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Many marketers focus their major marketing efforts on the 18-35 age group while ignoring or paying lip service to the over-35 crowd. This leaves a large, growing market underserved. Also, it results in brands with no awareness or loyalty among the groups known as the Baby Boomers and the first half of Generation X. Baby Boomers are defined as those born from 1943-1961, currently aged 44-62. Generation X is defined as those born from 1962-1981, currently aged 24-43. The focus of this article is on the 35-43 segment of the Xers.
Marketers have traditionally looked to the 18-24 crowd for indicators of future trends. But younger age groups that traditionally spend most in the consumer economy have stopped growing. Many agency and marketing types, who frequently tend to be young themselves, haven’t fully focused on the fact that the largest population and the one with the most spending power lies in the 35+ age group.
The over-35 demographic includes the biggest spenders and represents the most profitable consumer group. This group accounts for almost 70% of all online spending. The 50+ set controls over 75% of the privately held financial assets and has over 55% of the discretionary income. In the next three years, the over 55s will become the most important age group of consumers. Baby Boomers will completely redefine what “old” and “aging” means, as the average American now lives about 30 years longer than they did 100 years ago.
The secret to building brand equity among the 35+ group is to fully understand customers’ needs and give them what they want. This means being well versed in the culture and generational uniqueness of their specific age group, which has a lot more to do with their generation than does their actual age. A marketer who bases a sales and advertising strategy strictly on demographic data, such as age, might assume that Boomers will abandon certain music or product preferences as they pass their 50th birthdays. However, a smart marketer who considers generational marketing realizes that those deeply implanted preferences will stick with Boomers as they pass through each life stage. When the Boomers began to turn 35, predictions were that they would begin to save and become more conservative. That didn’t happen.
So what is a marketer to do? Know your market. That means get to know each market segment individually. Market segmentation is the breakdown of markets into homogenous groups of customers (Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, women, etc.). Each group tends to react differently to different types of promotion, communication, pricing and other variables in the marketing mix.
Baby Boomers are generally considered the “me” generation. They have seen huge economic gains and tend to put individual desires ahead of the good of the group, and job frequently ahead of family. Significant influences on Boomers include general economic prosperity; the expansion of suburbia; color TV; Woodstock; and sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Boomers tend to want VIP services, adventure, diversity and spas, and they want to pack as much as possible into a vacation.
Generation Xers generally are not afraid to try something new and challenging. They are more devoted to family. They are distrustful but spiritual, wired, smart, skeptical and savvy. Gen Xers are influenced by increasing divorce rates, AIDS, MTV, GameBoys, and the PC. Xers prefer extreme sports and eco-tourism. To them, brands have less meaning, and they prefer one of their own to talk to them regarding products. Gen Xers tend to be skeptical of modern advertising and overly-slick marketing pitches.
One of the most common mistakes made in marketing planning is the assumption that because a customer is turning a certain age they will behave in a similar way as those who came before them. Generationally-based social values impose as much influence on buying behaviors as more commonly recognized demographic factors such as actual age, income, and gender.
Another common mistake marketers make is to apply the beliefs of their own generation to the development of strategies for marketing to another generation. A marketer likely will make poor decisions by applying the perspective of his or her generation without truly understanding the unique generational experience of a different target group of consumers.
Identifying the factors that influence each generation presents opportunities to those marketers who get to know these groups and learn to market to them. Marketers who realize and understand the vital role that the 35+ age group plays in the marketplace will be most effective in the long run.
Ken Blass is the President of Blass Communications. Located in Old Chatham, New York, Blass Communications is a full-service integrated marketing and communications agency dedicated to serving regional, national and international clientele. Specializing in consumer, business-to-business, and hi-tech industries, the agency provides a full spectrum of advertising, public relations, photography, research and interactive media programs for a wide variety of clients.