The Three Major Demographics for Online Marketers (Part 2): Marketing to Baby Boomers

August 5, 2011 | By

Baby Boomers

In the first part of our three series study, we focused on how teens and young adults are increasingly using the web for more than just ‘casual browsing’ and what this means for online marketers. While we agree that the youth will continue to be one of the heaviest users of social media, our second part highlights how older users or the baby boomers are rapidly becoming web-savvy. Going by eMarketer’s recent study, we know that today’s 60-year-olds do more than just stay home in their slippers, sipping a mug of hot cocoa and surfing different television channels. According to the report:

  • At 78.2%, baby boomers spend more time and money online than any other generation; this percentage is likely to stay the same through 2015.
  • Of this, the 56-65 age group spends approximately 36.5 hours a month online.
  • US Baby Boomer Mobile Internet UsersContrary to the belief that older consumers shy away from mobile phones, it has been found that 86.9% of Baby Boomers will have a mobile phone in 2011.
  • Internet will be accessed via mobile browsers or installed apps by almost one quarter of this demographic.
  • By 2015, 40% of the Baby Boomers will use the internet via mobile.

For brands and advertisers, the message is obvious; there is a need to broaden their marketing strategy to include this demographic too, keeping in mind the fact that this segment uses mobiles for more than just making calls. Now that we know how important this demographic is to online marketers in general, we are curious to see if the older audience is just as enthusiastic about social media. The 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project report shows that:

  • Social networking use among Internet users ages +50 almost doubled to 42% in May 2010 from 22% in the previous year.
  • During the same period, the +65 age bracket’s social media usage increased from 13% to 26%.
  • Although the older audience is not as quick to catch on to the concept of social networking, they nevertheless, are showing increased ‘stickiness’ to social media sites.

Although email is still the preferred channel of communication among older users, the above statistics suggest that social media is fast catching on. Baby Boomers are jumping on the social media bandwagon; yet, not many brands cater to this demographic. We believe this could be because:

  • The stereotypical image of avid social media users involves tech-savvy 20-somethings; therefore the general tendency is to design marketing campaigns and messages keeping a younger audience in mind.
  • Older people are expected to use social media for casual browsing or catching up with old friends. While this is not entirely incorrect, baby boomers (with their large disposable income) are set to become one of the most powerful consumer groups online.
  • Boomers are believed to be too old to embrace technology and depend on traditional sources for information, news etc. A study by Forrester indicates just the opposite; 60% of Baby Boomers throng various social networking channels and we have every reason to believe this number will only grow in the years ahead.

With the growing number of older adults taking advantage of social media right now, brands and online marketers need to keep this key demographic in mind while designing their marketing campaigns. Baby Boomers are serious online shoppers and social media users; solely focusing on the younger audience means missing out an important part of the prosperous +55 market.

The Big Spenders

Unlike their predecessors, the older consumers of today have more disposable income and therefore are open to trying new brands and products online. According to eMarketer, the 116 million Baby Boomers in the USA (as of 2011) are a valuable target audience to marketers and represent tremendous potential to those who know how to reach them. Here are some reasons why we think brands should invest their online marketing dollars towards reaching the ‘big spenders’:

  • eMarketer’s recent study indicates that Boomers spend over $2.9 trillion annually, and a significant amount of their time online is spent shopping.
  • In 2010, an average of about $650 was spent online over a three-month period; this was much higher than the $581 spent online by Generation X (ages 35 to 46) internet users and the $429 spent by millennials (ages 18 to 34).
  • Most people who fall under this bracket are either beginning to retire or have already retired; with time and disposable income in hand, this demographic is more than willing to give brick-and-mortar stores a pass and shop online instead.
  • Boomers are less critical about shopping online, says a recent study by Experian Simmons. According to the study, 49% of boomers thought making online purchases was safe, compared to 47% of total internet users.
  • While the aging population is willing to loosen its purse strings, they are still ‘old fashioned‘ and are likely to look for the best deals and offers on sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial and Facebook. For social media marketers, this translates into an opportunity to build their customer data base and design campaigns accordingly.
  • Their financial independence enables baby boomers to indulge in purchasing luxury products such as luxury cars, health products and expensive cosmetics, both online as well as offline.

The older population does not just view the internet as a place to find the lowest bargains. Research by Position² indicates that the possibility of selecting from a wide array products and services, without having to leave the comfort of their homes is a major attraction for this demographic. This, in addition to the fact that baby boomers are one of the wealthiest and the largest segments in the USA, is making brands gradually take notice of this segment. Yahoo! is one such brand. Extensive research by Yahoo! showed how this demographic, while largely unnoticed, spent considerable amount of their time and money online. In a smart move, Yahoo! went on to launch its ‘Vitality’ website, which featured everything, from vitality blogs to healthcare tips and post-retirement vacation planners. US Facebook Users Like Brands on FacebookAll we can say is that Yahoo!’s pursuit of those Baby Boomer dollars has definitely paid off.

Baby Boomers; the New Facebook Users

It’s a well known fact that Facebook initially targeted the college crowd and then moved on to older social networkers. A few years ago it would have been difficult to imagine people in the +55 age bracket adding ‘friends’, ‘liking’ pages and posting comments; after all, this behavioral pattern typically pertains to the younger generation right? Well, not anymore. A recent study by eMarketer shows how more and more Baby Boomers ‘like’ various brands on Facebook. According to Forbes, the fastest growing age segment in Facebook includes 55-64 and +65 year olds. Then who are these ‘users’ that are leaving Facebook? It’s the teens and 20-somethings, says eMarketer; which makes baby boomers, the new Facebook users. Online marketers looking to target this age bracket want to know what their senior audience is doing on Facebook:

  • Studies conducted in 2010 show that:
    • 40% of the seniors use Facebook to connect with family and old friends.
    • 30% use it to share photos, while 20% like to play social games.
    • 10% look for contests and promotional offers.
  • Senior Audience Activity in FacebookThe attraction to online communities: With little time restraints, this generation of the Facebook audience spends time joining online communities, engaging in discussions etc. This often gives them a sense of ‘belonging’.
  • For professional connections and business connections: That’s right; baby boomers prefer Facebook to LinkedIn for professional networking. Deloitte data indicates that LinkedIn has only 13% older users when compared to Facebook, which boasts 73% aging users.

Although the younger crowd is increasingly experimenting with other networking channels besides Facebook, online marketers have no reason to worry. Companies and brands on Facebook, which until now simply designed their marketing strategies for the youth, can now cater to baby boomers, who are embracing this site with gusto. Besides looking for contests and promotions, this demographic also appears to be participating in community discussions on Facebook. For brands that have a heavy Facebook presence, understanding their target market will not just enable them to capture and retain their customers, but will also help build customer-specific campaigns.

Does your Online Campaign Target Baby Boomers?

Before designing digital campaigns for older consumers, what marketers need to understand is that they are targeting a generation and not an age bracket. The current +55 generation does not ‘think old’ anymore. They are tech-savvy, eager to experiment with new products, willing to make online purchases and have the money to spend. Nevertheless, like their younger counterparts, reaching out to this demographic online involves extensive understanding of what drives them, why they prefer certain social channels over others, what makes them buy a product online etc. Before designing a social media or digital campaign for Baby Boomers, here are some things marketers need to know:

  • Keep it Positive: The concept of the ‘grey’ customer no longer holds good. With their kids having flown the nest, their mortgages paid off, today’s older consumers are an optimistic lot. Creating social media campaigns which are dark and gloomy will only drive this segment further away.
  • Example: Using Older Faces in AdsUsing Older Faces in your Ads is Okay: What we mean by this is ‘keeping it real’. A great example of this would be the Dove Pro-aging campaign. While designing the adverts, which were aimed at women over 50, Unilever’s marketing team wisely decided to use regular women in the +50 age bracket instead of going for young professional models. Although the TV adverts faced some trouble for showing too much skin, the ads aired on YouTube were a huge hit and were commended for showing aging as something that was normal.
  • The importance of a good design: Ultra conservative and bland is passé; be fun and creative, at the same time keep your webpage simple and easy to navigate. A clean interface, uncluttered text, use of professional graphics will ensure repeat visitors to your page.
  • Getting Down to the Details: If you are advertising a certain product online, including the relevant details on a single page, where it is easy to find, is a good idea. Older consumers who have to dig for details such as the price or the best-by-date of a product may switch over to another site that has the required information in one place.
  • Building a Relationship: The aging population will not buy a product because it’s ‘cool’. This demographic views trust as the key to establishing a genuine relationship. Timely response to their tweets, being transparent while communicating, responding to customer complaints increases your ‘personality quotient’ and shows that you care.

Here’s a tip: While marketing to older customers, we suggest you focus on the aspects of high quality and value for money, which will help you build a loyal customer base. Baby boomers may have the money and will spend it no doubt…but not unless they know they are getting their money’s worth.

Conclusion

Just like traditional marketing, each target group in unique; the secret to generating traffic and increasing ROI is to understand how and where they spend time online, what social sites they prefer and what drives them to make certain purchases. In the case of baby boomers, the recent jump in social media activity indicates the emergence of a fast-growing target market that is set to grow further in the next few years. If we go by eMarketer’s study, then over one-half (56.8%) of 55-to-64-year-old Internet users will visit social networks regularly by 2014, up from 34.3% in 2009. In fact, even the +65 age group will reach a 37.9% penetration rate in 2014; now that’s something.

The key to reaching out and retaining this target market is to design appropriate digital campaigns that appeal to them. Perhaps this is why older consumers prefer Facebook to other networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Facebook’s clean, user-friendly layout enables social media marketers to design adverts specific to this demographic. However, with the entry of Google+ in the networking space we are eager to see if the older audience embraces Google’s new social media tool with just as much enthusiasm. With Baby Boomers spending more time and money online than any other generation in the US, social media sites have expanded beyond just channels of social interactions and have become a viable platform for brands looking to reach older consumers. Earlier, marketers believed social media was all about Gen Y; this notion is gradually changing. With more and more boomers beginning to use social media, we expect to see a shift in the ROI realized from social media campaigns. As Owyang and Forrester Research have shown, “the baby boomer market is a fertile playground for marketers looking to easily reach an engaged audience.”

While we conclude the second part of our series, watch out for the third and final installment where we study another key demographic for online marketers; women, with a special focus on web-savvy mothers.

Team Position²

About the Author: Team Position²

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