I have often written and spoken about the death of demographics–how they aren’t important and are overused by marketing departments in an attempt to acquire new customers.
But I also know the importance of quality research and listening to your customers, no matter your assumptions. It’s with this attitude that I recently completed a research project that focused on the attitudes and desires of individuals selecting Medicare at the point of qualification. During this project, I learned something very revealing about the Baby Boomer generation.
From my experience with marketing departments, most companies make one of two critical mistakes when considering Boomers: They choose to ignore the generation altogether, or they attempt to address the generation with one set of campaigns and key messages.
Choosing to ignore Baby Boomers altogether is an obvious mistake. Companies that do so miss out on an affluent consumer group with disposable income, high brand loyalty, and the time to participate in new experiences. The second mistake is more common. All too often, marketers oversimplify and use a narrow set of approaches for Boomer brand awareness and acquisition.
My research shows, and marketing tests confirm, that the Boomer generation splits into two distinct groups, each requiring very different types of engagement and approaches for acquisition and ongoing relationship. The Baby Boomer generation roughly breaks into these categories:
Pre-Vietnam War Boomers
These are individuals born between 1946 and 1955 who closely map to the cultural changes that occurred in the 1960s. They are heavily influenced by the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., risk of the draft into the Vietnam War, and many other key events of the ’60s that began to change the social landscape.
For the pre-Vietnam War Baby Boomer, the traditional family structure and relationship between husband and wife is defined and important. In interviews with individuals in this group, the man was always the interview subject, although his wife might be in the background providing the actual answers.
They rely on traditional methods of communicating with friends, family, and the world in general. Mass media is still influential to this group. They trust authority figures, educational opportunities to learn about things they are not comfortable with through seminars, workshops, and training. Receiving communications by postal mail is key to reaching this part of the Baby Boomer generation.
Post-Vietnam War Boomers
These are individuals born between 1956 are 1964 that are influenced by “end of innocence” events such as Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, the Cold War, raging inflation, and gasoline shortages.
They are less optimistic as a group, more likely to distrust the government, and have a general cynicism. The woman is more empowered–or has equal decision making authority and presence in the family.
This Post-Vietnam war group is more likely to be active in social media, but primarily sees it as a way to make sure others “remember them.” They are very comfortable with e-mail and choose not to receive most communications via postal mail. They look to others’ experiences to make key decisions and place far more weight on these recommendations.
Of course, there are any number of subsets to these groups, smaller cohorts, and every individual exception you could imagine. This is a broad brushstroke summary, but it reveals an important point–that the demographics so many marketers cherish are really just superimposed categories with little relevance in the real world.
Often, the only way to really know what your audience wants is to ask. As you start or continue the conversation with a prospect or suspect, allow the receiver of your messages to correct the conversation and indicate preferences.
Which, by the way, was just about the only thing the pre- and post-Vietnam War Boomers agreed on. All participants wanted the ability to turn off the mountain of mail they were receiving and promised to penalize companies for inundating them with paperwork by choosing a more in-tune competitor.
Imagine that–being rejected by a Baby Boomer for being out of touch. Maybe we do have something to learn from our elders.