More and more lately, as I’m scrolling through Facebook updates from friends and family of the Baby Boomer generation, the captions I’m reading are pretty impressive, almost to the point of envy: “We just got back from a two-week biking tour through Italy,” “Dad has been playing the best golf of his life down here in Hilton Head, even got a hole in one today,” or “My Mom, so excited about finishing her first 10k, she’s now training for the NYC marathon next fall.”
These Facebook posts are not the exception, but the norm. Baby Boomers, ranging generally in age from 53-70 years old, are far from being the grandparents of yesteryear. In fact, this enormous generation — 77 million strong — is rewriting the rulebook on growing older.
Whether they’re benefiting from medical advancement or armed with healthy lifestyle tips, Boomers are going back to the activities they either once loved or never stopped doing in the first place. Committed to spending on activities with healthful benefits, Boomers are joining gyms in astronomic numbers — memberships of those over 55 have climbed over 500 percent in the last two decades.
Even outside of gyms, boomers represent the 33 percent of Americans who fit in the active outdoor lifestyle category. Brands in the cycling industry have witnessed much of this appeal with boomers making up one-third of all bike riders, according to a National Sporting Goods Association report. The report also mentions that the popularity in cycling increases with age — those 75 years and up represent the highest percentage of Boomer cyclists.
Regardless of whether your brand is marketing bikes or yoga equipment, it’s enough to make all active lifestyle brand marketers sit up and take notice. Boomers’ strong desire to remain active, combined with their increased discretionary income and free time, make for an ideal active lifestyle consumer.
Even though Boomers spend more time and money on their lifestyle interests than any other demographic, many brands still aren’t focusing on marketing to this demographic's unique pursuits. In fact, according to AARP, Boomers account for approximately half of all consumer spending, but a paltry 10 percent of marketing dollars are aimed their way.
Brands that either ignore Boomers or continue to send outdated messaging are the ones losing out on a powerful opportunity. Thankfully, researchers love studying the Baby Boomer generation, so as marketers we’re offered great insight toward crafting the right brand message.
What Every Active Brand Must Know to Reach Baby Boomers
Redefining age — 70 is the new 50.
The last thing the nation’s Baby Boomers want to be labeled as is “old.” Active lifestyle brands and other categories that want to attract Boomers should adopt an Ageless Marketing approach. The goal should be to find the right balance between portraying active, yet realistic, images of this generation. According to the Journal of Behavior Studies in Business, marketers should avoid the following six labels when targeting Boomers — elderly, retiree, senior citizens, mature, golden/silver years, and prime of your life.
An example of responding to what resonates with Baby Boomers is the brand PGA Tour. When research revealed that those over 50 did not wish to think of themselves as "seniors," the organization renamed the Senior PGA Tour the PGA Champions Tour. Brands mindful of portraying a positive image of Boomers without emphasizing chronological age will resonate most strongly with this audience.
Studies have shown that many Boomers feel anywhere from 15-25 years younger than their biological age. They certainly don’t want to be presented with images and messaging that suggests aging is undesirable. This is not to say that marketers should portray Boomers in an unrealistic light. Instead, brands do best when making an emotional connection to a Boomer’s feeling of youthful exuberance.
Brand marketers find success when making an emotional connection with past product experiences. Boomers are fascinated with products that they grew up with or admired when they were younger, which is essentially turning traditional ideas about nostalgia inside out. Huffy, for example, has been manufacturing bicycles for over 120 years. Yet, new designs built off classic models combining technological advances and style have made Huffy the go-to bike for Boomers. Huffy markets its classic cruiser model by stating: “sometimes it’s not about how fast you go, but how much life you can soak up in one given moment.” New models are marketed to Boomers by touting the added comfort and sturdier frames, but they really hone in on branding messaging that creates an emotional connection centered on youth and energy.
Another great example of brands listening to the needs of Boomers is Schwinn, by offering a three-wheel bike called the Schwinn Meridian Single Speed Adult Tricycle. Schwinn understood the need for autonomy and empowerment, while addressing physical limitations of some Boomers. Schwinn’s Trike enables everyone to bike again by eliminating the fear of falling. The reviews have been quite positive. My favorite encapsulates what every active lifestyle brand desires: “I bought this bike for my 78-year-old grandmother who wanted a bike to ride but has balance problems. Since getting this bike, she has become a neighborhood institution! Grandma rides the bike nightly around the neighborhood, and loves to race the kids (though she always lets them win).”
Whether marketing bicycles or fitness club memberships, brands that address a Boomer’s specific needs and offer the right solutions, will become a differentiating favorite. Taking the time to clearly define each of your buyer personas, including specific needs and pain points, will increase the odds of making a strong emotional connection between brand and customer. For more information on mapping out each of your buyer personas, click here.
Boomer loyalty — what makes a brand stick?
While Boomers love the brands they grew up with, they also like finding new products that recognize their unique needs. Furthermore, when Boomers really like a brand, they stick with it more than any other group. The ultimate success for any brand marketing to them is not only gaining their loyalty, but also moving beyond by gaining them as a key influencer within their community.
A 2015 report by CrowdTwist on demystifying brand loyalty among Boomers mentions three ways brands can earn loyalty — provide exceptional customer service, demonstrate real value, and prioritize simplicity. Meet these three criteria as a brand and you create a loyal customer and gain a serious influencer in the Boomer community.
To Boomers, “value” isn’t just getting a good deal. They see value when a brand can deliver on improving their health, productivity, autonomy, or relationships. Marketers need to listen for opportunities to demonstrate value in these areas and respond accordingly. Ignore these needs and your brand will be viewed as less valuable and this audience will move on.
It’s important to clarify that when the CrowdTwist report mentions brands that prioritize simplicity, this does not mean relying solely on the traditional advertising channels. While many marketers have ignored using online communications to reach Boomers, studies show that they are actually an ideal audience because of their willingness to share options with their peers.
Staking their place online — step aside Millennials.
Just as Boomers are driven to remain active, they are also using technology to their advantage. Nothing will make a Boomer’s blood boil faster than seeing brands depict them as technophobes or “afraid” of the online world. In fact, what many people think is gospel could not be further from the truth; 80 percent of Boomers are now online according to AARP. They also represent the largest online shopping audience, spending $7 billion annually, which is twice as much as Millennials spend.
When it comes to Boomers on social media, Facebook is King. According to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Boomers are active on Facebook. While many Millennials have abandoned Facebook, Boomers relish it as a place to comment and interact with friends, family, companies, and organizations.
As marketers, boomers are an ideal group for sharing positive product reviews, thus becoming brand ambassadors. Engaging and rewarding this demographic is well worth the time and effort.
Connecting across generations
When it comes to what Boomers value the most, it’s an easy call: their grandchildren. Not only are they spending a great deal of time with them, but they are also playing a significant role in child-rearing and decision-making. Obviously then, brands that can find a way to bridge the years between Boomers and their grandchildren are going to shine.
Active living communities in Florida (often designed specifically for adults 55 years and older) provide a glimpse into Boomer desires. While those outside the Sunshine State may imagine the bleak campgrounds and trailer parks of old, today’s active living communities are filled with beautiful swimming pools, world class golf courses, and activity centers that rival (or exceed) what a person might find at a country club.
One reason for the upscale amenities is that so many Boomers have grown children and grandchildren that play a significant role in their active lifestyles. When the kids and grandkids come for a visit, these communities provide all the fun that anyone could have, whether it’s a day on the links or soaking up the poolside sun. It is not uncommon for adult children who visit their parents to exclaim that they will “need a vacation to recover from this vacation,” because their parents have reinvented themselves in activities they now wish to share with their kids and grandkids. Active lifestyle brands that foster these cross-generational relationships earn a Boomer’s loyalty.
Once again, marketers need to understand that Boomers connect with a brand based on the emotional impact gained from the experience the brand offers, whether it’s a newfound sense of freedom or a chance to connect with a grandchild. Formulating a brand strategy that provides this emotional connection will build brand loyalty and establish key influencers within the Boomer community.
At Matter Creative Group we simplify the complex by getting to the heart of why a brand resonates with its audience. We’re proud of our experience helping brands in a multitude of categories, including health, wellness, sports, and outdoor recreation. Our goal is to provide creative that evokes emotional connections with each of our client's targeted audiences. We offer the flexibility to serve as either your agency of record or work with you on a project-by-project basis.
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