Jul 23, 2014, 08:00 AM
Doug Norris, Ph. D.
For six decades, the large Baby Boom generation has had a profound impact on Canadian society, affecting culture, business and all kinds of organizations as they passed throug the various stages of their lives. In the 1950s, new schools had to be built to cope with their numbers. In the 1960s, universities were expanded. And in the 1970s, many new suburban subdivisons were built to accommodate their new families. Markets for many products and services expanded as the 8.6 million Boomers born 1946-1965 replaced the 5.0 million persons born in the preceding 20 years.
But the Boomers are not only more numerous than the previous generation; they are different in many ways. They have smaller and more diverse families due to higher divorce rates; they are more highly educated; they are more culturally diverse; and Boomer women are much more likely to be in the paid labour force.
Today the oldest Boomers are in their late 60s and entering yet another phase of their lives. Life expectancy at age 65 is now above 20 years and Boomers can expect to live more of these years in relatively good health. Many lifestyle decisions lie ahead: when and if to retire, perhaps continuing to work part time; downsizing the large family home or, if not, perhaps embarking on some renovations; finally indulging in the time to pursue more leisure activities, like golf or travel. There may be many empty-nest years for Boomer couples but, as ageing takes its toll, there will be an increasing number of health issues and, eventually, the prospect of one spouse or partner, generally the woman, left to live alone--in some cases, for many years.
All of these decisions by a much larger cohort will mean both opportunities and challenges for marketers. Organizations focussing on products and services to seniors will see their markets greatly expand while those focusing on younger ages will see much less, if any, growth in the size of their market. Many Boomers are also increasingly focused on grandchildren, which will likely prompt the expansion of a “grandparent market.”
In their later years, Boomers will have much more leisure time and many will have the income and accumulated wealth to pursue varied interests. Boomers are likely the wealthiest generation ever, and a recent Statistics Canada survey showed they control over half of Canada’s total wealth.
Although the size of tomorrow’s seniors’ market makes it an important economic force, there are additional challenges for marketers because the values and preferences of Boomers are different from today’s seniors. For instance, Boomers index much higher than today’s seniors on the need to periodically escape the stress of everyday life and the need to control the direction of one’s future. They have less of a sense of duty to others and are more focused on their own interests. In terms of consumer behaviour, Boomers index higher on brand apathy, and they have less confidence in both large and small businesses.
These value and attitude differences have important implications for the way businesses advertise and communicate with Boomers. For example, although their financial success may provide opportunities for philanthopic organizations, their interests and motivations for donating are likely different from today’s seniors, and fundraisers will need to take these values into account. Boomers are less religious and have less of a desire to leave a legacy after death. On the other hand, they have more concern for the environment.
Perhaps most importantly, they view ageing very differently, many feeling—and acting—a decade or two younger than their chronological age. Many Boomers want no suggestion that they’re getting old and some marketers have responded by surreptitiously making typefaces larger in direct mail, lowering store shelves to make them more accessible and avoiding colours—like yellow and blue—that are harder to see by older eyes.
Finally it is important to recognize that the Boomers are not only a large group, but also a very diverse one. While the oldest Boomers are fast approaching age 70, the youngest are just tuning 50. Moreover, the Boomers show a wide variety in their values. Environics Research, the sister company of Environics Analytics, has identified four distinct Boomer segments.
The first, “Autonomous Rebels,” is perhaps the stereotypical Boomer group–non-conformist, socially conscious and somewhat inner directed. However this group accounts for only about one in five Boomers. A second group of about the same size “Connected Enthusiasts,” consists of those who are idealistic, autonomous, expressive and seek engagement. A third group, representing about 15% of Boomers, is the “Anxious Communitarians.” This group often feels overwhelmed or fearful, and its members are typically searching for anchors. Finally there is a large group of “Disengaged Darwinists” who represent close to half of all Boomers. They are anxious, wary of change, reserved and rational.
Clearly, in marketing to Boomers, the mantra cannot be “one size fits all.. However, most Boomers are united in their desire to not be reminded how much they’ve aged. As today’s retiring—and famously rebellious—Boomers will tell you, “Just don’t call me a senior.”