New Research Reveals Misconceptions of Baby Boomer Marketing

A seemingly small distinction like whether a voice is male or female can actually make a world of difference when marketing to the baby boomer audience.

A female voice will heed better response when used to market products that have some connection to care, love or relationships, while a male voice is more trusted when describing the technical aspects of a product, such as a financial tool.

These are the findings of recent research conducted by Coming of Age, a marketing agency geared specifically toward the aging baby boomer demographic.

A paradigm shift in the way older adults think and behave will necessitate new rules, mindsets and processes when marketing to boomers and older consumers, says Coming of Age Principal Jim Gilmartin, based on those findings.

Most of the marketplace’s adult members are in the years when “self-actualization” occurs, says Gilmartin, an idea that has given way to several consumer attributes now present in the marketplace as a result of an aging population.

Perceptions have become more conditional and less absolutist among this group, says Gilmartin. But outside of appealing to a consumer’s sensibility, Coming of Age has identified several tried-and-true practices in marketing to the “senior” population.

In addition to the voiceover findings that can be applied to TV or radio advertising, still photos were tested as having a negative appeal among boomers.

Image association and the impact of neurological response on the brain should be considered when marketing to an older audience, as cognition plays a pivotal role in interpreting advertisements, Coming of Age says.

Marketers should consider photographic ads, as pictures in motion arouse the brain more quickly than still-frame images. Because motion pictures convey vitality, Coming of Age urges marketers to avoid still, lifeless images “like the plague” when targeting boomers and senior customers.

Instead, by playing to boomers’ “hot buttons,” marketers can gauge how an individual will respond to a certain product.

Because the mind has a natural bias toward preserving old or familiar ways of thinking, changing these mental triggers is a lot harder to do after an individual’s early adult years.

As no two sides of the coin are the same—nor are two boomers for that matter, says Gilmartin, who believes that the most significant pitfall any marketing brand can do is lump all boomers in the same group.

“The ‘average’ consumer doesn’t exist,” says Gilmartin.

The key to the older customer’s pocketbook, he says, is in a better understanding of their minds.

With respect to making discretionary purchase decisions, boomer and older customers tend to display three distinct characteristics regarding sensitivity to price, affordability and value.

These include having a decreased sensitivity to price, an increased sensitivity to affordability, as well as a “sharply increased” sensitivity to value.

“Value determination by boomer and older customers tends to be an existentialist exercise whereby soul values as well as mind and body values are combined into the value determination process,” says Gilmartin.

Similar awareness can be observed for older consumers as they develop increased price-sensitivity when they age, adapting what Gilmartin calls “higher economic literacy” to get the best price.

In purchasing “need” items, boomers tend to be more bargain-minded, whereas in purchasing “desire” items, they tend to be more value-minded.

While marketing to younger generations has been easier to analyze and sell to in the past, says Gilmartin, understanding this older demographic will compel marketers to figure out the values and behaviors of boomer and older consumers.

With the age 65 and older population projected to reach 88.5 million by 2050, according to U.S. Census data, adults over age 40 stand to be what Coming of Age calls the “New Customer Majority.”

“Emotions drive the purchase decision,” says Gilmartin. “As important as it is to understand what boomer and older customers think, it’s even more important to understand how they think.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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