Although there’s a lot of talk about millennials and their desire to engage in consumerism, it’s important not to overlook the baby boomer generation, born from the end of World War 2 up to the early 1960s (roughly between 1946-1964). After all, Baby Boomers hold 70 percent of all disposable income in the United States.
Also, government data indicates that the baby boomers outspend other generational groups’ spending on consumer products and services by an average of $400 million.
Branding Strategies for Baby Boomers: A Unique Process
If those statistics have stimulated your curiosity and made it clear that to overlook the baby boomer demographic is potentially a very costly mistake, keep in mind that you can’t just retool most of your brand concepts currently used to reach out to older target markets.
For starters, baby boomers are usually very loyal to brands—and as shown by the opening statistics, they have disposable income. Also, don’t assume that this demographic will settle for less as they get older, or even that they’ll settle down.
When looking at the specifics associated with marketing to baby boomers, experts have found that this group prefers living in comfortable homes surrounded by the latest amenities. Also, they generally want to maintain very active lifestyles. Those findings align with what we’ve discovered when developing brands to meet the needs of affinity groups within this demographic.
Misconceptions about Baby Boomers are Common
Even marketers who are guided by solid research and good intentions sometimes miss the mark as they attempt to resonate with the baby boomer generation. Often, that’s due in large part to some pervasive misconceptions.
Earlier, we mentioned how baby boomers tend to be faithful to the brands they love. That’s true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that baby boomers are set in their ways. According to Nielsen research from 2012, only five percent of advertising budgets were geared toward baby boomers, but some experts believe baby boomers are not as brand loyal as millennials.
There’s another prevailing assumption about baby boomers, which some of our clients have expressed: the belief that baby boomers are not tech-savvy.
Although baby boomers were not early adopters of technology, they tend to use tech devices more frequently than you might expect. However, they do so differently than their younger counterparts.
Whereas a younger person might primarily use social media to connect with friends, baby boomers may feel more compelled to do so because that’s the way their kids and grandkids share updates and photos. The shift over to technology, in many cases, probably wasn’t primarily out of desire, but because boomers realized social media was the quickest way to keep in touch with younger generations.
Additionally, apps that are related to health services frequently get built for cross-generational appeal. Some boomers have shown interest in using an app that might help them check in faster for a hospital appointment or enjoy easier access to medical records, for example.
Finally, some marketers seem to forget that the baby boomer generation encompasses anyone between the ages of 51 and 69. It’s not sufficient to believe that certain branding strategies will universally connect with everyone. A younger baby boomer might prefer very active vacations, while one who’s nearing 70 or older may want to go on a cruise instead.
Of course, that’s a very broad example. The point is, marketers should try to focus their brand strategy on reaching baby boomers of certain ages, through developing affinity groups as a tool for profiling them or at least recognizing that older baby boomers have different needs and desires than younger ones.
Examples of When Multi-Generational Branding Strategies Can Work
Even though you’ve now learned how there’s a fine art to baby boomer branding, don’t get discouraged and think it’s necessary to do away with every tactic you use to appeal to younger generations. In fact, research has shown there are some valuable commonalities. In fact, some of our clients achieved the best results with cross-generational approaches.
Specifically, both boomers and millennials love bargains, and a high percentage of them (more than 80 percent for either group) are very comfortable shopping online. Also, 75 percent of boomers and millennials are more likely to purchase something if it’s associated with a perk, such as a loyal discount or a coupon.
Now, let’s take a look at some actionable strategies, and case studies of companies that have used them well.
Case Study: J. Jill and the Uncomplicate Clothing Line
As discussed above, baby boomers don’t want to settle for less when they get older. The clothing brand J. Jill took that into consideration with its Uncomplicate collection, which is marketed toward baby boomers.
Image via www.jjill.com
The goal is to show that like younger generations of females, older women also deserve wardrobe upgrades. With this clothing line, they can look forward to clothes that are equal parts fashionable and comfortable.
Focus groups held before the new line kicked off found that women prefer attire they can easily dress up or down. When analyzing details of the Uncomplicate line, marketers realized that baby boomers wanted to look their best, without wasting time that could be used for more important pursuits. J. Jill also embraces a mix-and-match style with its Wearever line. These proactive steps reflect the brand’s realization that baby boomers have just as many reasons to enjoy new clothes as younger generations.
No matter how you market to boomers, we’ve found that customers respond best when you make it easy for them to meet their identified needs.
Case Study: Harley Davidson’s Tricycles
Baby boomers don’t like to be given the hard sell. They want to see the benefits of a product, but not in an intrusive way. Sometimes, brands have enough of a built-in following that people of all ages understand there are inherent advantages to choosing them, so there’s no need for a massive marketing campaign.
Image via www.harley-davidson.com
Harley-Davidson has released a three-wheel motorcycle called the Freewheeler that’s made for great stability, but still reaches impressive speeds. The Freewheeler is an improvement on a previous model of a three-wheel model, which was called the Tri Glide. In comparison, the Freewheeler is less bulky and features a lighter weight than its predecessor. Reviews of the Freewheeler trike are generally favorable, and the brand’s press release boasts, “Riding on three wheels has never been cooler.”
Going back to what you’ve read about baby boomers wanting to stay active, this trike is a perfect example of that principle. Sometimes it’s not necessary to reinvent a product so it caters to baby boomers, but to just tweak the details while preserving the familiar aspects that attracted consumers in the first place.
Case Study: Spirit 50
Across the world, there have been concerns that as baby boomers get older and require more medical attention, there will be an increased demand on the healthcare system. One forward-thinking Canadian entrepreneur named Erin Billowits is trying to keep baby boomers healthier as they age by marketing a fitness program that lets her demographic work out at home. The program, Spirit 50, combines instructional videos with step-by-step instructions. Users can even purchase consultations that take place over Skype.
Image via www.spirit50.com
In her research, Billowits found that a majority of baby boomers want to improve their health, and many are willing to make small, proactive changes without being prodded.
When designing her fitness program, Billowits looked at possible technological barriers. As you can see from the format of this YouTube clip, the exercises are explained in a straightforward way that’s not patronizing. Also, because the videos aren’t lengthy, most browsers should start playing them right away.
If you plan to market something to baby boomers that’s technological in nature, it’s important to do the legwork beforehand and make sure your concept doesn’t come across as overwhelming. Billowits identified that a need was there, but she recognized that some of her clientele may not be willing to embrace her exercise concept if it took them too far out of their comfort zones.
Furthermore, to sign up for a fitness plan, users only have to submit usernames, passwords, and e-mails. That’s simple enough even for baby boomers who aren’t accustomed to filling out a lot of online forms.
Case Study: Japanese Convenience Stores
In Japan, convenience stores are doing whatever they can to appeal to an older demographic. Executives have realized that a growing number of people from the baby boomer generation are stopping into Japanese convenience stores to get what they need without delay. A few major brands are branching out by offering a home delivery service of nutritious and easy-to-make meals, including bento boxes. This strategy appeals to boomers who aren’t willing to sustain themselves on sodium-riddled frozen dinners of low nutritional value.
Some stores stock attire that’s marketed toward an older demographic, but others focus on more practical things, such as healthcare items that baby boomers might need. Others have thrown their hats into the ring and aimed to meet needs that are a little more obscure, but still have merit. Two examples are health advice counters, and karaoke equipment that turns convenience stores into social gathering places for baby boomers who want to have fun among their peers.
These kinds of purpose-based approaches make sense. If baby boomers feel alienated due to a perception that most of what’s available to consumers isn’t relevant to their lives, they’re less likely engage with a particular brand or shop at a particular establishment, no matter how convenient it claims to be.
Case Study: Ford Motors
As Ford Motors has discovered, successfully marketing to baby boomers starts during the engineering process. The company makes some of its auto engineers wear “aging suits” that mimic what it’s like to be an older driver. Dubbed the Third Age Suit, the device is designed to make a person physically feel approximately 30 years older. Using a corset and orthotic devices, the suit causes stiffness in the hip region, knees, shoulders, and feet. Earplugs simulate being hard of hearing, and special goggles mimic vision-related disorders that are common in older adults.
Although this case study doesn’t represent an example of direct marketing to baby boomers, it demonstrates an effort made by engineers in the early phases to understand how aging affects driver capabilities and comfort. This could eventually influence baby boomers to choose certain makes and models of vehicles over others.
A Worthy Venture
Clearly, the baby boomer generation is not to be overlooked when it comes to ensuring that your brand gets noticed by those with a great deal of purchasing power.
Although it’s necessary to tailor your branding strategies using some of the methodologies discussed above, the ultimate payoff could be a major factor in helping your business stay competitive and indeed become more profitable in a crowded marketplace.
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So what do you think?
• Have you used brand profiling and positioning is when marketing to baby boomers?
• Rebranding strategy was crucial for J.Jill when realizing, during a brand audit and through market research studies, that the fashion needs of baby boomers weren’t being met. Have you had a similar moment that has made you discover that baby boomers may be an untapped market?
• In Japan, several convenience stores have incorporated the needs of an older generation into the brand identity design. Do you think that will eventually mean that the majority of convenience store shoppers will be much older than in preceding generations?
• Brand positioning was a crucial aspect for marketing the Harley-Davidson trikes to a market that was already likely cued into what makes the brand worth following. Do you think that the brand strategy was comprehensive enough, or should it have been more extensive?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.