The Boomers You Don’t Know

Discussion
Jun 04, 2008

By George Anderson

An article on the Stores magazine website, Five Things You Don’t Know About Baby Boomers, suggests that retail marketers need to take a new open-eyed look and approach to communicating with this important consumer demographic.

The first change marketers need to make when it comes to understanding boomers is to recognize there are vast differences between an individual born in 1946 (the start of the boom) and 1964 (the end of it). While consumers in the front half of the generation are now thinking about traveling and gardening, those on the backend are still involved in raising kids. Interestingly, both younger and older boomers rate Wal-Mart as their preferred shopping destination.

While the majority of boomers are married, 34 percent are currently single. Of these 17 percent are divorced or separated, 14 percent have never been married and three percent are widows/widowers. Married boomers are more affluent, earning an average of $73,380 annually compared to $41,872 for their single counterparts. Single boomers represent a potential swing group for retailers since they are less likely to cite a preference for a favorite store than those who are married.

Boomers are big consumers of media. Ninety-five percent watch television, 87 percent use the internet (93 percent of those use it to do research), 76 percent listen to the radio, 68 percent read a weekly community newspaper and 57 percent read a daily.

While it’s reasonable to think of boomers as the current grandparent generation, these nanas and pops do not fit the stereotype. The average age for a boomer grandparent is 53.4 years of age, according to Stores, and their lifestyle has them on the move. Thirty-five percent say they exercise at least three times a week while nearly 11 percent are planning to renovate their home in the next six months. They also plan to spend on their grandkids with toys for younger children and gift cards for older ones.

Finally, there are those people McKinsey researchers described as “U-Boomers.” This group, all 24 million of them, is said to be unprepared for their retirement years and perhaps that’s because they keep spending. Almost 25 percent of total U.S. consumption by 2015 is expected to come from these shoppers.

An article in Forbes described the U-Boomer challenge and opportunity. “As the economic clout of the cash-constrained, highly discriminating U-Boomers grows, companies will need to rethink how they deliver services while keeping prices down. Web-based tools that lower delivery costs while retaining a sense of personalization and high-end service are part of the solution. One of the fastest-growing usage segments for Skype’s Internet videoconferencing is grandparents talking to their grandchildren.”

Discussion Questions: What do you see as the most common disconnect between marketers and boomers? Where do you see the biggest opportunity for marketers to reach out to a given segment of the boomer generation?

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16 Comments on "The Boomers You Don’t Know"


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Lee Peterson
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Agree with the comments above; “Boomers” are a very diverse group and segmentation of that group is key. I personally know three “boomers,” 25 years apart, who are very, very different people in very different stages of their lives. Good point.

BUT, there is one universal message I wish marketers would ‘get’ when it comes to anyone over 40: STOP SELLING! My god, if you just sit back and listen to the overt sales campaigns going on, especially in a down economy, it’s almost sickening and certainly pathetic. Listen to yourselves! Here’s my (the) advice: THINK BRAND, do not ‘sell’ to boomers. If you’ve always stood for low priced value, you don’t have to tell us you’ve got low prices. If you’ve always stood for high-end quality, why sell it? BE it!

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
13 years 11 months ago

I agree with David and Gerry that the group is too “wide.” I am the last of the boomers. My friends born after December, in the same class as mine, are not. I’ve always found it annoying that my mom didn’t wait another month so that I didn’t have to be bundled with people 20 years older than me.

My interests are as different from my 60 year old friends as they are from my 20 year old daughter. Obviously there is some overlap because I still like to ski and run, but I also have interests in travel and have college tuition to pay.

Regardless of age, interests vary regarding savings, travel, fitness, food, electronics, etc. The bottom line is that the group is too “wide” to market to as a whole. Although age plays a factor, customer segmentation should be based on interests and concerns more so than age.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
13 years 11 months ago

As a younger boomer, I always resented being categorized the same as the older boomers.

Jonathan Pontell has attempted to break the Baby Boomer generation in two but this has failed to become mainstream. See http://www.generationjones.com for more information.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

All of this talk about generations is a great money generator for all of the consultants out there. But it is not about generations, it is about lifestyle and beliefs. When companies and managers recognize that people want to be dealt with as individuals and not groups then the will have a winning strategy.

Gerry Marrone
Guest
Gerry Marrone
13 years 11 months ago
The problem with the “Boomer” category is it is just too large. As a member of the community myself–thankfully on the younger side of the chasm–my needs are significantly different from those on the other end. Companies need to segment the segment and reach the different areas more effectively. Today’s Grandparents are vastly different than our own Grandparents–as evidenced by Skype. The other factor that play into this is children of the boomers. Many boomers waited longer to have children–so while they are still dealing with kids in school, they can’t be thinking about gardening and travel–well they can, but it’s still a ways off. So what’s the answer? Marketers need to continue to learn from their customers. They need to get out of the office and into the stores to meet and greet them–question them–see what they are really looking for. Focus groups are not enough; go into the places where they shop and find out what makes them tick. The current focus is on Shopper Marketing and Consumer Insights–companies are building departments around… Read more »
Matthew Spahn
Guest
Matthew Spahn
13 years 11 months ago
The first critical step in “reconnecting the disconnect” between marketers and boomers is to acknowledge, quantify and appreciate the value of this segment as well as the nuances. Boomers are the wealthiest, best educated and most sophisticated consumers and they are the dominant part of the population. The consumers are also a “younger older generation” than ever before. They are more health conscious and active. Other characteristics important to note are that many of the habits of this segment are well established and they tend to dig deeper when consuming media vs the younger, short-attention span generation. As others have noted, the span of boomers is wide and diverse so it is critical that the right level of customer segmentation be done to draw the distinctions within this large segment. Once you have successfully accomplished that, make sure that the offers you present each segment are relevant and reflective of the types of response you have, hopefully, been carefully measuring. We live in an age where targeting and analytics are commonplace but they often remain… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

I completely agree that the term “boomer” takes in much too wide of an age group to be effective for marketing purposes. For example, the cut off line might be where people were born in the mid ’50s vs. prior. A lot has to do with when the kids were born (and in which decades the kids grew up) and early exposure to consumer technology.

For example, I’m in my 50s and my kids are in the 20s. I “grew up” with them, with explosure[sic] to the internet because of “them.” I liked their MP3 players, so I bought one and that’s how I listen to “The Rolling Stones.” On the other hand, my older cousins are tuned in to the Oldies station to get music and they still get the newspaper delivered every day.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
13 years 11 months ago

I bookmarked this article when I saw it yesterday, primarily because it reinforces the point that we’re really in a highly segmented environment, regardless of the age group. While buying patterns between the younger and older boomers may be very different, buying patterns within each of these groups covers a broad range, based on disposable income, wealth, lifestyle affiliation, personal interests. The mass market is fragmenting, as we’ve seen mass culture fragment, into a seemingly endless number of segments and sub-segments.

Mass retailers will still be able to market to a significant percentage of overall demand, but at ever shrinking margins, while the real opportunities will be for smaller, more nimble retailers whose business models are built around marketing to and capturing discreet segments; where customers are loyal and less price sensitive, and margins aren’t under as much pressure.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

I’m a Boomer, and I hate the term, and the concept. I’m so bored with advertising featuring songs from the Nixon administration era….

The real opportunity for retailers is to capitalize on the fact that the Boomer generation may be the first to have a longer retirement than they will have a career. Most of the Boomers I know plan to keep working indefinitely. They plan to move to a vacation area and take on a less demanding position. Retailers have an opportunity to sell second-home basics, lifestyle items, and food in smaller containers for empty-nesters; and they have an opportunity to hire experienced part-timers who want to continue to work.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 11 months ago

The most questionable “revelation” in this report is that “both younger and older boomers rate Wal-Mart as their preferred shopping destination.” That triggered my doubts, and further examination of the research findings deepened my skepticism. I’m at the older end of the boomer generation, have worked in marketing my entire professional life, and very little of this rings true to me. I observe at WM, but I never shop there. Should I seek medication or join a support group?

Here’s a radical idea: Employ boomers to market to boomers. Re-segment as much as you want, but match the “strategerists” to the target. Not a new idea by a country mile, considering that minorities are employed to market to minorities and sexes are employed to market to sexes (“gender” refers to grammar and sentence structure, not to biological orientation, so get over it).

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
13 years 11 months ago

This topic of Boomer diversity gets discussed on RetailWire with frequency and we almost all always agree that the Boomer “generation” is too large and broad for marketers to effectively target. But, it appears they keep trying!

One of the problems, I think, is that many if not most of those who are doing the marketing and advertising planning and creative work for agencies and companies are quite young. There is a disconnect. How smart would it be for companies to hire a cadre of talented Boomer generation marketers, copywriters, graphic artists, etc, to oversee and vet offerings to this lucrative market of middle-aged Americans? (There are are large numbers of them available and looking for work, from what I hear.)

Mike Romano
Guest
Mike Romano
13 years 11 months ago

One very relevant statistic from analyst groups is that boomers are quickly adopting mobile technology. Of course, there are 75 million boomers and they represent many segments. However, the soccer mom between the ages of 25-45 is the fastest growing segment of cell phone text messaging user. Even out-pacing teen growth of text as a percentage.

Many early adopter retailers are starting to realize and understand that mobile is one way to reach the boomer generation and the early Gen X generation. It’s no secret; we know that the cell phone is an underutilized channel that if managed properly and respectfully, can deliver great value to the brand and its customer, and drive double-digit response rates.

Janet Poore
Guest
Janet Poore
13 years 11 months ago

I’m in agreement with not lumping all boomers together, not even of the same age, as it is more about lifestyle. However, most boomers are not ready to retire. Most don’t want to live in age restricted communities, and most of those who do are still working full time. Most, even at the upper end, want to and need to work, so as one of the other writers said, EMPLOY Boomers to market to Boomers.

I’m a boomer and I get offended that 20-something buyers are choosing apparel and shoes for me. No department store other than Nordstrom carries larger shoe sizes. Since feet often grow as you get older, stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Lord & Taylor are missing out on a lot of sales to boomers.

Marketers also have to understand that unlike previous generations, older Boomers are not as brand loyal. Boomers are open to trying new things. After all, it was our generation that drove most of the changes. All those anti-aging products wouldn’t exist without Boomers.

Dick Seesel
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Most marketers (except those specifically selling pharmaceuticals and health care products) continue to chase the “youth market” even though baby boomers drive a huge amount of retail sales. There is a risk appealing to the boomers’ “forever young” mindset if you ignore the physical realities that they are dealing with. Boomers are larger than they were 30 years ago (regretfully), more sedentary and less mobile — that’s the reality. Apparel and other products need to evolve toward the needs of this marketplace, regardless of its mindset.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
13 years 11 months ago

The article reinforces what savvy marketers already know. The boomer segment has too many sub-segments to homogenize your advertising and marketing plans. The prize–to capture a targeted segment of the boomer generation–is big, so targeting the right sub-segment can lead to a huge business and loyal customers that will be around for quite some time. Their spending clout can not be overlooked.

That stated, trying to be all things to such a diverse age and financially segmented group with a single message is not a sound strategy. It starts with your product portfolio and how it best fits in with the needs and wants of the ideal sub-segment; then “target” your marketing and advertising to really connect with that specific group of consumers.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
13 years 11 months ago

Clearly one size does not fit all boomers. I was especially interested in the definition of U-boomers as those unprepared for retirement years because they just keep spending. With high gas and food costs, perhaps this is the time to develop new services and financial products for this segment.

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