Marketing to Baby Boomers Poses Challenges, OpportunitiesChristopher Rawson has seen a sort of “reset” in the connection between how old Baby Boomers are and how old they feel.
“We do marketing for a number of retirement communities, and they’ve sort of noticed a gap in age. People used to move in at 65; now they’re moving in at 75 or 80,” said Rawson, creative director at Andrew Associates, an advertising and marketing firm in Enfield, Conn.
Compared to what would be considered the older generation decades ago, he noted, “they’re healthier individuals, with better medical care, and people are staying active longer.” They’re also purchasing more, and that’s posed a challenge for companies who want to access Boomers’ deep pockets.
How deep? According to a 2012 study by Nielsen and BoomAgers, nearly 70% of all the disposable income in the U.S. will be in the hands of this group within five years. Nearly 8,000 Boomers turn 65 every day, and with Americans living longer, the ranks of the over-65 crowd will continue to swell for the next 15 years.
“Marketing to seniors effectively, and being adept at the nuances and cultural values necessary for marketing to seniors, can make or break your campaign efforts,” writes Bill Murtha, president and CEO of Roberts Communications, who blogs about societal trends at behaviorchange.net. “Why? As the famed bank robber Willie Sutton allegedly said when asked why he robs banks, ‘because that’s where the money is.’”
Importantly, Rawson said, most Boomers see plenty of life in front of them. “They don’t like someone talking to them like they’re old. The whole mantra that ‘70 is the new 60’ or ‘60 is the new 50,’ that’s really true. Older people are much more active. Some are working just because they want to do something. They’re much more involved with technology than ever before, more informed. It seems like, the last few years, everywhere you turn, you see older people on smartphones and iPads.”
Janet Casey, president of Marketing Doctor, a marketing agency in West Springfield, agrees that older Americans bring rich opportunities for travel, recreation, healthcare, and a host of other industries.
“The way I look at it, people who are 50 and older have the highest disposable income of any market there is,” she told BusinessWest. “An 18-year-old might think he wants a new car or a vacation, but if he can’t write the check, it doesn’t matter, does it?
“This is what I see in the travel industry,” she continued. “They offer so many guided trips for seniors, domestic and international — because seniors can afford it.”
But with an eye on the long term, Rawson and Casey said, they’re not throwing their money around carelessly. Knowing how to reach them — with the right messages on the right media platforms — is the key to tapping into that promising 70%.
Take social media, for example. The sole domain of Millennials and Gen-Xers five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable demographic shift. Its ease of use attracted countless parents and grandparents who enjoy keeping up with family and old friends and sharing pictures; as younger users have abandoned Facebook in search of newer and ‘cooler’ platforms, the older crowd — less transient in its social-media tastes — has stayed put.
“Seniors are the fastest-growing group on Facebook,” Casey said, adding, however, that those habits don’t cross over into Twitter, Instagram, or other popular sites. “We place a lot of ads for area hospitals — say, for an arthritis clinic or joint replacement. We know that seniors spend a lot of time on Facebook, because they have more hours on their hands than other people do. But we don’t find them on social media outside of Facebook.”
Rawson said social-media use has picked up in general among Boomers, but agreed that Facebook is ground zero.“In terms of the Boomers, the 65-plus crowd, they want to see what their grandkids are doing, and Facebook has definitely shifted to an older crowd now,” he noted. “The typical user on Facebook is a 42- to 45-year-old woman with kids. The second-most-popular user is that person’s mother.”
Twitter and Google Plus are also attracting more seniors, writes Tracy Sestili at socialmediatoday.com. But these are different than the family-photo-sharing crowd on Facebook; there are more executives and small-business owners who use social media for marketing purposes.
But older Americans are definitely online. According to Pew Research, 59% of people 65 and over use the Internet, and 77% have a cell phone. Furthermore, according to a study by eMarketers, 49% of Boomer tablet users and 40% of smartphone users made at least one purchase within the past year after gathering information on their mobile device.
Still, Rawson said, “they’re very cautious. They do investigate a lot of stuff on the Internet, whether it’s advertising going on Facebook or other social media. They’re responsive to ads. They won’t click on everything, but if it’s something they like, they’ll click on it.”
And, again, Casey stressed that no social-media site approaches Facebook when it comes to attracting older users. “Many younger people have left Facebook because their parents are on there, but there’s really no other place seniors are — not Instagram, not Twitter.”
What hasn’t changed much is the TV-viewing habits of seniors, who watch, on average, 4.2 hours of TV per day.
“They consume more TV than the other groups,” Casey said, particularly in the daytime hours, when soaps, game shows, and talk shows dominate. Fortunately, she added, advertising during these non-prime-time hours is relatively inexpensive. “It’s a very efficient way of reaching seniors. For literally $30, you can have an ad on a broadcast station, and you can reach them.”
Multiple studies also suggest that direct mail is more effective on Boomers than on younger generations, and while newspaper readership is declining among all demographics, 65% of readers are seniors.
“Most older people are reading a daily newspaper; it’s part of their culture,” Casey said. “If you think about it, our parents wouldn’t start their day without reading the paper. With our generation and our kids, it’s not the same.”
So when targeting the senior crowd, she added, “we have great success through print, through daily and specialized publications. But there’s a huge dropoff under age 50.”
Regardless of the medium, Murtha writes, the message is everything. “As senior lifestyles change, so do their interests. Yes, they are adopting and using social media and the Internet. But they’re using it to share photos and memories with friends and family. They’re spreading and taking in news about their local community online. They’re exploring or expanding their interests and hobbies in a more intent way now that they have the time and the money to do so.
“Want to connect and reach mature markets effectively?” he adds. “It’s not all digital and online, and it’s not all print and traditional.”
And caution still reins among much of this demographic, Rawson stressed. “It’s interesting how they perceive the future; they understand they’re living longer, and they want to make sure their retirement plans last them, so they don’t outlive their money. They are very conservative spenders, but they will spend if it’s the right thing and they have the income to spend on it.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]