Brands

4 Tips for Marketing to Baby Boomers in the Digital Age

By Aliza Gans July 16th, 2014

My Baby Boomer mom once advised me to “hook up” with my elementary school pal in New York through “the Facebook.” I rolled my eyes but held my tongue because she’s helping me pay rent. It’s also at these moments that I laugh at the fact that marketers are way more obsessed with marketing to millennials like me than to people like her. She’s the one with the money to blow, as Drake would say.

According to insights by Nielsen, in less than five years, 50 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 50. They’ll not only control 70 percent of the nation’s disposable income, but they also stand to inherit $15 trillion in the next 20 years. And as Boomers become increasingly social media-savvy, they’ll be able to put their money towards whatever’s trending. As a result, they may become the key to the success for many brands.

I recently interviewed Ann Fishman, founder of Generational Targeted Marketing, which has provided Baby Boomer marketing guidance to some of the country’s best-known companies, large and small. She offered some tips to brands on how to gear their content to captivate one of the most lucrative generations in America.

Here are Fishman’s Fantastic Four of branding for Baby Boomers:

1. Don’t call them “old”

“The number one thing that drives Baby Boomers is that they don’t want to be perceived as old,” Fishman said.

“Senior,” “elderly,” and “aged” are also some anti-buzzwords. Boomers resent being reminded that they’re over the hill. Ever since the movie The Bucket List premiered, retirement no longer means inactivity.

“Now everyone’s got a bucket list. Baby Boomers feel entitled to live the good life,” Fishman said—even if the good life involves using adult diapers. Fishman mentioned how Depends uses actors in their 40s and 50s to target consumers who are typically in their 60s and beyond.

“Now, Depends are sold as underwear. If you have a ‘problem product,’ then you just have to market it differently. It’s a different type of underwear. Some people wear Spanx, some people Depends.” (Check out the young celebs who sported Depends for the brand’s campaign “The Great American Try-On.”)

According to Fishman, the AARP also meets the gold standard of brands that know how to market to those in their golden years. The site has tailored its interface for older people new to the web, and has launched its TEK program (Technology, Education, Knowledge) with bold-colored, user-friendly tutorials, including lessons on how to use hashtags and even “Cyberproof Your Phone.” Still, nowhere does the AARP mention that its patrons are senior citizens. Instead, it uses phrases such as “life re-imagined,” “real possibilities,” and “you’ve still got it.”

“AARP did an excellent job of redesigning itself to become a good vehicle of something people are attracted to,” Fishman said. “They put movie stars on the cover of their magazines—they have Goldie Hawn. If they aren’t afraid to be on AARP, then it’s okay for us to be on AARP.”

While whipping out your AARP card for movie ticket discounts isn’t exactly sexy, the company is thriving by bridging the gap between retirement and the hip online trends of today. Brands can follow suit by creating content that enables customers to use their products in a progressive yet user-friendly way, and by not using labels that limit them to a certain age group.

2. Help them keep their eyes on the prize

This goes along with cardinal rule of not reminding Boomers that they’re aging. If brands want to maintain “Boomer appeal,” they need to make their content accessible by avoiding confusing wording and fonts that are too gimmicky or distracting. Fishman applauds Apple as a brand that is cutting-edge but still manages to be intuitive with its products and online services.

She looks to Sherwin Williams, which has enlarged the font on its paint cans. “When Baby Boomers come in to buy paint, they don’t have to squint,” she said. “Imagine trying to hold up a paint can while putting on your reading glasses.”

Fishman points out that these aesthetic tweaks don’t just benefit Baby Boomers. They’re also just basic better marketing tactics: “You’re doing everybody over forty a favor by just increasing the font, having white space, having more visuals than you do writing. That’s good website development, anyway.”

If brands are really looking to attract the baby boomer market, she recommends consulting a geriatric doctor, or an optometrist that specializes in aging eyes so brands can develop products and content for the aging body.

3. Remember they are the “Me generation”

Journalist Tom Wolfe dubbed Baby Boomers the “Me generation” after post-WWII economic prosperity. “Self-fulfillment” and “self-realization” became narcissistic aspirations of Boomers in the ’70s (especially with all of that introspective experimentation with psychedelics). Think discos, hot tub parties, and EST.

“This is a generation that’s stuck in the psychedelic ’60s and ’70s,” Fishman said. “I recommend clients use psychedelic colors and music.”

Or if brands want to tap into the self-absorbed psyches of wealthy 60-year-olds, Fishman said to use the second person in ads to draw the customer in. It’s a personalized approach they expect.

“They’re used to having someone wait on them, so, consequently, on an outreach through a social media platform you want your staff to actively engage them,” said Fishman.

4. Maintain trust and keep promises

“The times they are a-changin’,” as famous Boomer crooner Bob Dylan put it. The fast pace of the digital world can be unsettling for anyone who hasn’t grown up with a Facebook profile, which is why it’s become increasingly important for brands to stick to their guarantees and help Boomers figure out new products, step by step.

“You want to fulfill promises with Baby Boomers,” Fishman said. “I was on the phone with a utility company that shall remain nameless for half an hour. I thought, ‘My god, if this gets any harder to do, then I am wasting my time.’ I want customer service customized for me. It’s all about me.”

Sure, good customer service, user-friendly websites, targeted marketing, and sleek design are appreciated beyond the Baby Boomer generation, but making sure these elements come together in a way that doesn’t make the consumer feel old is crucial to marketing their products.

Unfortunately, using social media to communicate with Baby Boomers is not a two-way street for Gen Y and millennials. When Grandpa sees a promotion for Buick or Shredded Wheat on Facebook, he’s bound to feel hip, but it comes at the cost of cramping Junior’s style.

Now that I’m living in Brooklyn (thanks for helping me out again this month, Mom!), land of ironically waxed mustaches and used record stores, I can’t help but think: Who’s to say Facebook won’t eventually become the “vinyl” of social media?

What I’m trying to say is, “cool” is so confusing. Thankfully, we have BuzzFeed to decide for us. I can only imagine Depends trying to market to me 50 years down the line: More absorbency? #WIN.

Image by James Vaughan
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