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Marketing to Baby Boomers

Marketing to Baby Boomers: A 60-Year-Old Woman Is Not Just An Older Version of Her 30-Year-Old Self

The 50+ adult market represents one-third of the population, yet controls three-fourths of the wealth. One of the 78 million Baby Boomers reaches 50 every seven seconds. Boomers make 80 percent of luxury travel purchases, 58 percent of luxury auto sales, 41 percent of all new car and truck sales, 77 percent of prescription drug sales and 61 percent of over-the-counter drug sales.

Now that the adult median age is in the mid-40s and continuing to rise, pressure is building on marketing and sales professionals to learn how to better market to a dominantly older consumer population. Progress in this direction must be founded in the recognition that young, middle-aged and old brains and minds all work differently.

Their spending habits change, which creates an opportunity for marketers to capture their interest as well as their loyalty. A broad lack of understanding of Second Half markets permeates the marketing community. Few marketers have enough working knowledge of the worldviews, values, needs and motivations of people in Second Half Markets to be as effective in those markets as they have been in First Half markets.

Marketing messages that embrace clichéd themes not only miss their mark but also alienate the Baby Boomer and senior customer. Survey after survey reports that people over age 50 feel that advertising messages geared to them are condescending, stereotypical and place far too much emphasis on medical conditions. Smart marketers are replacing conventional approaches with new ways of understanding and connecting with older Americans.

Traditionally, companies have relied on many methods to predict consumer behavior, including those based on chronological, biological or psychological age–or on consumers’ attitudes, opinions or demographics. Chronological age is no longer considered sufficient for understanding older adults. Biological age provides an understanding of metabolic changes such as decreasing visual and aural acuity or diminished mobility, but health declines occur at different rates in different people.

Lessons on marketing meted out in business schools and learned on the job in the marketplace reflect decades of experience in markets dominated by the views, values and behavior of people under the age of 40. In 1989, the year that adults 40 and older became the New Customer Majority, the validity of many ideas about marketing, that were shaped by experiences in youth dominated markets began to fade, however, not necessarily their influence on marketing. LikeNewton’s law of momentum – an object in motion tends to stay in motion – ideas in play tend to stay in play. Ultimately, the biggest challenge in marketing today is overcoming the momentum of old ideas made obsolete by the Internet, new insights from brain research and the rapidly growing Baby Boomer and senior customer markets.

Why have the workings of the mind mattered so little in marketing? Young people’s behavior is influenced more by the masses than is the case with older people. With the young, if you know the behavior of the group, you have a good idea about the behavior of one. Not so with older people who’s more individuated, subjective, autonomous behavior is less easily reduced to meaningful statistical constructs. Thus, success in the Baby Boomer and senior dominated marketplace is more certain when marketing activities reflect tenets of behavioral science as well as rules of statistical math.

Though we don’t notice it happening, changes take place across our full life span in how information is processed by our brains (which process information sent to it by the five senses) and the mind (where thinking takes place). As we like to say, a 60-year-old woman is not simply a 30 year older version of her 30-year-old self. The contents of a webpage, commercial, print ad or direct mail piece will be processed markedly different from how a 25- to 30-year-old mind processes the same information. She’s in a different season of life, with a different worldview. She has different needs, and manifests her motivations and values differently. Her priorities have changed; things that once mattered much, now often matter less and things that once mattered little now often matter more.

Midlife developmental changes in the behavior of members of the Baby Boomer and senior customer markets challenge the view of marketing as a game of persuasion. The object of marketing has been to “capture” customers and overwhelm their wills. That’s why so much marketing is not working. Adaptive marketing can put marketing back on track. This oneness turns customers into co-creators of marketing success. Customers provide energy to move marketing forward at a faster clip than the marketer can achieve alone.

One of the major points to remember is: “You sell nothing directly to the conscious intellect. The brain sorts all information coming through the five senses and only that which it deems relevant to our needs makes it to our conscious.” This is so very important and the number one reason why so many advertisements and sales letters fail in producing results. Research tells us human beings make buying decisions on an emotional basis. After the buying decision is made, we begin the process of using the analytical part of our brain to reassure ourselves we made the right choice, but the fact remains, “We all make emotional buying decisions!”

Emotions are one of the most powerful influences we have. Think back for a minute and try to think of anything that you’ve purchased where your emotions haven’t played a major part in the decision process. We use our emotions to help visualize ourselves benefiting from the purchase of a particular product or service. When was the last time you bought something that there weren’t any emotions attached to the purchase? I don’t think you’ll find even one instance!

Research has shown that consumers’ final decisions are not the direct product of the reasoning process; in fact, emotions clearly drive Baby Boomers and seniors in their purchase decisions. The reasoning process will confirm their decision, but it doesn’t start there.

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