Marketing to Boomers: Why You Need the “Me” Generation



Your biggest marketing flub? Mistaking these hardworking multitaskers for a bunch of Facebook-fearing Luddites.

While modern marketers are working diligently to connect with Generation X, millennials, and Gen Z, many are overlooking one of the world’s most prosperous and connected demographics—baby boomers. 

The influential post–World War II generation, born between 1946 and 1964, makes up 33 percent of the United States’ affluent population, according to the 2015 Ipsos Affluent Survey USA (Gen X composes 37 percent). And boomers bring in $2.4 trillion in annual income, which accounts for 42 percent of all after-tax income in the country, reports the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey. 

Find Them Online

They’re also, contrary to popular belief, avid consumers of online and social media channels. According to a 2015 study from marketing agency DMN3, 82 percent of boomers are on Facebook, while more than 30 percent are on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. “Social media is really the preferred way of staying in touch for boomers now,” says Brent Green, president of marketing firm Brent Green & Associates Inc. and author of several books on baby boomers. “They are an active and engaged demographic.”

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Oscar, Tony, and Golden Globe winner Denzel Washington

For starters, this means brands should be connecting with the generation online—on Facebook, through search engines, and via email. 

“Those that discount new media, assuming baby boomers fail to use it, are making a big blunder,” says Jim Gilmartin, president of Coming of Age, a boomer and “seniors” marketing agency. “Older populations are increasingly becoming immersed in the Internet, and in many ways can be compared to users who are decades younger. Baby boomers are using all forms of information gathering available to them.”

And they’re not just chatting online—they’re buying and researching products. According to the DMN3 study, more than half of boomers will visit a company website or continue the search on a search engine after seeing something on a social networking site that piques their interest.

“There is no more effective channel than search engines” for marketing to boomers, reads the study. “Search dramatically outperforms social media and viewing online videos in getting boomers to take actions, including making a purchase.”

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Media mogul Oprah Winfrey
 

Messaging Modes

The next most effective way to market to the generation? Good old TV—because it drives them online. “Television was significantly better for prompting boomers to search online than any other source, including friends and spouse or significant other,” the study reports. 

The least effective marketing vehicles for boomers were revealed to be radio ads and catalogs (which often end up in the recycling bin minutes after coming out of the mailbox). 

The demographic is also very active on email; direct email marketing came in third in the study’s list of most effective marketing channels.

So what types of marketing communications appeal to boomers? Imagery and messaging that is multigenerational—showing a mom and her adult daughter, for example—“may be the best advertising for boomers,” Green says. “They really respond to that intergenerational connection.”

And like millennials, this demographic likes campaigns that focus on supporting sustainability and eco-friendliness. “They’re the first generation to have a green focus,” he says.

Baby boomers are past middle age, but their generation practically invented counterculture in the 1960s—and for many of them, those values of independence and anti-authoritarianism are still attractive. “These are the people who first broke guitars over their heads and lit them on fire,” Green says. “They went against every social more there was.”

So marketing that targets boomers should be, above all else, honest. “Avoid hyperbole,” Gilmartin advises. “They’ve lived long enough to know hype when they see it. Goods and services must perform as advertised.” 
 

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Singer/songwriter/Boss Bruce Springsteen
 

Wise Words

Boomers, who are retired or nearing retirement, are also looking to be entertained. “Fun sells,” Gilmartin adds. “Anything you can do to get a wow reaction will work.” But the experience has to be “social and sensory, quick, and convenient.”

Boomers also tend to be slightly sensitive about their age; though the oldest boomers are technically seniors, they don’t appreciate being reminded of this, Gilmartin says. “Don’t portray baby boomers as frail or weak. Portray them as doing for others, as individuals, as smart, as active, and as wise. Don’t use words like senior or senior citizen. All the typical euphemisms used to describe older populations reek of ageism.”

That’s not to say you should use 40-year-olds to represent 60-year-olds in your ad campaigns. Just be sure to “show people with wrinkles, but have them doing something active.” 

Other don’ts in marketing include hard-to-use websites, small type that’s difficult to read, too little explanation of a product, and focusing on self-indulgence as a virtue, which Gilmartin says is “more effective in younger markets.”

What does appeal to boomers, Green and Gilmartin agree, is communication that stokes emotion. 

“Baby boomers have more complex ways of determining value than younger customers,” Gilmartin says. “Their value determination tends to be an existentialist exercise, whereby soul or spiritual values as well as mind and body values are combined into…the process.”    

The tear-jerking TV ad about a daughter having her first baby, the blood-pumping online clip of an athlete pushing his limits—boomers are thrilled to go on those emotional rides with brands. But only if they feel unfailingly authentic.

PLUS:

Marketing to Generation X: Get Lucky With the 13th Generation
Marketing to Millennials: Or Gen Y, As They’re Also Known
Marketing to Generation Z: Living a Teenage Dream

(Top: Alex Wagner/Getty Images; inset: Maskot/Getty Images; Washington: Vera Anderson/WireImage; Winfrey: Raymond Hall/FilmMagic; Springsteen: Taylor Hill/Getty Images)