THE BOOMER GENERATION: Booming or Busting?
In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau expected the country's Millennial population to number 75.3 million, overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest living generation in the United States. But with 74.9 million people, the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) is still a powerful economic force. It has the highest proportions of income and wealth, holding 34 percent of net worth dollars and bringing in 39 percent of total income dollars.
Despite their numbers, which peaked at 78.8 million in 1999, Baby Boomers today are largely being overlooked by many companies. Less than 5 percent of all advertising dollars are being spent marketing to Baby Boomers, according to recent research by Ad Age.
Part of the reason for this is that the sweet spot for marketers has always been consumers in the 18- to 49-year-old range, and Baby Boomers—who range in age from 52 to 70—fall outside of that demographic, explains Anne-Marie Kovacs, principal and chief marketing officer at Boombox Networks, a Chicago-based marketing agency dedicated exclusively to Baby Boomers.
Many companies mistakenly assume that Baby Boomers have already fixated on the brands from which they will buy and that their earning and spending potential is on the decline, and so they've lost interest in marketing to them. This, according to experts, is a huge mistake. "Marketers seem to pay the least attention to [Baby Boomers]. In general, the feeling seems to be that Baby Boomers are too set in their ways to change, and that’s simply not the case," observes Geoff Smith, senior vice president of marketing at CrowdTwist, a provider of loyalty and analytics solutions. "Of all the generations, Baby Boomers are arguably the most likely to switch [brands]," Smith says.
In fact, only 46.4 percent of Baby Boomers reported high degrees of loyalty to their favorite brands, and 17.1 percent are highly willing to switch brands, CrowdTwist noted in its "Capturing Loyalty Across the Generations" 2015 loyalty program report. The data shows that Baby Boomers are actually 15.8 percent more willing to switch brands than Generation Xers.
"The notion that we will stick with the same brand throughout our lives is completely untrue," Kovacs confirms. "We are likely to try new brands or switch from one brand to another, especially if a brand doesn't market to us respectfully."
Another reason to give Baby Boomers a second look is the fact that many in this age group are on the cusp of a new stage in their lives. Older members of the generation, which largely benefited from post–World War II prosperity, have already reached retirement, which could eventually mean that their needs, wants, and tastes will also change.
But in the meantime, despite a few gray hairs, Baby Boomers definitely don’t want to be labeled as old or be treated that way.
"As Baby Boomers, we're often confused with seniors, and that's not what we are," Kovacs states emphatically. "We're not ready to retire or stop living just yet. We're much more active, vibrant, and alive than ever before."
Jim Gilmartin, principal at Coming of Age, an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.–based marketing agency specializing in Baby Boomers and seniors, agrees. "Be careful of using euphemisms like 'elder,' 'of a certain age,' 'mature adult,' or 'senior' in communications, as they may not go over well. Many [Baby Boomers] may become more than a little upset with being labeled."
That makes this a hard group to pinpoint for marketers. "We still feel like we're 35, but some companies treat us like we all have walkers," Kovacs laments.
Ads featuring fellow Boomers Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, or Andie MacDowell are more likely to resonate with members of this age group than 20-something actresses. "We don't like to be patronized," Kovacs warns. "We're pretty savvy consumers. You can't pull the wool over our eyes; we'll see right through it."
Respect, Kovacs and other experts point out, should be the hallmark of any interaction between companies and their Boomer customers or prospects. "We like to be treated with respect and authenticity," Kovacs maintains. "For us, it's all about being respected as a customer, and that should flow through every stage of our journey with your company."