Busting Three Baby Boomer Myths for a More Effective Connection

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Contrary to popular misconceptions perpetuated by the media and businesses, Baby Boomers cannot be grouped by traditional demographic marketing, management, and sales approaches. Here are three myths about this constantly evolving generation worth busting.

Myth #1: Understand One Boomer and You Understand Them All

The Baby Boomers have been making waves since their arrival in 1946. History tells us that we were a country unprepared for this generation from the start. Far different than the generation before them, the Baby Boomers choose to march to the beat of their own drum. As they move through each season and stage of their life they continue to redefine who they are, what they need, and set new objectives.

In David B Wolfe’s blog, “Ageless Marketing,” he breaks life down in terms of four seasons. Each season has its own set of needs that may be somewhat unique to that season. Each season of life has its own developmental objectives.

  1. SPRING: A desire for play and revolving around a fantasy theme—everything will work out “my way.”
  1. SUMMER: Young adulthood years concerned with social and vocational development.
  1. FALL: Midlife years refining and developing the inner self with a major question being, “What is the purpose of my life?” A balance between personal and professional lives.
  1. WINTER: Reconciliation and acceptance are the primary motivators, attempting to make sense of a person’s life.

Baby Boomers are currently in the Fall/Winter season of life. Their decisions are based on not only facts, but also the wealth of experiences they have accumulated up to this point.

They are also experiencing more significant life events simultaneously than any other generation such as; becoming grandparents, raising toddlers, getting married, retiring, returning to school, caring for aging parents, starting new careers, and more.

This unique combination of life seasons and events makes it especially difficult to group Boomers using traditional demographic marketing, management, and sales approaches. Understanding the customer takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Boomers. One size does not fit all—not even a close!

Myth #2: Boomer Consumers are More Brand Loyal

A study conducted by Focalyst, a joint venture between AARP and the Kantar Group, revealed that Baby Boomers are less brand-loyal than previously thought. In fact, it appears that they are just as likely to switch brands and experiment with new products as younger cohorts.

When comparing loyalty to service brands vs. specific products the study revealed the following:

SERVICE BRANDS

SPECIFIC PRODUCTS

72% remain loyal to their auto insurance company 78% switch TV service providers regularly
63% won’t switch life insurance companies 70% are willing to switch home appliance brands
63% won’t switch banks 73% of the time, they switch clothing brands

 

Boomers are willing to switch brands and pay more for a product that better meets their needs. There is that word again—needs. Additionally, only 50% of those surveyed were willing to buy generic or store brand because it costs less. They are willing to switch brands and pay more!

I was surprised to read that 65% of the companies interviewed in this study had no specific marketing plan for the Boomer consumer. Do they assume that loyalty to brands and products become fixed with age or do they fear that creating Boomer (senior) messaging will “age” their brand? Even the Super Bowl XLVI commercials ignored the Baby Boomers!

Chico’s, a specialty retailer, “gets it.” They understand that Boomer women have unique needs and they’ll spend more now than when their clothing budget stretched to cover kids. Here are a few ways they have mastered ageless marketing and strive for brand loyalty:

  • They design stores, products and services that are comfortable for aging Boomers without making it obvious that they’re compensating for aging Boomers
  • They have no mirrors in their stores. Instead they have personal style assistants (Boomers?) that understand the customer
  • Their sizing charts run from 000-4.5—replacing conventional sizes of 0-22. Because size is just a number—the simpler, the better
  • They will set appointments for larger groups (10+) to come in before or after hours and offer a discount on purchases

Check out this insightful article, “SIXTYSOMETHING,” published on RetailTrafficmag.com. With an annual purchasing power of $3.4 trillion, Baby Boomers certainly deserve more attention than they are getting.

Myth #3: Boomers Don’t Embrace Technology

Some people believe technology is only truly embraced by the younger groups (Gen Y) who’ve grown up in a world reliant on it. EMarketer, a New York–based market research company, finds that Boomers are crawling all over the Web. In 2011, 78 percent of Boomers were online. Younger Boomers (ages 47 to 55) spent an average of 39.3 hours online per month, while older Boomers (ages 56 to 65) averaged 36.5 hours per month.

Why and how do they use the Internet? According to a study conducted by ThirdAge, the top three reasons Baby Boomers spend time online are to seek out information (92 percent), to stay in touch with friends and family (92 percent), and to shop online (73 percent).

  • 47% connect to the Internet wirelessly
  • E-Commerce- 81% research products, 70% buy goods, 68% travel reservations, 58% banking, 27% online auctions
  • 38% are on video sharing sites
  • When Boomers participate in social media, they are more likely to be passive participants. In a given week, 27 percent of Boomers read blogs, while only 7 percent actually blog
  • According to Pew Research, they’re more likely than GenX’ers to use the web to gather information, nearly as likely to shop online, and they’re avid consumers of digital health information
  • Hitwise data from 2006 showed 5 categories strongly represented by those over the age of 55: Pharmacies, eGreetings, Cruises, Gambling/Gaming, and Entertainment Competitions [Data Sources: Pew Research and Hitwise]

What’s important for us to understand from these statistics is that, while Boomers may lag behind younger age groups in their adoption of a specific technology, Boomers will generally follow suit soon afterwards.

Business and the media, mostly from a marketing perspective, perpetuate all three of these myths. Boomers are a vast and varied group who are redefining themselves through each season, stage, and life event. They are just waiting for you to effectively connect with them where they are today. Seek to understand them.

Are you a Baby Boomer? Do you know a Baby Boomer? Are there myths about this generation that you would like to bust? I want to hear from you!

Joanna Ellis

President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

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