Experts discuss strategies to communicate and connect with ‘boomer’ generation

So called “baby boomers,” America’s largest segment of consumers are looking to stay informed and age gracefully. Understanding who “boomers” are is the key element in reaching and selling to them, marketing expert Steven Kostant told members at the GBC Business & Professional Development Series on November 27.

As boomers age, they will become more dependent on the Internet. They expect continued technological and web developments to help them age independently, said Konstant.

Kostant is executive creative strategist of Planit, Baltimore’s third largest advertising agency. Planit recently launched a new division focusing solely on “boomers and beyond” to help organizations connect more effectively with this fast-growing segment of the population.

Nostalgia is important to boomers, as well as advertising that rises above the clutter, but then there’s a need for authenticity and credibility to support it, said Planit president Matt Doud.

The boomer generation includes people born in between 1946 and 1964. There are 78.2 million boomers growing older and living longer, said Konstant. Every eight seconds a Boomer turns 50.

Konstant lists things to know about boomers:
• Approximately 7,918 Americans turn 60 each day. That’s about 330 every hour or more than four million a year in 2007
• Within 20 years, one in five Americans will be older than 65
• Boomers who reach age 65 in 2011 can expect to live, on average, at least another 18 years
• Four out of 10 boomers have less than $10,000 in retirement savings
• One-third of boomer households today have at least $100,000 in investable assets
• Four out of five boomers intend to keep working and earning in retirement. Half of boomers plan to launch into an entirely new job or career in retirement
• Only one in seven baby boomers plans to collect Social Security benefits at age 62
• The unpredictable cost of illness and healthcare is by far boomers’ biggest fear. They are three times more worried about a major illness, their ability to pay for healthcare (53 percent) or winding up in a nursing home, than about dying.

Boomers come from an era of confidence and a culture of “I can do anything,” said Konstant. After World War II, there was an economic wave and new products brought on television growth and advertising. This generation began as a nuclear family with TV growth geared toward idealism and conformity, the mother as the housewife and the father the caregiver.

President Kennedy had given them hope, but things changed and the boomers transformed following the JFK assassination, said Konstant. Suddenly comfort with government evolved into skepticism and awareness that bad things can happen. The idea of questioning authority integrated into marketing.

All of this spurred a lack of trust in anyone over age 30, said Konstant. The sentiment moved to the idea that they could change things by influence in numbers, music, protests, woman’s movement, and self-exploration. This willfully disobedient spirit drew them to innovation, being entrepreneurial, and understanding that technology is empowering, he said.

“Boomers are redefining what it means to age and creating new consumer patterns,” said Konstant. If they think a healthy dose of skepticism is okay and have fought the status quo, how do we connect with them?

Doud outlined a few marketing basics which include:
• Be strategic, not anecdotal
• Monitor your environment
• Understand your competition
• Target the right customers
• Differentiate or die

The ideal “brandscape” means balancing new and old media and working “outside” marketing messages into integrated brand communications, said Konstant.

“At every stage of their lives, boomers challenged the status quo, so connect with boomers as ‘trailblazers’ and appeal to boomers’ inherent desire to break from the norm,” Konstant said. Fifty-plus consumers don’t want to be reminded of how old they’re getting, so focus on their lives, not their ages, he said.

“Boomers are big on authenticity, humor and familiarity,” said Doud. “Fulfill their constant need for more and self indulgence.”

Driving a sense of desire through products that show self-improvement by self-exploration is important, said Konstant. It connects the emotional, physical, social, and economic. However, when marketing to boomers, authenticity is essential since these idealists are skeptical of empty promises, he said.

“Boomers are far more interested in hearing ideas that will change them rather than focusing on the problems they must surmount,” said Konstant. They are open to change, but speak to them directly and try to connect and relate. If you get boomers to love you, chances are they won’t leave you. They’ll spread the word to friends and family through ‘word of mouth’ and online.

As for digital marketing strategies, boomers are wired, said Doud. One-third of Internet users in the U.S. today are 50 or older. This number has risen dramatically in past five years and the growth trend is expected to continue. Fifty-eight percent of Americans ages 50-64 go online and 22 percent of Americans 65 and older use the Internet, he said.

Seniors have latched onto the Internet as a means to communicate, and to get answers to specific questions, said Konstant. E-mail and search engines are used heavily among this slice of wired consumers. They are taking more control of their personal finances and health, exploring travel, and becoming highly informed consumers, explains Konstant.

What all this means for the advertiser is that there’s a need to look closely at the product or service and see how it fits this audience and impacts their lives, said Doud. Understanding boomers’ wants is more important than selling how great the product or service is. Boomers want information in a clear, concise manner, using imagery that they can relate to. “Rise above the clutter… don’t speak down to them… tap into their need… and stay on target,” Doud said.

There are some realities of aging to consider as boomers continue to embrace technology. Usability for most will become an issue due to vision impairment, loss of fine motor skills and reduced short-term memory, Konstant said. Recommended design guidelines include:

• Use larger type and less content
• Make it easy to read using sans-serif fonts. Double space text.
• Use high contrast and avoid reverse type and patterned backgrounds.
• Keep terminology simple.
• Avoid Web jargon such as “URL,” “link” and “message board.”
• Keep site design clean.
• Test your site before launch.
• Use focus groups of mature adults to evaluate accessibility, readability and ease of use.


A few examples of who is getting it right include: Fidelity and Amazon with front and back end marketing; E-harmony (largest dating site for 50+), WebMD with prominent search feature, and AARP with extensive information in a clear format, said Konstant. 

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