While they’re texting, updating spreadsheets, and juggling multiple CRMs – all at the same time, mind you – I’m still trying to find that stupid document I saved yesterday. Tech-savvy, I’m not. Unless by “tech-savvy” you mean crying in front of the Geek Squad. (Okay, I didn’t cry so much as hyperventilate. It was still embarrassing.)
What can I say? In this ever-evolving, culturally fluid century, I’m a time-lost relic; a woolly mammoth trying my best not to step on the toes of any “woke” hominids, be they Gen-Xers, Millennials, or whatever comes after them. (Bi-centennials? Gen-AI? Pretty sure the Terminators are in there somewhere.)
I, on the other hand, am part of the baby boomer generation, if just barely. I was born in 1964, the cut-off date for this massively large and influential group of consumers born between 1945-1964. I (and my older “siblings”) did not grow up with computers. We had calculators, and even then, I struggled just turning mine on.
But as we’ll discuss in more detail later, when it comes to technology, I’m actually the exception to the rule. Most baby boomers are quite proficient with today’s computers, smartphones, and the like. According to Google, they’re also identified as possessing a strong work ethic, being self-assured, competitive, goal-centric, resourceful, mentally focused, team oriented, and disciplined. (I wish I had Google when I was growing up. It would have done wonders for my self-esteem.)
Having established my boomer credentials, the question then follows: Why should you (who in all likelihood are a generation or more removed from mine), consider including the B-team when putting together your marketing plans?
It’s actually a good question. After all, I was always taught advertisers are primarily interested in capturing the 18 to 49-year-old demographic. Although boomers once occupied that ideal age bracket, we’ve moved on to Greener Pastures (which is actually the name of a senior living community – shh!) and the inflated void we left behind has been filled by Gen-Xers and Millennials.
We’re yesterday’s news. Or are we?
My research also revealed one very good reason to throw some marketing dollars our way. Turns out (and this is critical, so pay attention, junior), so-called boomers control more than 70 percent of the nation’s disposable income.
Yes, you read that right. Seventy. Percent.
Or in other words, Boom - in yo’ face! (See what I did there?)
That, in a nutshell, is why it makes good business sense to chase those boomer bucks. We may not be as hip and cool (or lit or dope or whatever the current lingo is today) as those upstart Millennials with their selfies and skinny jeans, but we can still make a significant difference to your bottom line.
So now that we agree that boomers have money to burn, how exactly should you go about marketing to all – or at least some – of the 74 million of them? Well, based on my Google-fueled research (plus personal experience), following are some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind when marketing to baby boomers.
As mentioned above, I’m the exception, not the rule. Many - if not most - baby boomers are quite tech-savvy and surprisingly active on social media. In fact, as a group, baby boomers spend more time online than the millennial generation. (Yeah, that one surprised me, too.)
Studies have shown that 51% of baby boomers spend 15 hours per week online, while only 41% of millennials spend the same amount of time online (although to be fair, I’m guessing that’s because most baby boomers are retired and not only have disposable income, but also disposable time, on their hands. Haw-Ha! Baby boomers also love quoting “The Simpsons.”).
So where on-line are all these techno-boomers congregating? Although today’s generation is all about Tik-Tok, Snapchat and Jibber-Jab (okay, I made that last one up, but for a second there, you weren’t too sure), baby boomers’ preferred platforms are Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.
Drilling down deeper, statistics also confirm that 15.5% of baby boomers who have a Facebook account spend 11+ hours per week on that site. So if you want to reach baby boomers with your marketing wizardry, those are the platforms you need to be on. (And if you want to invest in Jibber-Jab, let’s talk later.)
(Oh, and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed I switched from the somewhat demeaning term “boomer” to the more acceptable designation “baby boomer.” Why? Because the term “boomer” was condescending and disrespectful, and baby boomers don’t like being dismissed as old or stupid. Which as it so happens, brings me to my next point…)
C’mon, you don’t need stats to back this up, just common sense. No one likes to be treated as old and/or stupid. But as you do get older (and, alas, slower), and the world - especially technology - gets ever faster, trust me, it’s easy to feel that way.
So when someone comes along and seems to dismiss or disrespect your capabilities, it’s that much easier to take offense, even when none was meant. Word to the wise, tread carefully.
One way to avoid this situation is by foregoing the use of high-tech terminology and abbreviations that your baby boomer clients may not be familiar with. As we established a couple paragraphs back, most baby boomers are able to easily operate their lap-top and smartphone, but that doesn’t mean they grew up with computers like you did.
It's the difference between being a native speaker or someone who learned English as a second language. There’s an inherent familiarity and nimbleness that a native speaker just naturally possesses. Someone who learned English later in life may become an accomplished speaker, but most likely will never experience that same level of confidence with the language. Show some consideration and turn down the techno-babble.
Not just because our frames of reference are so often different, but also because the medium through which those jokes are transmitted has evolved over time.
Have you ever heard a joke that referenced an incident, celebrity, or movie that was before your time, and your only response was “Yeah, I don’t get it”? Deep down, that unfamiliarity may leave you feeling more than a little dumb and out of touch. Happens to all of us, but you do not want to create those feelings in your target audience. You’ll quickly lose their attention and goodwill, and the joke will be on you.
The other tricky thing about humor nowadays is that it’s often delivered in the form of a meme. Now, even I can figure out most memes, but they are a new medium of humor that I didn’t grow up with. That, in turn, is a constant but subtle reminder that I’m not as young as I like to think of myself. Which, let’s face it, is not the most receptive state of mind a successful marketer wants to create.
So if you’re going to use humor in your marketing campaign, I suggest you first run it by a baby boomer or two to see whether it elicits the desired response or just creates bewilderment. If the latter, you may need to re-think your approach.
Studies have shown that baby boomers actually prefer to digest more – not less – written information about a product before making a purchase, in marked contrast to younger consumers who often have the attention span of a mosquito on Red Bull. So, if you’ve got selling points to share, bring ‘em.
However, there is one tiny detail that is often overlooked by younger marketers. Baby boomers (and even some Gen-Xers) are now dealing with declining vision. So if you do create advertising targeted to us that contains a good chunk of copy (or, heck, even a little chunk of copy), don’t go too small with the font size (anything less than 16pt is problematic). In this case, size really does matter. And stay away from pastel-colored text. Contrast is a good thing, people.
Speaking from personal experience, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to read a text or email ad that I’m genuinely interested in, but have to squint to make out the words. It makes me feel old, and old equals cranky. And trust me, you don’t want me cranky. Throw me and my retirement homies a bone, and keep font size and color in mind.
One of the best (and worst) things about the Internet is the massive popularity of on-line shopping. Between Amazon and Ebay, I have packages delivered to my doorstep on an almost daily basis. (And no, I’m not a hoarder; I’m a collector. Don’t judge me.). It’s only when there’s a problem with the product and how the issue is resolved that the difference between baby boomers and subsequent generations reveals itself.
Perhaps because my generation actually grew up shopping in brick-and-mortar stores (what in ancient days we called “the mall”), when we need to exchange or return a product, we much prefer dealing with a flesh-and-blood person rather than handling it via chat or email. It’s not a question of convenience so much as comfort. And if you can make your potential customers comfortable, you’ll have gained their appreciation and loyalty.
Therefore, if you plan on marketing and selling to baby boomers (and acquiring some of that sweet disposable income – ka-ching!), you should really consider investing in personal (i.e., face-to-face, or at least voice-to-voice) customer service.
Let’s face it: It’s always going to be easier to interact and market to those who fall within your own generation. You share an instant connection with people who grew up watching the same cartoons, eating the same cereals, and playing the same video games. You get them, they get you. Stepping out of that comfort zone to embrace a broader (and older) base of potential customers can take some planning and effort.
But when it comes to baby boomers, there are plenty of reasons to do so. I outlined just a few, but to learn more, I recommend the following articles.
I don’t know when the idea of naming different generations came into being. I’m pretty sure it started with the baby boomers, since their overwhelming size made them such a culturally and economically influential generation that advertisers needed a handy (and catchy) phrase to sum them up.
And “baby boomer” was so successful that it demanded a sequel (Gen-X), and then another (Millennials). Now it’s turned into a sprawling franchise like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with new generational categories being released every couple of years.
But no matter how many sequels, prequels, or generations they come out with, I think we can all agree, the original is almost always the best.
Written by Kinn Melby
Image by CottonBro
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