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The Crisis of Faulty Online Marketing Paradigms

A crisis is afoot in online marketing, and many marketing professionals don’t know it. The price of their ignorance could be significant. Their inability to effectively market to baby boomers and senior customers (older customers), may significantly affect the bottom line. The spoils will go to those who perceive the crises, understand the changing behavior of the markets, and outsell their competitors. Clearly, at approximately 114 million strong, the older customer is today’s target population, and, more so, tomorrow’s.

Older customers are smarter than many online marketers think they are, and they are willing to take their business elsewhere. Marketers seem to know that effective marketing is essential for business and for survival in a highly competitive world. Nevertheless, paradoxically, online marketing approaches may be getting worse for the largest segment (estimated at approximately 60 to 80 percent) of the customer markets.

There is great lip service, as is seen in many annual reports, and the revered wisdom of consultants supports the need for quantum leaps in tried and true approaches to acquiring and retaining these populations. Yet, many online marketers often don’t succeed in marketing to this significant share of their total market. And, many times, rarely try. The penalty is growing for those uninformed marketers that fail to better understand these growing and affluent customers.

Today, companies generally decided what customers want. Researchers assist companies in this task by creating statistical representations of customers. Data on individual customers is homogenized in profiles of “average” customers. This dehumanizes customers and inhibits online marketers’ ability to make empathetic connections with them. The process makes claims of being ‘customer-driven’ at least marginally fraudulent because statistics rather than real customers have driven marketing processes.”

Both Online and traditional advertising is also in a deep funk because, and just as many client companies now suspect, too few agencies understand today’s older customers. Madison Avenue is beset by what David Wolfe, noted author and lecturer on marketing to older customers calls CYS (chronic youth syndrome). It has been unable to cure itself of the idea that youth rules the marketplace. The New Customer Majority adults 45 and older are shaping the leading values, views and behaviors of the marketplace. Even Gen Y reflects values, views and behavior that psychologists customarily associate with midlife.

Companies and ad agencies that remain fixated on youth and young adult markets would do well to study the New Balance story. Perhaps no company projected a better understanding of its customers than New Balance. So the story goes, New Balance became the fastest growing athletic shoe company in the U.S in the 1990’s by connecting with the midlife values that now rule the marketplace.

What’s more, while New Balance chose to go after aging boomer markets, it also outpaced its competition in young markets, giving support to the idea that younger customers are following the lead of middle age customers. Incidentally, New Balance didn’t use famous athlete endorsements in its marketing. Such endorsements have less influence on the buying behavior of middle age and older customers. New Balance’s younger customers followed suit by buying New Balance in spite of its having no Michael Jordan to hawk the brand. If the older person can’t ascertain an ad’s relevance to them, they tend to tune it out.

Madison Avenue is alienating the largest, wealthiest and fastest growing group of customers.

Agency leaders need to call in experts on the values, views and behaviors that are typical of midlife customers. They need to train online and traditional creatives, writers and technocrats to work in today’s older markets. Otherwise, those young professionals will continue seeing customers through their own frame of reference (the lens of youth), and creating communications and messages that are disconnects with both the New Customer Majority and the younger customers they influence.

The famous bank robber Willy Sutton was asked why he robbed banks to which he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Many people who run the ad agencies don’t appear to be as smart as Willie Sutton.

A final thought: online marketers aren’t the only ones with CYS. It is pervasive in company marketing departments. If an enlightened agency cures itself of CYS, it must mount an aggressive campaign to rid company-marketing departments of CYS through education.

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