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The Average Baby Boomer Market Doesn’t Exist

by Jim Gilmartin –

The purpose of marketing and sales communications is to stimulate awareness, interest and desire in customer minds that lead to decisions to buy. An implicit presumption in marketing is that customers’ minds – at least adult customers’ minds – process information more or less the same way. Therefore, marketers stereotypically direct communication to the “average customer.”

Furthermore, when targeting Boomer and older customers, marketers tend to group these demos into “the Boomer market” or “the senior market.” The danger is this approach creates a herd marketing mentality when attempting to connect with these very diverse populations. In Boomer and older customer populations the average customer does not exist.

Information processing varies considerably across the life span. If marketers don’t key an ad or sales presentation to the information-processing styles that characterize customers within a later life stage, the presentation will likely fall short of achieving its objectives. The message must resonate with the cognitive styles of the objective targets of the message.

The experience of emotion motivates people to act. This obvious notion has become even more significant with the published findings in neuroscience concerning human motivations. The experience of emotion is necessary to motivating individuals to act (on matters having personal relevance).

However, Boomer cognitive operations reflect a shift from the dominantly objective mode of younger minds to a blended mode that reflects increasing amounts of subjectivity. Simplistically speaking, this means there are less rationally-derived content and more emotionally-derived content in the fully-formed perceptions of Boomers as they age. Boomers, 51 to 69 years of age, will generally “get the picture” with less being said, provided what is said is capable of quickly stirring emotional responses. 

Empirical studies generally have shown that Baby Boomers are relatively superior to younger adults in understanding emotional states. On the other hand, it appears that older minds tend to be slower in getting the picture when the information representing it is emotionally neutral (expository in nature). Therefore, to focus on functional competence in the early stages of a Boomer-company relationship is to place emphasis on the least important issues in the Boomer’s mind.

Too many facts too early in the Boomer-company relationship dampen feelings. We process emotional material more deeply than non-emotional material. This suggests that often the best way to transmit objective, emotionally neutral information to Boomers is to piggyback it on, or sandwich it between, emotionally enriched information. Weaving information into an attractive tapestry that integrates “facts” into an emotionalizing matrix can satisfy the need of Boomer customers to gauge the potential emotional quality of the relationship before considering the product. Since you can only feel relationship quality, it is difficult to measure.

Whereas findings add to the considerable literature documenting age-related decrements for neutral information, they suggest that a similar toll is not taken on memory for emotional information; thus, emotional material may come to occupy relatively more thought over time. Emotional information is retained and recallable in detail.

This observation is the crux of the matter. It suggests that the traditional focus of marketing communications and sales presentations on product features and benefits and other objective information reaches a point of diminishing returns more quickly among Baby Boomers.

Effective and successful ads and sales presentations begin with creating an emotional environment that typically reflects:

  1. A desire to listen to the Baby Boomer
  2. A process that eases the qualification process
  3. An understanding of the Boomer’s needs and wants
  4. An understanding of the changing communications process in Boomer customers
  5. The development of a bond, a trusting relationship (vulnerability, honesty and integrity)
  6. An ease in the processing of relevant facts and information
  7. Continuing expressions of empathy, not sympathy
  8. An understanding of the value and effectiveness of storytelling and personal anecdotes 

Finally, respecting differences of people in the fall and winter of life will result in content and style in ads and sales presentations that will deliver high-quality results more often.

Contact Coming of Age for more information about connecting with the Baby Boomer and 50-plus audiences.

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