If you’re a baby boomer, all eyes are on you. Especially those looking to sell you something. They want to know what makes boomers tick. And what makes boomers buy.
Dozens of marketers will gather today and Tuesday (June 3) in San Francisco for the unveiling of the “Boomer Heartbeat” study by JWT BOOM, a marketing firm specializing in people age 40-plus and sponsor of LiveWire: The Summit.
Most marketers already know some things about boomers that many boomers may not. For starters:
• Boomers, on average, have the most spendable discretionary income of any segment of the U.S. population.
• Fifty- to 70-year-old women are about to become the richest demographic in U.S. history.
• The boomers’ leading female edge will transform the American market over the next 10 years in nearly every consumer product category.
The goal of the seventh-annual conference? Understanding much more about boomer consumers, said Mary Brown, a JWT BOOM partner in charge of strategy and insight. And enabling participants to walk away with insights to put to work in their marketing departments or nonprofits.
This is no low-brow crowd. Attendees over the years include representatives of the American Medical Association, AARP, Deloitte & Touche, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. On this year’s roster are Universal Studios, Golden Valley-based General Mills and Otico, a hearing-aid company. Now there’s fodder for a discussion that gets to the dynamics of marketing to boomers — 78 million of them in this country. “A huge number of boomers are entering into their 50s and 60s,” Brown said. “Their eyes are going. Their ears are going. But hearing aids are still kind of lodged in mature space. And many boomers don’t want to be catered to in that same way.”
In search of the magic formula
That’s the challenge for marketers, who will explore boomer shopping, social networking and tactics for luring boomers in the conference’s panels, workshops and networking events. Key speakers will be Dr. Gene Cohen, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Aging and an expert on the creative mind, and Joe Pine, author of the 2007 book, “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.” Cohen’s exploration of developmental intelligence provides a fitting context for Pine’s analysis of boomers’ quest for authenticity and relationships with brands built on that quality, Brown said.
For example? Think Whole Foods, “a big-box grocery store that’s organic,” she said. “It’s supported by what boomers want and ultimately, the ones willing to pay the difference.” She cites Starbucks as a similar example “built on the backs of baby boomers.”
Among U.S. businesses that have literally “rebranded” themselves to better serve the boomer market is the conference sponsor itself. Formerly JWT Mature Market Group, the 15-year-old company changed its name to JWT BOOM (jwtlivewire.com or jwtboom.com) to communicate its mission. It has added a magazine called LiveWire and a professional and social networking website. Are boomers in there networking on the Web as younger people do? “The answer is yes,” Brown said.
Boomers still carving new turf
Then there’s Harley Davidson, a brand boomers revived while edging into middle age. “In what other time did a 50-year-old accountant get to dress in black and ride around on a bike?” Brown asks. “Generally, riders are 50 years old, and it appeals to women, too. You’ve got chic bikers. It’s about having that rebellion and freedom yet at 50.”
The scenario mirrors boomers’ history of “rearranging the nature of relationships,” she said. “Now they’re rearranging the concept of retirement. They’ll do that with getting old, too — by their sheer numbers. Boomers are remaking the whole notion of people at this age.”