Introduction to: Understanding the Boomers and Beyond Market authored by Leslie M. Harris, Ph.D
Marketing can seem an endless pursuit of the youth market. Particularly these days, when it takes a mind wired to multi-task to keep up with the rapid rate of technology innovation. As I write this, the ipad2 and iphone 4 launched within the past month. By the time you read this, chances are, those products will be 1-3 generations old.
Advertising agencies and marketers alike have set their sights squarely on the Millenials (born 1981 and later). As the first of these Boomer children come of age themselves, they are themselves a huge target group, rivaling the Boomers in sheer size of constituent. Their political leanings, product preferences, and lifestyles are influenced by social media, wired living, and the expectations that the world actually does revolve around them – as predetermined by their doting Boomer parents! They are the new generation of product developers and CEOs and they will create products that delight each other and are already redefining how we communicate as a society. They are the stuff of social revolution.
There is a matter of sheer practicality. In the immediate term, Boomers have more money to spend on your products and services. They always have. Their generational behavior has been to spend healthily – $2 trillion in spending power, to be exact – and though their sentiments have become more balanced in recent years; they have valued credit, loans, experimentation, and consumerism over saving and more conservative living. As culture evolves to support green marketing, technologic proliferation in the household and global travel, Boomers are actually setting the pace for experimentation and consumption in these areas. While they may not be considered “aspirational users” of these products by younger users, they are practical influencers of purchase as they gift down to their Millennial kids. The fastest growing audience in social media is Silent Generation users as Millennial and their kids dump family experience and photos into these media and radiate viewership. Boomers may not be seen at the forefront of these trends, but they are actually at the fulcrum.
Further, Boomers kept their jobs through the recession. The New York Times reported that unemployment rates for younger age groups have been far higher than those for older Americans. The most recent unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 years old is 14.2 percent; for those 25 to 34, it is 9.4 percent. The rate for people aged 55 to 64 is only 6.2 percent.
While marketers are still fixated on products for youth, television executives are realizing that the core of their viewership is changing. Despite the impression that “American Idol” is fed by teenage music addicts, the average prime time viewer is 51. Boomers watch some 170 hours of TV a month, or five to six hours a day, according to Nielsen Co.—compared with an average of four hours and 49 minutes a day for the total TV-viewing population. Almost half of boomers use digital recording devices and stream shows online. Programming executives are responding by casting Boomer favorites like Tom Selleck (“Blue Bloods”) and Ed O’Neill (“Modern Family”) in response to audience research. Advertising agencies are still creating youth-filled TV spots, and for awhile this will be all right, as Boomers see themselves as youthful and in some ways ageless. But as more of them hit that magical 65 age, it will be harder for them to relate to these images and yet they will continue to dominate TV’s audience. Sooner or later, we will have to start appealing to them more directly than is evident today. Sure, there are some product categories who market to Boomers directly. But eventually, Boomers will push back on car companies and tech companies who refuse to embrace them in imagery.
Smart companies like GE are already hard at work developing the next generation of products for Boomers – after all, every 7 seconds, an American turns 50 years old. Considerations of older age will need to be examined and elegant solutions developed as Boomers proceed to reinvent old age. Industrial designer Marc Hottenroth told Fast Company Magazine, “They won’t give up style or performance, and they won’t buy something made specifically for aging because that’s not how they see themselves. But if it’s easier to use and it speaks to their needs, they’ll love it.” Mass embrace of industrial redesign of products with aging in mind, will usher in an era of simplicity in products such as we’ve never known. In this way, Boomers will influence the products and services in the development pipeline for the masses – including the youth population. There won’t be Kindle for Seniors – just a new improved Kindle that’s elegantly simpler and supports better and more universal functionality.
Convinced you want some of that Boomer dollar share now? Good. Keep in mind that the generation is splitting intensely now. As Boomers turn 65, some are retiring. Some are preparing mentally to retire. Compare this with the youngest swathe of the generation – who still have kids in the home, some very young kids as a result of second families – and you have some completely different lifestyles to deal with. Segmenting the market for your product or service is critical to get the message and targeting right. Universally they all struggle with sandwiching – that effect caused by their own parents living longer and entering a lifestage where they also need care. Look for innovations in the market to help Boomers handle the aging of their own parents, in the next 5 years.
I know I might be preaching to the converted. Chances are you bought this book to get some perspective on how to market to Boomers and not whether to do so. In the following pages, some of the world’s most trusted experts will answer this question. This is a time of prime opportunity, in which companies are youth-enamored. Capitalizing on the trends and insights contained in these pages, can propel your business forward with an unfair share of Boomers while those other companies aren’t looking. Happy reading!
Dr. Leslie Harris is a grandfather and distinguished advisory board member of GRAND Magazine