social media in a big way. The average Baby Boomer spends more than 27 hours per week online, and that figure is growing. It shows the potential of online advertising when marketing to them. Because of this, you as a retailer need to adapt your marketing plan in order to woo them online. After all, they are the number one consumer group in the United States in terms of overall buying power. They respond to email, websites, search engine marketing, social media, and mobile marketing. Overall, they prefer email to texting as their main means of online communication.

In December 2012, more than 33.3 million Boomers were frequent email users. Because of this, email can be a valuable marketing tool for retailers wanting to reach Baby Boomers. You can put together an email list from in-store and website sign ups. Make sure you are creating your email list from people who have specifically opted in to receive emails from you; otherwise be prepared to have your emails flagged as spam. Also, you have to be more creative in order to connect with Boomers and get your marketing message across, because everyone is inundated with email marketing messages. Your emails need to be attractive, well-written, and interesting to compete for their attention. HTML-formatted newsletters are a great choice, and many email marketing services do the work for you; all you need to do is write your content, gather your photos, and choose an email template.

About 42 million Baby Boomers use search engines such as Google and Yahoo as a means of finding products and product information—that’s 86 percent of Boomers! Because of this, using search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing can be helpful marketing tools.

The two ways to optimize your search engine visibility, meaning your site comes up on the first page when someone searches for products or services you sell, are organic and paid SEO. Using relevant keywords can greatly improve your organic SEO. Paid search engine marketing (SEM) is paid advertising, also known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. You simply pay when anyone clicks on your ad and visits your site. Your listing comes up first in the shaded areas, under the “Ads related to” section of the search engine.

The powerful thing about online advertising and marketing is many of its facets are relatively inexpensive if you do it yourself. Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and other social media sites are free to users, meaning your investment with them is basically the time involved in maintaining the pages and responding to customer questions, needs, and orders. You can put a basic website together fairly easily, and domain and hosting costs are low-priced, particularly if you shop around. To appeal to Boomers, be sure to use larger, darker fonts that are easy to read. Also, use more color contrast, sharper images, and interesting stories and anecdotes they can relate to as ways to draw them to your website. It’s important to change the content and update your products on a regular basis to pique their interest. A short blog about new products on your website is a nice touch.

Mobile marketing is on the rise with Baby Boomers and should be part of your marketing mix. It’s important to create a mobile-friendly website with compelling content that is easy to read and attractively displayed on mobile phones and tablets. If you’re creating your website yourself, look for a website builder with a built-in tool for mobile applications. [Editor’s Note: For tips on creating your own website, see “Website DIY” in our June 2013 Trade Show issue.]

Do keep in mind that creating and maintaining eye-catching websites and social media pages can be especially time consuming. For that reason, you might want to consider hiring someone for your online needs, or you may be able to find a college intern, friend, or family member to help set up your website and social media pages at low cost.

In terms of traditional print media, the best ways to reach Baby Boomers is to advertise in publications such as magazines, newspapers, and newsletters that highlight your area of retailing. Local publications are often given out free and are great ways to market your products, services, and events. Advertise in publications that contain interesting content along with the advertisements; otherwise, it will most likely be ignored as junk mail.

Don’t neglect television in your media mix. The average Boomer spends 174 hours a month watching television, nearly twice that of Millennials and only outpaced by the 65+ “Traditionalists.” Check with your local cable television provider and local television stations to learn about their ad rates. You may be able to negotiate the addition of a free promotional display ad or streaming radio-style ad on their websites.

A generation that shops their values

Boomers prefer doing business with retailers who are more socially and environmentally conscious and who carry products that make their lives easier. They are rapidly becoming retirees and grandparents, but never sell them short. Even though they are growing older, they still want to be cool and stay active by joining health clubs, traveling, volunteering, and pursuing hobbies and new careers.

Organic, non-toxic, and green are ideals Boomers hold dear. They love buying products that are sustainable and nontoxic to the environment, both in the production and disposal. They admire companies who give back to the community, such as a company that donates a certain amount of each sale to an endeavor that improves life. Their desire to make the world a better place to live remains strong.

Sirona Knight (www.sironaknight.net) is the popular Baby Boomer author of 25 books, including the best-selling Faery Magick.