Monday, September 20, 2010

Not Defined by Age

That's what I wish marketers knew about those of us in the Baby Boom generation.

From Mediapost:

Be Mindful Of Life Stages

As professionals marketing to consumers 45+, we spend a great deal of time advising clients about messaging; the critical messaging that engages older consumers in meaningful conversations about a brand and a product that eventually leads to purchase. Generally, equal weight is given to the "where" or the context of the message and the media, or engagement, plan.

Considerably less importance is paid to when these messages may be most relevant to older consumers and how the understanding of older consumer lifestyles and life stages can create greater resonance with brand and product messaging. While age/cohort experience is a jumping-off point for understanding the basics of a consumer population, too many generational generalizations have prevailed for both the WWII and Boomer cohorts.

My "when" doesn't refer to a media calendar or seasonality -- like "let's do holiday gift guides." Consumers need to be engaged where they are, and, for older consumers, this is an increasingly complex issue. If you look at the chart, below, you will note a number of mature consumer "life stages." Unlike the mature generations before, today's older consumers have a lot going on. They are the generation of consumers that set Madison Avenue's expectation that life changes created consumer activity.


Rather than moving through life in the linear lifestyle of the World War II Generation, these new matures are creating a life stage "mosaic" -- moving in and out of a variety of life stages in a dynamic fashion. Each of these life stage changes creates unique consumer opportunities. That is, suddenly consumers are looking for products and services that may never have been in the consideration set before this life stage.

There are several that should be on A marketer's radar right now. Grandparenting is perhaps the simplest of these life stages to understand and observe. With 70 million grandparents nationwide, comprising nearly 40% of U.S. households, they are difficult to ignore. Media speak directly to the 1.7 million people entering this life stage each year -- a magazine, websites, and loads of online content. Most interesting is the changing nature of these grandparents -- they are young (average age is 48), wired, and working. And they spend more than $50 billion annually on their grandchildren.

At the other end of the spectrum is care giving -- providing informal care for an elderly loved one. This life stage is harder to observe, even though nearly 45 million adults are providing care. The typical caregiver is in her late 40s, is working and adding another 20 hours per week to her schedule by providing care. It is a leading cause of absenteeism for mature consumers in the workplace, with 62% reporting they have had to make adjustments at work to continue to provide care.

Unlike the excitement of grandparenting, care giving is fraught with fear, difficult decisions, sibling conflict and financial obligations. Caregivers have many unmet needs: finding time for themselves, managing stress, and balancing work and family responsibilities. They are also seeking ways to keep their loved ones safe and active, while juggling communication with the healthcare system.

We read almost daily about the influence and financial power of the Boomer female consumer, and yet many of these women are quietly struggling through this life stage, with little recognition, engagement or support from the companies she relies on. Many brands have no insight into the "multi-mindedness" of this consumer, and consequently the messaging falls flat, never making it through the clutter. Her unmet needs create enormous potential for all kinds of goods and services -- both in and outside of the health arena.

Lori Bitter is president of Continuum Crew, an integrated communications firm focused on engaging mature consumers, which she launched following the closure of JWT BOOM, a leading mature market advertising and marketing company.

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