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Marketing Knows No Age Limit
DMA '09: Members of past generations didn't age — they simply died. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are defying that fate -- and if they're demanding more from life, why aren't marketers giving them what they want?
Posted Oct 20, 2009
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SAN DIEGO — Ken Dychtwald knows a little something about switching gears. Originally a psychologist, Dychtwald then became a gerontologist, which is what he was before he turned into an entrepreneur. Now, he's president and chief executive officer of Age Wave, a consultancy specializing in helping companies target Baby Boomers and mature adults, and he opened his midmorning keynote presentation at the Direct Marketing Association's annual conference here today by asking attendees to "take all the things you know about how to market and to whom to market and put it aside." In other words, he wanted them to shift their collective attention away from flashy (and, at the moment, financially enfeebled) youngsters to a demographic that's not just more affluent, but one that's living life to the fullest and breaking the stereotypes of "old age."

[Editors' Note: Associate Editor Jessica Tsai's other coverage from the DMA '09 show can be found here, and her blogposts can be found on destinationCRMblog.com, under the #dma09 hashtag or keyword.]

In the past, Dychtwald said, people didn't age -- they simply died. Since 1900, he said, the average life expectancy has increased from 47 years to 78 -- the largest jump in history. And Dychtwald contended that the human body has the biological potential to live far longer than that - perhaps to 120 or even 140 years of age. The "problem" is, no matter what medical advancements or healthcare improvements are introduced to the market, what comes out at the other end, he said, is old people.

"What is '65' these days?," Dychtwald asked the audience, showing pictures of actress Sophia Loren posing on the cover of a beauty magazine at 65 and astronaut John Glenn on the cover of Time magazine at 77. "We tend to think that [only] our kids have dreams, or we used to have dreams [only] when we were young," Dychtwald said. That mentality, he added, meant that by the time people reached their 40s or 50s, those dreams were already achieved and they were supposed to go "quietly to the sidelines."

Not so fast, Dychtwald warned. The majority of retired elders, he said, could be identified as belonging to one of the following four groups:  

  • The Ageless Explorers (27 percent), who never believe they will be "senior citizens";
  • The Comfortably Contents (19 percent), who relax, play, and say they'll be seniors…soon;
  • The Live for Todays (22 percent), who aren't financially prepared for old age, though the mindset may be great psychologically; and
  • The Sick and Tireds (32 percent), who are "living the retirement nightmare."

In his presentation, Dychtwald gave marketers, many of whom were Boomers themselves, various recommendations to help them reconnect with a segment of the population that, in any modern nation around the globe, is arguably the most valuable:

  • Be aspirational, not desperational: "There's a tendency to make people feel like they're old," Dychtwald said, which isn't particularly motivating if you're trying to urge participation in new opportunities. "People are continually reinventing themselves and their openness to products," he said. From there, ideas explode -- and that's where marketers can become part of that personal quest.
  • Have fun — and laugh with, not at: The happiest people in the world are over 50, Dychtwald said, while the unhappiest and most-stressed are those between the ages of 20 and 40. One of the obstacles, he argued, was the marketing industry's fixation on youth, a mindset that shows insufficient interest in the inclinations and preferences of older consumers. "It's like having all white men be responsible for ethnic marketing," he analogized.
  • Understand generational anchoring: Some may call it nostalgia, but Dychtwald warned that's not the point. The key, he said, is to touch upon messages and moments in the past that touch upon meaningful moments in the consumer's life, whether that's through music, television, or ideas. Dychtwald cited as an example the OneTouch glucose-monitoring system for people with diabetes, which had legendary blues guitarist and diabetes patient B.B. King represent its product. In the music industry alone, Dychtwald pointed out, Kanye West may have canceled his tour, but Baby Boomer mainstays U2 and The Eagles are selling out stadiums. Dychtwald added that he recently went to 75-year-old Frankie Valli's sold-out concert, which even had an aisle reserved exclusively for people with walkers.
  • Don't target from behind — get out in front and dig a big hole: "With all the tools of marketing, [marketers] are still in the habit pattern [of going] toward the young," Dychtwald said, "even when [that] population isn't growing, and is close to broke." (In fact, he added, 70 percent of all the money in banks is held by people over 50 years old.) Though they're not purchasing as frequently on the Internet, Boomers represent the largest group of respondents in terms of direct marketing through television, telephone, and direct mail. To further underscore the generation gap, Dychtwald referenced the comedy City Slickers, in which Billy Crystal's character explains his dying-medium job to a class of elementary-school students. Dychtwald emphasized that today's elders aren't resolved to a life that follows a linear path of education, work, leisure, death. Instead, he said, people are taking the cyclical approach, where they're willing to try new things, seek new dreams, pursue new occupations, or share time with new partners. Higher life expectancy has led to a "longevity bonus" -- something Dychtwald argued is often misinterpreted: Additional years of life don't simple extend the period in which people wither away. The bonus simply provides more time to explore different options.
  • Target mindset, lifestyle, and lifestage — not age: Dychtwald presented just a sample of elders' various life stages — and urged marketers to keep track of these relationships:
    • career;
    • marriage;
    • singlehood (modern women go through deep bereavement after the loss of their partner for about 18 months, after which they're ready to start exploring new opportunities);
    • care-giving;
    • empty-nesting (couples have more freedom as they move from having little discretionary time to having a lot of it);
    • retirement (elders today want to engage and reinvent — and they seek the freedom to do so); and
    • grandparenthood (families can extend for many generations, so who is the grandparent anymore?).
  • Seek transgenerational appeal: Whether it's grandparents trying to put their grandchildren through college, or children purchasing a new home for their parents, there's value in tapping into familial relationships and connecting the generations.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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