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The Boomer Generation: booming or busting? Although some are retiring, don't neglect the members of this very large and prosperous consumer segment.

In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau expected the country's Millennial population to number 75.3 million, overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest living generation in the United States. But with 74.9 million people, the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) is still a powerful economic force. It has the highest proportions of income and wealth, holding 34 percent of net worth dollars and bringing in 39 percent of total income dollars.

Despite their numbers, which peaked at 78.8 million in 1999, Baby Boomers today are largely being overlooked by many companies. Less than 5 percent of all advertising dollars are being spent marketing to Baby Boomers, according to recent research by Ad Age.

Part of the reason for this is that the sweet spot for marketers has always been consumers in the 18- to 49-year-old range, and Baby Boomers--who range in age from 52 to 70--fall outside of that demographic, explains Anne-Marie Kovacs, principal and chief marketing officer at Boombox Networks, a Chicago-based marketing agency dedicated exclusively to Baby Boomers.

Many companies mistakenly assume that Baby Boomers have already fixated on the brands from which they will buy and that their earning and spending potential is on the decline, and so they've lost interest in marketing to them. This, according to experts, is a huge mistake. "Marketers seem to pay the least attention to [Baby Boomers]. In general, the feeling seems to be that Baby Boomers are too set in their ways to change, and that's simply not the case," observes Geoff Smith, senior vice president of marketing at CrowdTwist, a provider of loyalty and analytics solutions. "Of all the generations, Baby Boomers are arguably the most likely to switch [brands]," Smith says.

In fact, only 46.4 percent of Baby Boomers reported high degrees of loyalty to their favorite brands, and 17.1 percent are highly willing to switch brands, CrowdTwist noted in its "Capturing Loyalty Across the Generations" 2015 loyalty program report. The data shows that Baby Boomers are actually 15.8 percent more willing to switch brands than Generation Xers.

"The notion that we will stick with the same brand throughout our lives is completely untrue," Kovacs confirms. "We are likely to try new brands or switch from one brand to another, especially if a brand doesn't market to us respectfully."

SAVVY CONSUMERS

Another reason to give Baby Boomers a second look is the fact that many in this age group are on the cusp of a new stage in their lives. Older members of the generation, which largely benefited from post-World War II prosperity, have already reached retirement, which could eventually mean that their needs, wants, and tastes will also change.

But in the meantime, despite a few gray hairs, Baby Boomers definitely don't want to be labeled as old or be treated that way.

"As Baby Boomers, we're often confused with seniors, and that's not what we are," Kovacs states emphatically. "We're not ready to retire or stop living just yet. We're much more active, vibrant, and alive than ever before."

Jim Gilmartin, principal at Coming of Age, an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based marketing agency specializing in Baby Boomers and seniors, agrees. "Be careful of using euphemisms like 'elder,' 'of a certain age,' 'mature adult,' or 'senior' in communications, as they may not go over well. Many [Baby Boomers] may become more than a little upset with being labeled."

That makes this a hard group to pinpoint for marketers. "We still feel like we're 35, but some companies treat us like we all have walkers," Kovacs laments.

Ads featuring fellow Boomers Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, or Andie MacDowell are more likely to resonate with members of this age group than 20-something actresses. "We don't like to be patronized," Kovacs warns. "We're pretty savvy consumers. You can't pull the wool over our eyes; we'll see right through it."

Respect, Kovacs and other experts point out, should be the hallmark of any interaction between companies and their Boomer customers or prospects. "We like to be treated with respect and authenticity," Kovacs maintains. "For us, it's all about being respected as a customer, and that should flow through every stage of our journey with your company."

ADD INDIVIDUAL VALUE

For members of this generation, relationships have to go two ways. When it comes to loyalty programs, for example, Baby Boomers primarily join to save money or earn cash back, but they want rewards that are valuable. Nearly 66 percent will opt out of a program if the rewards aren't compelling, according to CrowdTwist's data.

Baby Boomers also place a premium on simplicity. More than any other age group, Boomers have no patience for loyalty programs that make it too complicated to earn or redeem points or other rewards. CrowdTwist found that nearly half have abandoned programs because they got tired of waiting for points to accumulate, and nearly 41 percent deserted programs they felt were too difficult.

"Brands have to constantly earn and re-earn [Baby Boomers'] loyalty, and the best way to do that is with repeated quality and value," Smith explains.

Boomers are also very willing to interact with brands and provide their feedback wherever possible, but they also want to be rewarded for doing so. In fact, 87 percent of respondents to CrowdTwist's survey said they would take a survey to earn loyalty points, 36 percent would visit a Web site, and 34 percent would open and read email. Other activities that they might be willing to do include checking in at stores, writing product reviews, watching videos, and referring friends.

Baby Boomers are 10 percent more likely than Millennials and 16 percent more likely than Gen Xers to want to take surveys for points, according to the data.

But for Baby Boomers, a sense of individuality is a hallmark trait, one of the foundations for this generation, which prides itself on constantly doing things differently than the way they were done before.

"In our opinion, there is no such market as the senior or Baby Boomer market. Considering such diverse populations as monolithic groups, all sharing the same values, needs, motivators, and desires, is unrealistic," Gilmartin says. "Just consider Boomers and older customers as individuals. After all, they aren't simply writing a new chapter of their lives, they're writing a brand new book, and each book is different."

NOT NEW TO TECHNOLOGY

So, too, is the technology that Baby Boomers are using to write that book. Long considered technologically inept, Baby Boomers today are shattering that stereotype, showing that they are more comfortable with technology than people give them credit for.

To reach Baby Boomers, companies need to adopt strategies that incorporate both traditional and newer digital channels. For this generation, traditional outlets, such as print and broadcast media, are definitely not dead, experts warn, but digital channels are not completely foreign either. If there's one thing that Baby Boomers are good at, it's adapting.

"Baby Boomers started out in mom-and-pop neighborhood stores. Then they moved to shopping malls. Now they're online," says Richard Shapiro, founder and president of the Center for Client Retention.

Some Boomers are quick to point out that members of their generation were instrumental in creating the Internet in the first place. And now, despite being exposed to the technology later in life, many Baby Boomers are using it in great numbers.

Boombox Networks reports that 80 percent of all Boomers today are online. And, according to Google's figures, they spend on average about 19 hours per week online researching products and services, making purchases, staying in touch with friends and family, sending and receiving email, and more. Pew Research found that 88 percent of Baby Boomers use email. Forrester Research even noted recently that, per capita, Baby Boomers are actually outspending younger adults online by a two-to-one margin.

Baby Boomers are also highly networked customers who like to interact with other like-minded people through social networking sites. Current estimates suggest that Baby Boomers account for about half of all social media users, and their numbers are growing.

Though they're not frequent contributors to Instagram, Periscope, or some of the other emerging channels, "Baby Boomers are on social channels, reading blogs, going to review sites, and all that," Kovacs says. "Social is a great way to reach them."

Additionally, according to Com.score data, Baby Boomers own more than a third of all tablets in the United States, and more than 85 percent of them own mobile phones. Not surprisingly, then, texting is also gaining ground as a communications channel for Boomers. According to Harris Interactive research, 69 percent of all Baby Boomers use text messaging. Additionally, 57 percent said they would have a positive view of companies that offer texting as a customer interaction channel, and 33 percent would prefer to use texting over other options to get in touch with companies and vice versa.

That in no way should be interpreted to mean that Baby Boomers have abandoned the telephone, however. Whether it's over a mobile or a landline, most Baby Boomers still prefer phone conversations.

"While digital proficiency is not always correctly correlated to age, Baby Boomers grew up with the phone and still tend to want to talk to a person to make sure whatever they called about is handled," says Natalie Petouhoff, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

This, she adds, is in stark contrast to younger generations "born with a tablet or device in their hands," who prefer to use any method but the phone.

And where in the past there was a generational divide when it came to the telephone and customer service, that gap is shrinking. Higher expectations now cross generational lines. According to research from Nuance Communications and Wakefield Research, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials all share a common pet peeve with telephone customer service: not being able to get through to a live person, which is the top pain point for Millennials (32 percent), Gen Xers (30 percent), and Baby Boomers (47 percent).

In terms of service, Baby Boomers are independent, with a can-do attitude. They like to dig in and get their hands dirty if needed to overcome obstacles on their own. By the numbers, 86 percent of Baby Boomers have used automated self-service technologies, Nuance's research found.

When their problems are too complex to be solved alone, Baby Boomers are a little more particular, though. They want companies to value their time, so for them maybe more than for Xers or Millennials, the benefits of an automated call-back option when all the agents are tied up cannot be overstated.

Research also suggests that Baby Boomers in particular are more inclined, and perhaps in a better financial position, to pay a premium for better customer service.

"Younger customers have less to spend and are more tuned in to how things work, so they can appreciate an iPhone with limited service and good online help when they need it. Boomers, on the other hand, might want the full demo and don't mind paying extra for help," says Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal at Beagle Research.

And then, they want a no-nonsense approach. "For Millennials and some Gen Xers, competent, well-made products with in-line or embedded automated services might be fine for a growing list of things. For Boomers, more hands-on engagement will be needed to seal the deal," Pombriant says.

BAD EXPERIENCES CAUSE DEFECTIONS

And when companies fail to deliver the level of quality service that is expected, Baby Boomers are just as likely as members of other age groups to end the relationship. Today, 65 percent of Baby Boomers admit to having stopped doing business with companies because of bad customer experiences, up from 56 percent in 2014, according to Nuance's research.

Those numbers are identical for Gen Xers. Millennials come in slightly higher, at 72 percent.

Based on this data, CrowdTwist recommends that companies emphasize the repeated value of their brands to keep their fickle Baby Boomer customers coming back to them. Conversely, companies looking to sway Baby Boomers to switch to their products or services must clearly show a value in doing so.

Gilmartin agrees. When dealing with Baby Boomers, "companies should identify the value of their products or services as meeting the life needs of prospective customers and position their company, product, or service as a gateway to desired meaningful life experience," he says.

"When selling to these populations, focusing on product features often results in a losing strategy, especially early on in the process," Gilmartin adds. "Research has shown that [older] customers' final decisions are not the direct product of the reasoning process; in fact, emotions drive Boomer and older customers in their purchase decisions. The reasoning process will confirm their decision, but it doesn't start there."

And then, the messages that companies send out should resonate with the values and motivators of Boomers, Gilmartin concludes. "Although all of us have basic values and motivators that drive us, we manifest them differently as we move through the spring, summer, fall, and winter of life. Selling to Baby Boomer and older customers is different primarily because of this shift in the manifestation of human values. Our need for identity, relationships, purpose, gaining knowledge, growth, rejuvenation, and recreation are always with us, but we manifest them differently as we grow older."

It follows, then, that tailoring every aspect of Baby Boomers' interactions with brands--from marketing to sales and customer service--to their unique needs will help companies build customer loyalty and position them for success as the demographic continues to change in so many ways.

"Companies are making a bit of headway in how they treat us," Kovacs says.

Following the advice above and investing more than 5 percent of their advertising dollars into this financially powerful cohort will go a long way toward improving these efforts.

CrowdTwist's

5 Tips for Engaging Baby Boomers

* Be relevant. Craft meaningful messages and engage them with products and services that speak directly to their needs.

* Keep loyalty programs simple.

* Continually demonstrate the value of loyalty programs. Show them how they can benefit from participation and how the products and services offered can enhance their lifestyles.

* Offer exceptional customer service. Treat them well and go beyond expectations for quality service.

* Feature engagement-based activities in loyalty programs. Reward them for taking surveys, visiting Web sites, and opening email.

Senior News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.
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Publication:CRM Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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