Senior Moment

Christine Birkner
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • The youngest of the baby boomer generation—the fastest-growing age segment in the U.S.—turn 50 this year, but today’s 50-plus consumers look more like George Clooney than Wilford Brimley, according to “All the Wiser: Senior Consumer Insights and Outlook,” a report by Zillner, a Lenexa, Kan.-based marketing agency.
  • The number of baby boomers in the U.S.—born between 1946 and 1964, and therefore now ranging in age from 50 to 68—is expected to grow to 56 million in 2020, up from 35 million in 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
  • Boomers account for 70% of all disposable income in the U.S., Zillner reports. AARP estimates that the discretionary buying power of people 50 years old and older is $3.1 trillion.

Consumers age 50 and over are redefining the golden age. Here’s a closer look at the demographic and how to earn their loyalty. ​​​​​

The youngest of the baby boomer generation—the fastest-growing age segment in the U.S.—turn 50 this year, but today’s 50-plus consumers look more like George Clooney than Wilford Brimley, according to “All the Wiser: Senior Consumer Insights and Outlook,” a report by Zillner, a Lenexa, Kan.-based marketing agency specializing in the senior market. To garner boomers’ loyalty, marketers need to move away from senior stereotypes and microtarget their efforts based on the increasingly diverse boomer lifestyles. 

Baby boomers have officially entered the senior age bracket, but as the Clooney reference suggests, the demographic also still includes plenty of middle-aged consumers, which makes it a tough consumer segment to target, experts say. Plus, the concept of a senior consumer in the U.S. is changing. 

“The definition of a senior, historically, was age 65 and older because that’s when people retired and became eligible for Medicare benefits, but 65-year-olds’ lives are so different now. People are starting a different career or they’re starting second families,” says Lisa Price, executive director of marketing at Zillner. “It’s no longer the cookie-cutter life: Work at one job, retire with a pension at 65, buy a house in Florida and play golf every day.”

Adds Lori Bitter, president and senior strategist at The Business of Aging, a San Francisco-based branding and marketing consultancy focused on older consumers, and author of the forthcoming book The Grandparent Economy: How Baby Boomers are Re-Shaping Family and Spending: “Get away from segmentation that’s just around ‘old.’ People are so multidimensional, and probably even more multidimensional in their old age.” 

The number of baby boomers in the U.S.—born between 1946 and 1964, and therefore now ranging in age from 50 to 68—is expected to grow to 56 million in 2020, up from 35 million in 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. As of 2010, the boomer generation was 51% female and 49% male, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Boomers account for 70% of all disposable income in the U.S., Zillner reports. AARP estimates that the discretionary buying power of people 50 years old and older is $3.1 trillion, and this age group spends $1.6 trillion on healthcare. 

According to Zillner’s research, from 2010 to 2013, consumers age 50 and over spent more than other age brackets in categories such as dining out, housing, alcohol and healthcare, and that demographic’s spending on vehicles is growing faster than other demographics’ auto-related spending. 

In 2013, more people 65 years old and older were still working than in 2010. “As boomers become seniors, they’re busier and have more life events going on than any generation before them: divorces, marriages, having a child or caring for a grandchild,” says Jonathan Boehman, chief engagement officer at Frederick, Md.-based Immersion Active, a marketing agency focused on seniors and baby boomers, and co-author of Dot-Boom: Marketing to Baby Boomers through Meaningful Online Engagement. “Marketers shouldn’t lump all 50-plus consumers into one category.”

It’s best to target boomers based on their lifestyles and purchase behaviors—and their core values such as healthy eating or aging well, Bitter says. For example, General Mills’ Cheerios ads focus on heart health, which certainly resonates with boomers, but also could connect with anyone interested in living well, she says. “It’s a way of being ageless. They’re not saying it’s an old person’s cereal or a young person’s cereal. It’s more about the value of healthy eating.”

Moreover, as with any other age bracket, consider boomers’ life stages, she says. “Grandparenting is one of the largest-running life stages in the boomer and senior space because the average age of a first-time grandparent is in their late 40s. … Anytime you can find a life stage like that, where you have share of heart and share of wallet, it’s a very effective way to target.”

Focus on how your product can enhance boomers’ lives, Price says, and when targeting boomers on the higher end of the age bracket, emphasize how your offering can help support their independence. For example, Life Alert has adapted its advertising strategy, continuing its well-recognized (and often-parodied) “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” messaging but now featuring a more able-bodied and independent senior. “Seniors are not those old, frail people anymore,” Price says. “They’re living life; they’re not just existing.”

Brand loyalty among boomers and seniors isn’t necessarily a given, Bitter says. “AARP has done studies on brand loyalty that have shown that older people are no more brand loyal than younger people. Do older people like the brands they grew up with? Yes. But they’re no more or less likely than a younger person to try something new.” 

According to Boehman, it’s likely that marketers will have to work harder to earn brand loyalty among this age group because their standards are higher. “They’ve had a wealth of experience, so they know what good service looks like, what good food tastes like,” he says. “Settling is not an option.”

Today’s 50-plus consumers are living more vibrant lives than ever, Bitter says. “Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon are grandmothers. We don’t think about slapping them with a senior label or thinking about them as older people. If you’re in a room with a group of women over 35, fashion-wise and attitude-wise, it’s hard to tell who’s 35 and who’s 60.” 


This was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Marketing News.​​

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Author Bio:

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Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Exclusives. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org.
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