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Marketing to Baby Boomers & Seniors: Senior or Not Senior – That is the Question

An article in the Chicago Tribune’s June’s Primetime section entitled “Language Lurch” discussed the need for a new vocabulary as ageist terms get old. Referenced was a survey conducted by SeniorMarketing.com to gage the responses of 1,114 people to the language used when describing individuals 50 and older. The survey’s findings reveal that the linguistic map needs an update, as certain words and phrases have fallen out of fashion, or worse, become patently offensive to older customers.

“Knowing the preferred terms when talking about particular groups of people is important from both a human and marketing perspective. The wrong word or phrase can alienate your target audience overnight. The world of politics is rife with these avoidable blunders; businesspeople would do well to learn from such mistakes and set a better example,” explained Kevin Williams, president of SeniorMarketing.com.

We agree with the article contents and referenced survey results. To begin, the 49+ crowd are not all alike. They are more diverse than any other market segment, spanning those at the peak of their careers, to active, independent seniors, to the elderly in need of care. It really doesn’t matter what product or service is being marketed. Effectively approaching baby boomers and older customers’ demands knowledge of their values and purchase motivators and converting that knowledge into images and copy that connects with them.

All the typical euphemisms used to describe older populations and the products targeted to them typically reek of ageism. We in marketing use the terms baby boomer and senior to help differentiate the two groups because the terms are in such common use. The terms reflect the 49 + markets. You need to think of your target markets as who they are – people. Address them by Mr. Mrs., Miss, and last name. Use first name (with permission). Product oriented such as “Sports Enthusiast”, “Movie Lover” will work as well. Lastly, think of them as a customer or consumer; a person.

Another key is to connect with the values and motivators of people in the fall and winter of life. They’ll recognize the product/service is for them. The communicator’s objective is to create messages that get their attention through all the marketing clutter including how the brain processes information.

A concurrent step is to assure the product or service meets their lifestyle/living needs. Remember, the worst thing that can happen to a poor performing company is a great ad campaign (great expectations are created and they’ll likely be disappointed).

Here are some clues to communicating with and ultimately selling to the New Customer Majority.

  1. Don’t talk down to, or treat them as children, or remind them of their age. Most do not consider themselves “old.”
  2. Although there is disagreement about using words like “senior citizen,” reserve such terms for World War II veterans, but not for the leading edge of the baby boomers who started turning 55 in 2001.
  3. Be authentic. Use realistic but positive images of mature people. Show people with wrinkles but have them doing something active.
  4. Stick to the facts about your product or service. Older people make more independent judgments and base their decisions on information rather than peer pressure.
  5. Design your communications so that older people will stick around and read what you have to say.
  6. Avoid overly busy website design; small type sizes; garish colors; and gratuitous design elements such as flash or slow-loading graphics. Click here for more details on creating effective websites.
  7. Avoid “hype” at all costs. The older consumer has “seen it all” and is naturally skeptical.
  8. Win mature people over gradually. You will have to gain their trust before they will buy from you.
  9. Give them content. Older people are avid readers and will appreciate the information you provide.

Finally, you likely know the rules of marketing have changed. The customer experience has replace product features and benefits as the most important of factors in achieving a competitive difference leading to highly motivated boomer and older customers.

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