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The baby boomer and beyond – a manifesto

By / / In Insight /
Having spent their best years connected to the internet, most baby boomers are big consumers of digital media to entertain and inform them and many are now interested in smart homes. So, if you want to do business with boomers, you had better take a fresh view about what value you provide and how you engage with them.
baby boomer

Merlin Stone is a baby boomer (as well as a professor of marketing!) and has advice for younger marketers about what his generation really wants from today’s marketplace and modern technology.

Today, it’s hard to identify a decent consumer-facing business that doesn’t take account of customer insights and user experience. Except when it comes to marketing housing for older adults. Many of us (yes, this group includes me at the age of 68) believe that marketing patronises them. This applies particularly to housing. There’s a whole new phase of life up for grabs which house builders, housing managers, planners, ITC companies, even governments are starting to think about.

baby boomer article

“Healthcare organisations must learn to see seniors as the digital consumers they are” – Kim Walker,

With the advent and convergence of potentially game-changing technologies, enabled by the Internet of Things and big data, we have a golden opportunity to challenge the status quo. So, I am working with the Agile Ageing Alliance is to take a fresh look at how smarter homes and environments can help an ageing population to live healthier, more meaningful, active and connected lives, for as long as they are able.

We drown in statistics showing the size of the baby boomer generation and the inadequacy of housing to meet their needs, so it’s easy to forget we are talking about people, not needy patients. We are customers who have sustained and developed the post-war consumer and service economy and will continue to do so. Many have spent most of our lives working in a service industry and/or been self-employed, giving us the flexibility, knowledge and experience to work for longer, but also giving us expectations concerning services and housing, including being used to getting what we want in terms of access to shopping, transport, libraries, other amenities.

Our views on controlling our own lives have evolved – including whether we prefer to do-it-ourselves, rather than being at the mercy of tradesmen, experts, supervisors, government officials and know-it-all neighbours and families.

Most of us have spent our best years connected to the web, gaining its benefits which include accessibility, cost-effectiveness, choice, customisation, personalisation, speed of service, transparency and knowledge (including health), but also developing patterns of friendship and community which depend less on proximity – e.g of friends, families and shops. We are big consumers of digital media to entertain and inform us, subscribing to or receiving free channels and services which fulfil our lives, including social media.

At 65 and even 70, most of us have years of healthy living ahead. We want our housing to support us by more than just providing a place to live. We will be grandparents. We will be centres of social activity for family and friends. We want our houses to deliver more for us.

baby boomer article by Merlin Stone

Research by BI Intelligence has shown uptake of smart home devices in the US.

Many of us are interested in smart homes and some of us have already started to smarten our homes, whether do-it-yourself or by taking on one of the packages offered by utility suppliers and others. By smart homes, I mean ones with systems to connect and operate appliances, thermostats, cameras, televisions, heating and air-conditioning systems, security systems and sensors, to enable us to manage or remotely control or programme them. The benefits of smartening our homes include security, energy saving, ease of communication with other people and convenience. Our home will be a partner, not just a place to live, and – using modern technology – it will welcome us, warn us, help us survive and enjoy life, not just be a passive receptacle for our ageing bodies. When we enter our home, we’ll expect an update on what’s going on (“I’ve turned the heating up because frost is forecast”), in, around and outside out home, in our districts. As we age, we’ll expect those who help us to get the same updates. When problems are imminent, we’ll expect a warning that is much more than the warning about frost, doors open, seat belts undone, lights left on or service required that modern cars give us. In short, we’ll expect our homes to be – dare we say it – almost human.

Marketing to the baby boomer – the inside information:

If you want to market to us well, you must understand that while many of us have good income and assets, we go through our own journeys with their own stages, each of which have implications for marketers. Here are some examples. Of course, these stages are much more obvious to marketers for those of us who are big web users – the stages will be visible in our browsing and other web patterns of behaviour.

  • In our last 15-30 years, we want very different things, so if you aim to supply us with goods or services, you had better take a fresh view about what value you provide us with and how you engage us, at each stage.
  • Our children and grandchildren are among the most important things to us in life, so their life stages – particularly weddings, setting up house, having children, children going to school and then university (we should still be alive!) – are important to us. If you can work out when these things happen, by what we buy as gifts or to help them (including helping them buy the house!), you can help us celebrate and support those stages. You may even see them moving into and out of our house – multi-generational households are becoming more common in many countries.
  • Our last move will normally be preceded by a stage of decluttering, reduced garden size, and so on. For some this means charity shop donations, for others it means eBay. The geographical direction of move and the type of home moved from and to are big indicators of later activity
  • When we contemplate death and dying, our final housing needs become clear, as does what we are leaving to whom in our will. If you are a charity this is pay-day, or at least it tells you what you will make when pay-day arrives – around 50% of your donations. This means access to the process of making/modification of wills, perhaps via financial advisors and lawyers, has become very important, given this generation’s wealth.

Understand the baby boomer as a customer, then take action!

The technical implications of these changes are clear. It is critical to integrate online and offline data, including full attribution analysis and social listening, to understand us, and then have a process to translate knowledge into action in terms of creating and delivering content for different stages. Don’t forget our bloggers, who are increasingly influential, but they are a different type of blogger, sometimes more thoughtful (we have more time to read and think).

All this comes from the growing body of research on us, by universities, governments, companies, research agencies, NGOs and the like. But most of it doesn’t see as truly as customers. That’s why we’ve launched a global questionnaire programme, which we want those of you who are nearing, at or over 50 to complete, and whose results we’ll share widely, including with all participants. It’s designed not just to gather data, but to involve and help people think about their future.

If you have parents or older friends and colleagues who might be willing to participate, please circulate this request further by all social media, email and other means. The survey is described further inside this link. If you have a special professional interest in this survey, let me know. Go on, have a go.

Author: Merlin Stone
Marketing consultant |
Prof Merlin Stone is one of the UK’s top marketing consultants, researchers and academics, best known for his work on customer orientation and CRM. After a career in management, research, directing, management consulting and universities, he now runs his own consulting, research, training and teaching practice.
Find him here: LinkedIn  Twitter: @profmerlinstone  Facebook: MerlinDavidStone  Skype: merlinkathryn

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