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The Problem Isn’t the Things That We Don’t Know; It’s the Things We Know That Ain’t So

Almost everything we know about marketing and selling was learned when consumers under 40 pretty much shaped cultural values and ruled the marketplace. Now the Baby Boomers (50 years of age and older) continue to be a huge influence on shaping cultural values and the rules of marketing and selling simply because of their numerical superiority. So, much of what you know about marketing and selling is wrong if you are still working with assumptions about consumer behavior that developed when markets were much younger.

Mark Twain wrote “The problem isn’t the things that we don’t know; it’s the things we ‘know’ that ain’t so.” His comment is simply a reflection of a common sense reality. Today, traditional marketing and selling draw on a lot of things “we ‘know’ that ain’t so.” For instance: Marketers once “knew” (and many still do) that people 50 and older rarely change brands. Everybody “knew” that once consumers settled in on a brand or a company, they became more resistant to switching as they got older.

Research shows that to be wrong. In a number of categories Boomer customers are more likely to switch brands and companies than younger customers. How many dollars of business are lost each year by companies whose marketers “know” that spending money to attract the business of people who are 50 and over sales is a waste of money? The problem is, that once something that is just plain wrong appears as truth in the media or falls from the lips of someone we expect has all the answers, most people don’t question it anymore. We often don’t test information that affects how we do our job for its accuracy.

Customers’ trust in those they buy from has declined hugely over the past two decades.  One reason is, as the population ages, a larger percentage of customers are highly experienced customers. It’s estimated that almost 90% of new product introductions fail and accuracy of market research has fallen. This means marketers and salespeople may have less understanding of the mind of older markets than they think. Older customers are showing greater independence from marketers in making buying decisions.

And, gaining customer trust has never been as critical as now. Why? Just think about the endless flood of news about people who have violated public trust, such as politicians on the take, pedophile priests, CEOs who plunder corporate treasuries, athletes on drugs, under-age movie stars arrested for DWI, etc. Thus effectiveness of famous personality endorsements has declined.

Boomers are also less likely to be responsive to idealized images of themselves and life. Increasingly they view images of “the perfect life,” “the perfect vacation,” “the perfect anything” as dishonest. They want the unvarnished truth more than ever. Several years ago when Dove personal products began using “real women” ads, sales took off.  Today’s Boomers know better than their parents did when they are prey for marketers and salespeople.

Finally, Boomers also generally want high quality experiences with companies and people they buy from. Often, the quality of the experience counts for more than the product. And, the older mind also tends to be more experientially oriented in its quest for the good life. Many Boomers are transcending the idea that happiness is found in things. They have learned that happiness that is most lasting is found in experiences, not things – like outings with family and grandchildren, walks in the woods, giving back and helping others, and taking time out to savor a brilliant sunset. Challenge the things you know that ain’t so.







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