Baby boomers live in a rapidly shifting landscape that they feel is slipping away from them. To resonate with boomers, marketers must acknowledge their fears and tap into their aspirations.
The baby boomer generation is characterized as a mid-century generation defined by change, revolution and transformation. Born between 1946–1964, boomers have lived through tremendous social, cultural and political transformation and make up approximately 20% of the current U.S. population. A key distinction of this generation is that it became the first of its kind in many ways; a generation born at the end of the last World War and one that contributed to and benefited from social and political revolution, the establishment of new rights and freedoms in the early 60s, economic development and the advancement of technology.
Boomers have benefited greatly from economic security, plentiful mass consumer choice and a level of discretionary income not enjoyed by their parents. There are many classic baby boomer attributes that are tied to this experience: a rebellious spirit, a love of adventure, and a desire for control and autonomy backed by the means to attain it. When the oldest baby boomers transitioned into retirement, a new active life stage emerged full of activity, challenge, travel and health. Many boomers, particularly the older segment, have looked forward to enjoying the fruits of their labor and the security that sound decision-making has provided.
Despite the transformation that boomers have lived through, the rate of change has only accelerated, which can create a sense of uncertainty and unease. Uncertainty takes many forms: economic shifts that threaten stability, advancing technology, a market downturn and more recently, a global health crisis. The fear and anxiety that comes from uncertainty can manifest in different ways, such as a fear of being duped or taken advantage of, patronized, forgotten or rendered invisible. Identifying and addressing these fears can be scary and uncomfortable. Instead, marketers tend to address fear tacitly, by addressing boomer customers with respect and providing a sense of control. Campaigns often address fears through the use of customer testimonials that share boomer skepticism and talk back to the messenger. Research shows that boomers react positively to advertising that cuts through confusion, presents options clearly and supports solutions with useful information.
Authentic, clear communication is not a new trend. But how do different generations define and interpret authenticity? There are some basics that still hold true. Boomers want to be acknowledged, respected and listened to. They value communication that is clear and honest so that they can make informed decisions. However, boomers are not the homogenous group they are often made out to be. How can messages diversify to address the variety of age ranges and income levels within the boomer demographic? Further, how can marketers continue to engage boomers in communication that is authentic and meaningful in times that are increasingly uncertain?
Often, campaigns aimed at boomers tap into the idea of rewards for paying their dues, working hard and doing the right thing. As the economy becomes increasingly precarious, perhaps the established strategy of appealing to boomers’ sense of entitlement to security is becoming dated? If boomers desire to be respected, seen, remain relevant and be active in the world, could this desire be better addressed through communication that doesn’t shy away from the precariousness or uncertainty that we all face? In a recent study on motivation in volunteering, researchers found that boomers want to feel needed, but also want to put their professional and personal skills to good use. As the world faces new and unprecedented challenges, marketers should face the fears of boomers more directly and engage them in the issues of a world they live in and helped create.
Here are four key strategies to engage baby boomers in current times.
1. Be clear and concise, but don’t oversimplify.
Continue to focus on straightforward, clear communication, but don’t gloss over problems and offer easy solutions.
2. Address boomers as both wisdom-keepers and knowledge-seekers.
Respect has more value when it’s given for good reason, not simply because of age or wealth.
3. Consider your boomer audience in context.
No one lives in a bubble and being connected to family, community, culture and politics provides meaning and value.
4. Be more specific—who exactly are you targeting?
Boomers are diverse, too; in terms of age, marital status, class, gender, race, religion, sexuality and culture. Identify who you’re talking to and why.
A complex world demands a more nuanced understanding of the boomer generation and their place within it. Don’t assume that your audience falls neatly into the typical “OK boomer” archetype, and get to know them in a more holistic way.
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