Baby boomers are loyal customers and have far more buying power than other generations. But many brands fail to target them. Here's how to reach boomers effectively.

Eric Roth, managing director, consumer, MidOcean Partners

Eric Roth, managing director, consumer, MidOcean Partners

There are currently around 103 million people over the age of 50 in the United States–75 million are baby boomers (ages ~55–74) and 28 million are from the silent generation (ages ~75+), making this one of the largest consumer demographics. And this “older generation,” or boomers+ as we’ll refer to them, continues to build wealth, amassing twelve times the net worth of the average millennial household

Boomers+ are defying traditional stereotypes. They are choosing to stay in the workforce longer. They remain active, are focused on health and wellness, enjoy traveling, shop online, are avid social media users, and have a great variety in their lifestyles. For sure, they are big spenders in our consumer economy; in fact, boomers specifically spend more than the average customer in almost every category, making up more than 70.0% of the nation’s disposable income, according to Nielsen. Boomers represent individuals who focused on hard work, individualism, and social activism. They value trust, loyalty, and sense of community.

As the most loyal customers, with the most spending power, retailers must understand that boomers+ are critical consumers to target. However, they are not well targeted by many brands–only about 5.0% of U.S. advertising targets people over 50. Yet, they comprise over 75.0% of the wealth in the U.S., according to Havas Group. Today’s brands primarily target millennials and Gen Zers, focusing on hyper-connectivity, celebrity influencers, and short-form videos. 

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands like Away, Casper and Untuckit are chasing youths’ dollars, but most products and services can be and are used universally across generations. This dichotomy presents retailers with an opportunity to increase their revenues by selling to an underserved demographic. Boomers spend an average of $203 on each online purchase, far surpassing the average spend of their millennial counterparts. This indicates that the former generation is not only active online but also serious about their purchases. Boomers+ can add incremental appeal and have better lifetime value for businesses without disrupting their core brand or demographic. 

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Many brands appeal to boomers+ and they may not even recognize it. According to Fast Company, there’s surprising overlap between well-known millennial brands and the top 10 fastest-growing brands among boomers, including fake-meat maker Impossible Foods (No. 2), smart-doorbell maker Ring (No. 3), direct-to-consumer mattress company Purple (No. 6), and, yes, even White Claw (No. 7). Many traditional “millennial,” DTC brands (and others!) that do not currently target boomers+ can market and sell to older Americans without diluting their brand or alienating the core customer. One of the biggest mistakes brands and marketers can make is overestimating the value of connecting with millennials rather than boomers+. But brands must understand that for this demographic age is not their defining characteristic and there is no one-size-fits-all model. The boomers+ represent a large group of people with such diverse interests. 

Because of that diversity, it requires a lot more thought to market to boomers+ effectively. They like to think of themselves as forever young individuals. It is essential to understand the best ways to reach boomers+ and what tactics work when you do. 

Reaching boomers+

Reaching baby boomers is a much different undertaking than reaching younger generations. boomers+, having grown up in the age of tube TVs with rabbit ears, newspapers and magazines, and later fax machines and bulky cell phones, they have vastly different information consumption habits than younger generations. To reach most of the boomer+ market, brands must use multi-channel marketing by targeting them online and offline. The three most effective avenues of marketing to older generations are online via computers, specifically (not phones), television and traditional print. 

 

Boomers hours spent

Source: DMN3

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Computers (online)

More than half of all boomers+ own and use computers. Boomers consistently rely on computers for everything from news to shopping–75% of internet-using baby boomers go online daily and nearly 1 in 10 is online almost constantly. And this demographic’s presence online is growing, Havas’s 2018 Meaningful Brands study found massive growth in the online presence of over-55 consumers, with 68% of them also buying something online every month. The top three online activities for the older generations are:

  • Using search engines (96.0%)
  • Using email (95.0%)
  • Shopping for products or services (92.0%) 

Boomers+, similarly to millennials, enjoy researching and learning about products online. They educate themselves before they make a purchase. About 60% of baby boomers spend time reading blogs and online articles as sources of information and about 70% enjoy watching videos about products and services. And in fact, 85% of baby boomers research products on their web browsers. But boomers+ aren’t simply curious; they are more susceptible to advertising. Boomers didn’t grow up fast-forwarding through commercial breaks, so their attitudes towards advertising are less adverse than the younger viewers who did. Things like YouTube can be effective platforms to target and reach boomers+. A quarter of YouTube visitors are boomers and they have higher than average ad views and click-through rate. Boomers+ show less interest in ad blockers with only 13.9% of their population using ad blockers, versus 41.1% of millennials. But, ironically, according to a Strike Social Data report, advertisers spend 137.0% more on Gen X on YouTube than they do on boomers, despite the lower view rate (29% versus 31.0%, respectively). 

Like the rest of the world, boomers extensively use email to receive news and discounts and stay connected with family and friends. Email segmentation and personalization are certainly strong marketing trends across generations, but the days of sending the same email to your whole email list are dwindling. Email is still useful if your content is relevant to your audience. When it comes to emailing the boomer+ generations, you’ll want to tailor your message. While the millennial generation likes short and to-the-point emails, boomers+ like to read long-form content. If you do not see responses from your marketing efforts, try A/B testing them through email to see results.

Facebook also remains a vital targeting tool. Facebook, by far, is the most popular social network used, and boomers+ use it to stay in touch with family members and even find old friends. The platform dominates boomers+ online content, with over 90% of engagement in some cases. Over 15% of boomers spend 11 hours or more on Facebook every week. According to a Pew Research study, boomers are 19% more likely to share content on Facebook than any other generation and 70% of baby boomers who use Facebook report that they log into the platform daily. As a result, marketers have significant potential to meet boomers+ where they socialize. Online publisher BigCommerce notes, “when launching a Facebook ad campaign, you can use segments and advanced targeting to identify boomer prospects. For example, factors including age, gender, geographic location, device and interests help narrow who sees your ad. Using this approach, brands can ensure their messages reach the right users with the right messages.”

Boomers and television

Boomers+ over-index on cable and satellite, meaning they are not likely to be cord-cutters. Not surprisingly, boomers+ spend a significant amount of time watching TV, watching an average of six hours and 30 minutes of television a day, Nielsen says. Out of the top 20 most popular TV networks for boomers, only one (Netflix) is a streaming service. Thus, traditional TV ads can serve as a cost-effective way to reach this demographic.

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Television can also be a helpful aid (the most significant influence) to getting boomers+ to search online for information. In a DMN3 study, television was significantly better for prompting boomers to search online than any other source, including friends and spouse/significant other. Other studies have found that television advertising is the ad channel with the largest purchase influence.

Boomers and TV

Traditional print

While more and more boomers+ are using social media and the internet to learn, shop and interact, the older generations still often read, and sometimes prefer, written communications such as newsletters, postcards, flyers and other forms of direct mail. Boomers+ are significantly more likely to engage with text articles than different generations. Boomers+ show more trust in print advertising that online ads. According to the News Media Association, 76% of adults age 55 or older as newspaper readers, newspapers and magazines offer an uncluttered way to present ads to those consumers. 

One way to strategically reach smaller segments of boomers+ is through niche publications. Niche publications are a great way to reach high-earning, well-educated individuals. Boomers are active pop culture readers of publications like National Enquirer, Globe, and The Examiner. Forbes says: “placing ads in publications such as specialty magazines can effectively reach niche audiences that may be more difficult to target online.” Generational Marketing points out that “printed news is seen as being much more credible than online advertising and is the perfect venue to reach boomers. Baby boomers have always read print publications and newspapers, so it remains a habit.” Moreover, boomers devote 2.87 hours per week to reading newspapers and magazines, according to MarketWired.

The boomer+ group is more likely to respond to direct mail campaigns than any other generation. According to a Marketing Chart Study that surveyed purchase influence among baby boomers between the ages of 50-68, they found that “more than 3 in 10 survey respondents reporting that direct mail had influenced them to purchase a product or service during the prior 6 months. Interestingly, that was the most cited purchase influencer of 16 identified, ahead of word-of-mouth and online consumer reviews.” With these things in mind, you can see why direct mail is a prime marketing option.

Conclusion

As noted above, the boomer+ generation is very large and possesses a huge amount of disposable income that is seemingly up for grabs. Importantly, and contrary to popular belief, this demographic is highly engaged across various marketing channels that, when coordinated correctly, can generate more favorable lifetime value dynamics. In Part II of this article, we will explore tactics that work for this demographic and examples of success stories.

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Eric Roth is a managing director at MidOcean Partners, a New York-based investment firm, who focuses on the consumer segment. He has nearly two decades of experience in the consumer space, most recently as a managing director and head of the consumer retail group at Lazard Middle Market. Lindsay Picard and Sam Selinger, associates are MidOcean, also assisted with the research and writing of this article.

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