Six Myths That Undermine DM Campaigns to 50-Plus Consumers

America's face is maturing. A baby boomer turns 50 every 7.5 seconds, and the 50-plus generation currently numbers 72.7 million — 27 percent of all Americans. By 2020, that number is projected to increase to 114.3 million and represent 35 percent of our population.

But direct marketing campaigns aimed at this generation rarely reflect its enormous potential. Despite recent progress, marketing to the 50-plus consumer is still hobbled by six myths making strong results elusive:

Today's mature adults are similar to their parents. Not so. The mature consumer of the 1990s is the first in history to benefit from extraordinary advances in such areas as medicine and technology. Moreover, different generations are motivated by different cultural and historical stimuli. If you're 70-plus, your memories, reflections and dreams are filled with World War II, Franklin Roosevelt, Benny Goodman and Humphrey Bogart.

But today's younger 50-plus adults respond to the sounds, words and images of other times and places. Americans between 55 and 65 grew up with Elvis Presley and sat transfixed as images of Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Paul Newman moved across the screen.

“Leading-edge” baby boomers were shaped by the Rolling Stones and Vietnam and may still grow misty over cultural icons like Woodstock. Using the same music, images and language to sell your products and services to different generations is doomed to failure. Pepsi's “Generation Next” campaign, for example, clearly has the potential to alienate people who don't see themselves as part of that group.

The mature audience is not homogenous. We become less, rather than more, alike as we age, as well as increasingly confident and independent. Ironically, teen-agers and young adults are most alike in that they consistently conform to the latest fads. To reach the appropriate segment in this market, your message should be tailored to meet not just specific ages, but also definitive life stages and generational profiles.

Life stage and generational segmentation models can target new needs and ignite dormant desires. They tell you if your target buyers are retiring from or returning to the workplace. Whether they are recently widowed or divorced, concerned about their health, buying or selling a home. And they uncover what national or international event shaped your target's early years. What inspires and motivates your audience? Life stage and generational data should play a leading role in helping you find out.

The belief that mature adults are brand loyal is false. Research shows that as many as 30 percent of insurance customers switch companies every year. According to Nielsen and J.D. Power, 68 percent of older adults are willing to switch more than any other generation. The 50-plus generation responds to offers that meet their generational interests and current Life stage — what they're experiencing, thinking, concerned with at the time — just as younger adults do. They don't place brand loyalty above their own interests and they're usually amenable to new products and services that they can use immediately.

Mature adults don't have consistent and predictable behaviors. In fact, they often experience a personal renaissance in their mid-life stages. Age is less relevant to their behavior than ever before. They develop new interests, make new friends, remarry, take classes, or start new careers.

What is attractive to a senior executive with two children in college is irrelevant to a retired divorcee with a new car and an empty house. Changing needs and life stages are windows of opportunity for direct marketers who are willing to refine their pitches or expand their services to meet new challenges.

Mature adults are inflexible and resistant to change. In fact, according to research conducted by Age Wave IMPACT, mature consumers are more likely to try new things than any other age group. At no other time in their lives have they been less restrained. For one thing, they have more money. But, most of all, they act more on information than impulse.

Surprise — the group least likely to experiment with new things is the 18- to 25-year-old group.

Marketing models that have worked in the past will work in the future. Mature adults have been over marketed and over sold. They've become increasingly resistant to stock direct marketing appeals. They want a company, product and service they can trust. Nothing undermines that sense of trust faster than the feeling you're being “sold.”

There is definitely a place for hard sales building techniques, but new direct sales approaches must be tailored to meet the needs of a very sophisticated adult consumer.

To score a bull's eye with 50-plus consumers, direct marketers must demythologize their approaches, target their marketing based on new consumer needs and listen to the beat of different drummers when developing and executing their campaigns. Given the growing size of the 50-plus generation, that beat can only get louder.

Michael Rybarski is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at

Age Wave IMPACT, Emeryville, CA, an integrated marketing firm specializing

in helping companies market to boomers and older adults.

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