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How to market to the original Baby Boomers

How to market to the original Baby Boomers

By Dr. Bob Deutsch, Brain Sells, Boston.

The first Baby Boomers will turn 65 in 2011.  In the US alone, more than 3.5 million babies were born in 1946. 

Volumes have been written about the Vietnam-era proclivities and behaviors of this post-WWII cohort.  In contrast, our conception of Seniors - what Boomers soon will be - is highly stereotyped.

Aging is something we Americans do not like to attend to.  We go for youth, we go for the "new." 

So how should marketers plan to communicate with an arthritic Chubby Checker, a Paul McCartney who is looking back at 64, trying to reach gray-haired couples who are still "Singin' in Rain" or just rolling in a rocking chair?

Baby Boomers can accurately be labeled "Pragmatic Idealists."  As a demographic they are a "glass-half-full" group.

They feel they can make things the way they want them to be, or at least engage with the forces at work to tilt the odds 51% in their favour.

Even in our constrained economy, Baby Boomers still seek, and assume, growth, all the while acknowledging new limitations in resources.

In interviews they say things like:

"We now have more responsibility and less irresponsibility."
"Anger, in the long run, just hurts you."
"Hey, maybe 'now' is an opportunity.  It forces you to re-evaluate who you are and where you are going."

Sharp Contrast with Gen X

In sharp contrast, Gen-Xer's generally perceive themselves to be in real trouble. 

For the most part, Xer's are losing hope in the ties that bind hard work to success.  They see their future as "closing."

This hunkered-down mentality foreshortens their vision of themselves, others, and the world.  Their orientation, about almost everything, is defensive.  Listen to their tone:

"Money makes the world go around.  Now I have less money. Now I have less hope."
"I feel better when I see someone worse off than me."
"I gotta fight for everything, and I don't have a lot."
 "What's the point?"

Three basic life structures of Boomers

1. Identity - Optimism and Adaptation to Power Diminished

The developmental history of Boomers casts them as characters that possess a self-expansive nature primarily devoid of cynicism.  Yes, time will add a few more rings around their trunk causing recognition of new limitations, but for the most part the 65+ crowd embodies a vitality that makes them survivors, even if they can't always be thrivers.

2. Territoriality - Space Contracts and is Re-Articulated

As Boomers age their odometers might not proceed as fast, home range will become more important, and getting settled in new spaces - a smaller, closer-to-town abode or a move to a warmer climate - will require adaptation to new interpersonal and larger social arrangements.

How they will develop new networks - digital and face-to-face - will provide new opportunities for marketers.  The same is true for how Boomers will develop requirements for new types of mundane services, particularly in the domains of finance, healthcare, and personal care products.

3. Time - Perceptions of Past, Present ad Future

As people age their nostalgic yearnings grow, making them more receptive to advertisers and marketers use of what researchers call "a longing for positive memories of the past."

Moreover, nostalgia can make Boomers feel that not so much time has passed between then and now, making them feel young (er) again, still with a long ways to go and the time to get "there."

Nostalgia should be considered as one marketing aesthetic to attract Boomers because it telescopes time and brings it more under each individual's own emotional orchestration.

Points to remember when marketing to Boomers.

1. Boomers are at a time in life when they really don't want to compromise their authenticity.

2. For Boomers, process is at least as important as the end-result.  They want "the ride."

3. Boomers like to inspire others.  Help them feel helpful.

4. Boomers have been around long enough to know there are few absolutes, little is black or white.

5. Accentuate personal style over rote action or blind ritual.

6. Boomers are oriented to the human dimension, that's the only real thing.  They can see the humor in most situations.

7. What Boomers really dislike is felling put upon by arbitrary power, feeling trapped, conned, boxed-in, and being thought of as one of the masses.

8. Boomers are creative and conservative ("A beautiful garden is wild and tended").

9. Boomers go for what gives voice to things they are thinking and feeling, but haven't fully worked out yet.

10. Boomers respond to what stands out by its presence, not its loudness; and what shows them it really listens and, therefore, understands.


Now, in times of less goodies and more unpredictability, recognizing the authenticity of your audience and having deep insights into their self- perceptions and primal meanings (not garnered by traditional market research methods) will parse corporate success stories from those that muddle through or worse.

This is particularly true for marketers who seek the aging Boomer as their customers.

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