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Being 50 or older does not mean curling up on the sofa while sipping cocoa and watching the world go by. The country’s 77 million baby boomers (that’s 28 percent of the U.S. population) are approaching retirement, and they are doing it their way: with high energy; strong opinions; hard-earned wisdom; tremendous spending power; and an absolute resolve to remain vital as long as possible. Spending by the 116 million U.S. consumers ages 50 and older totaled $2.9 trillion in 2009 – up 45 percent from a decade earlier. It’s estimated that over the next 20 years this same group will inherit $14 to $20 trillion. The more marketers understand this feisty and powerful group, the more brands can benefit from meeting their needs and tapping into their spending power.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like marketers need to tune into the boom; ignoring this vital generation means missing out on tremendous opportunities.
I still remember the feelings of denial and shock I felt the first time I had to indicate my age on a questionnaire by checking the dreaded last box on the list. “How can that be?” I questioned. I don’t feel old and I don’t think I act old, but “they” must consider me so. And therein – I believe – lies the biggest challenge to marketing to baby boomers/seniors: they won’t respond to marketing messages addressed to older people. “Because so many marketing executives are under 40 – or even under 30 – many presume most consumers not only think like them, but want to be like them,” Matt Thornhill, founder of The Boomer Project, recently told USA Today. “They forget that people over 50 still have dreams.” I’ll admit, age brings with it special challenges and needs (so, make the copy on labels, products and instructions bigger, and show older consumers how to use new tech toys). Teach them and they will buy! Just ask Apple; their One to One program and Genius Bars are filled with seniors learning to use, then buying new products. Consider companies such as Dove, who has expanded their demographics by marketing a line of skin care products to men ages 35 and older, and General Mills, who has increased the type size on product packages targeting boomers. Romano’s Macaroni Grill recently introduced frozen entrees for two, while Progresso offers low-sodium soups – both perfect for senior consumption.
The economic impact of this generation cannot be ignored. In fact, marketers should celebrate it. In the United States, over 50 percent of discretionary spending power rests with baby boomers, and they are responsible for over half of all consumer spending. Not surprisingly, baby boomers buy 61 percent of over-the-counter medications, and 77 percent of prescription drugs. But their vacation habits play a big role, too; boomers account for 80 percent of leisure travel. And that’s not even counting seniors who are pre- and post- boomers.
With this in mind, here are six suggestions for marketing to the over 50 set:
1. Talk to them and listen. Ask them their opinions; they have a lot to say and like to feel as if their opinions count.
2. Make it easy for them to understand and use your products, but avoid being condescending.
3. Create products and services that make their lives easier, more fulfilling and more fun. Help them in their quest to feel productive.
4. Empower them. Make them feel good about who they are, what they know, what they have and what they can still accomplish.
5. Speak to their needs and interests – not to their age.
6. And please, remember: baby boomers are smart, savvy consumers.
Yes, they shop online, and they most certainly know how to use Google. Trust me, I know.
— Betsy Berman, guest blogger