The "mature market" -- broadly defined as consumers age 50+ -- is changing radically. As Baby Boomers transition into the so-called "senior" market sector, an already diverse audience is becoming increasingly fragmented. The marketing opportunities delivered by this generational segue are enormous, and increasingly complex.
To effectively mine this market requires a deeper understanding of these consumers than the media presents -- who they are, what they buy, from where they buy, and why they buy. Just as important is timing, because when they turn 60 or 70 says a great deal about their place in the already heterogeneous Boomer cycle.
The buzz is that 50 is the new 40 and 60 is the new 50. Or is 50 the new 30? We marketers need to care because 77 million individuals with more than $1 trillion in annual spending power are about to turn traditional ideas about growing older upside-down. Marketing to this group is no longer as simple as slotting them into a traditional age-driven demographic/behavioral cohort. People who are chronologically one age but view themselves as younger, more active, and more alert reflect an attitudinal shift that impacts how we both define and talk to this "new" mature market.
Myth 1: Sit Down, Exhale, Retire
Many of today's transitioning Boomers turn off at the suggestion that a porch swing marks the end point for a life fully lived - a point defined not by health, aspirations, or activity but by some antiquated concept of "age." Rather, an increasing number of leading-edge Boomers are transforming retirement into yet another opportunity - replacing the porch swing with a new career. They are increasingly moving into, as opposed to out of, career paths. Many, according to The New Retirement Survey (Merrill Lynch, 2005) "plan to keep working and earning in retirement, but will do so by cycling between periods of work and leisure, thus creating a new model of retirement." Still others are panicking, not having prepared financially.
Myth 2: Understand One Transitioning Boomer and You Understand Them All
With 18 years separating the high and low ends of the Boomer generation, this group is hardly homogeneous. The number of possible demographic, psychographic, and behavior segments into which 77 million individuals will eventually be split should be fascinating. Yet despite the general characteristics of the segments, each Boomer is an individual with individual needs. It is important to never categorize to the point that individual differences are ignored.
Myth 3: Older Consumers Are More Brand-Loyal
It is often, and incorrectly, assumed that older consumers tend to be more brand-loyal. Not anymore. Boomers are the TV generation. They created the advertising agency monoliths. They're as cynical as their kids. When they don't get the service or brand experience they want, Boomers move on. Boomers are more loyal when companies focus their efforts to provide truly customized, relevant products and services.
Myth 4: 65 Is the Witching Hour When We Turn Old
According to a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the average Boomer born in 1946 won't be "old" until age 78. Some marketers "get it"! Just watch Dennis Hopper in an Ameriprise commercial, harkening back to flower power days, reminding Boomers that their dreams are still alive and it's not too late to plan for a long and fulfilling future. Other marketers are on another wavelength and continue trying to convince Boomers with messages more appropriate for 30-somethings.
Myth 5: Boomers Are Rich
Another oft-quoted assumption is that seniors tend to be affluent. But while the majority of wealth is held by this age group, according to Focalyst, only a fraction of Boomers -- 9 percent of them, or 6.5 million -- are truly affluent. Keep an eye on the markets -- a plunging (or rising) Dow has a tremendous impact on senior wealth.
Consider, too, that priorities have shifted. While seniors may be as cash-rich and debt-free as they'll ever be, according to The Boomer Project, remember that this "sandwich generation" is caught between college for the kids (or for themselves) and nursing homes for their parents - both of which are more expensive than anyone anticipated.
There's No Better Time than Now to Be a Marketer!
Right now we are at a rare point in marketing history. The unique demographic represented by the Boomers is not likely to be repeated, certainly not in the foreseeable future. By understanding who they are, what they want, where they're coming from -- and where they're going -- you'll have the basis for developing competitive advantages by designing relevant new products, creating customer-driven messaging, and executing innovative marketing programs launched through a robust combination of truly integrated delivery channels.
About the author
Linda Reed, CLU, is partner/executive vice president and chief marketing officer at DMW Worldwide LLC, a full-service direct response advertising agency with offices in Wayne, Pa., and Plymouth, Mass.
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