Winning Over Boomers Online

Millennials comprise the most rapidly growing demographic in the U.S. today, and they rightfully command a huge share of marketers’ attention. But while everyone is scrambling to win the attention of the 18 to 34 set, let’s not forget about marketers’ former darling generation.

With roughly 76 million members aged 48 to 66, Boomers comprise about a quarter of the U.S. population, roughly the same proportion as the 76.6 million Millennials.

But market size aside, these populations couldn’t be more different. Millennials are racially and ethnically diverse, highly educated, and tend to be westward-bound urban dwellers. Boomers, on the other hand, tend to be less diverse and are more likely to remain tied to the suburbs.

While the Boomer market isn’t growing, it’s managed to weather the recent financial storm: Despite years of recession and the housing crisis, Boomers as a generation are still fairly wealthy, with an average household net worth of $140,000. The average Millennial’s net worth is about half that.

Given all the cash on the table, savvy marketers aren’t giving up on Boomers just yet.

So, how do you get the attention of Boomers on the web, considering their (undeserved) reputation as Luddites unwilling to spend money? We spoke to several marketing pros who are doing just that, in a variety of industries, and got them to share their tips and tricks for reaching this sizeable and lucrative demographic online.

Make it easy for Boomers to research your products 

The recession was particularly tough on Boomers who had poured their savings into real estate that rapidly devalued. It’s taken them longer than most to reopen their wallets—but that’s starting, cautiously, says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com.

“Boomers are more likely to research companies before they buy,” Sweeney says. “Reputation management is absolutely vital for any business targeting boomers – that means you need to claim as many local marketing presences as you possibly can. Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yelp are good places to start. Then start soliciting and aggregating reviews. These don’t have to come from Boomers, they just have to be honest and well-written.”

Direct offline marketing to online channels

Boomers are tech-savvy, but they are also still quite active with traditional media. In fact, a DMN3 study found that television is still the most effective way to reach Boomers.

Isaac Oommen is the Internet marketing manager for McGregor Hardware Distribution. He takes a two-step process to lead Boomer customers from offline marketing and traditional media to his website, saying, “We talked up the Facebook page and website at the recent golf tournament, and we digitize the company’s marketing newsletter into something that is clickable, so each product description will lead the reader directly to that page on the website.”

In other words, if you’re targeting Boomers, don’t abandon traditional advertising, but ensure any offline marketing you engage in leads customers to your digital presence in as seamless a way as possible.

Play up necessity and value for the long term

Boomers are often enticed by appeals to their frugality, says Sweeney. Her company leverages that sentiment by “portraying our service as a necessary expense that, in the long term, pays off.” It’s a tough time to market luxury goods and expensive vacations to Boomers, while industries like home maintenance have seen a real upswing. Sweeney says, “It’s easy to see a trend towards long-term planning. If you make the mistake of marketing to boomers like they are at the end of their lives and should spend all their money while they can, they will see your company’s product or service as frivolous. Effective marketing should reflect this trend, and show how a business’s product or service benefits Boomers in the long-run, rather than right now.”

Remember: Boomers truly believe sentiments like “60 is the new 40” as they see a long road ahead for themselves. If you can position your company’s offerings as a good investment for the future — think double-pane windows or high-end furnishings —Boomers are likely to respond. Products should be touted as well made and constructed for the long haul.

Dismiss the idea that Boomers aren’t open to new brands

Boomers have a reputation for being “stuck in their ways,” but a Ketchum study says that sentiment is rapidly changing, as Boomers cite “evolving priorities” driven by divorce, separations and other increasingly common changes in dynamics of their relationships with significant others.

It’s less midlife crisis than it is an increasing openness to making other changes in their lives, namely investing in products they didn’t previously know well. The Ketchum study found that only 26 percent of Americans over 50 were loyal to any travel or packaged goods brand and only 13 percent had loyalty to any fashion brand.

The takeaway: don’t be afraid to attack the status quo out of fear that Boomers are resistant to new things. Boomers expect life to keep getting better. So if your product can be positioned as a catalyst for that improvement, you might find success. Consider, for example, the success of the Fitbit and other fitness trackers with this generation to see how Boomers are engaging with a new brand that promises to make life even better.

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