The Art of Ageless Marketing

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Observing Paul McCartney can help marketers understand how to attract boomer consumers. At 63, Sir Paul is rallying boomers in his new album to “never stop doing what you love,” whether your call is to write music, build your dream kitchen, or replace the Harley-Davidson that had to go when the second baby arrived.

Marketers who are paralyzed analyzing the growth potential from young shoppers vs. older shoppers have overlooked a third option. Given the composition of our population, there is no need to choose between the youth market and the older consumer. In fact, to be successful you have to have them both–and you can, by focusing less on the differences between old and young, and more on the similar benefits both groups expect from your product. This is the first and most difficult step toward mastering the art of ageless marketing.

Do you glaze over at the population statistics on the aging of America? What does it mean to your business that 76.9 million people–a quarter of the nation’s population–control half of the nation’s consumer spending, a dazzling $2 trillion? How do you translate this information into sales opportunities for computers, sneakers, wine, shampoo, or lingerie?

Many marketers have decided that the rewards of boomer sales dollars do not offset the risk of identifying their brand with “old people,” perceived as the kiss of death in our youth-driven culture. Reassurances that boomers are redefining aging have not been enough. Boomers, and even people in their 60s such as Sir Paul, may act young, but they are still aging toward old.

As so many boomers reach 50 and 60, however, there is the real risk that avoiding these consumers will lead them to reduce their spending in your category. Shoppers of every age buy more because advertising entices them. Without advertising to tempt them, they may revert to rational behavior and conclude that they really do not need to try another cereal, buy another pair of shoes, shop for a new outfit, or invest in a new piece of furniture.

There is no age associated with the desire to create a dream kitchen, have hair that is full and shiny, turn soup into a quick meal, and find the lowest price. Age does not define the desire to look good and be a smart shopper.

In our How America Shops® research, we interview 6,000 shoppers every year and have looked hard to find the differences between boomers and adults under 40. For the most part, we have given up. They shop alike, make similar choices, are equally interesting in trying new products. Differences appear where you would expect them, in categories driven by aging bodies (blood-pressure devices vs. pregnancy test kits) and in categories where older shoppers need a little longer to catch on, such as burning their own music.

What is most important to succeed with boomers is age diversity in your marketing message. Include people over 40 in your message and give them a product that they want to buy again. It is that simple.

Candace Corlett is principal of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based research and consulting firm.

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