Life marches on – at the older end, baby boomers are on Medicare. A few years ago when I began writing this blog, a senior was a senior – 65+, albeit with the potential for a very long life. As boomers stomp into Medicare eligibility at 10,000 per day, they too have something in common with seniors. But we don’t describe them as seniors. (How funny will that be in 10 years when they are 77?) Anyway, in a world in which women outlive men, in which there is so much buying power in the so-called world of baby boomers, shouldn’t marketers get really excited about marketing to boomers? I mean they represent 80 million people. And according to the Forbes article about the Longevity Economy, the disposable income for Americans aged 50+ was more than $3 trillion. Hint, 50+ is the AARP designation for its membership and spans age 50 through the oldest old. Luckily, the youngest boomer aged 49 turns 50 next year – synchronizing boomers and AARP.
But is there a boomer market that is distinct from the market of 30 to 49-year-olds? The Forbes article quotes that other bucket of data bits, Nielsen: "Boomers are as likely as younger cohorts to experiment with new products." Interesting. And in five years, "50% of the adult population will be 50 and older and control 70% of the country’s disposal income." Most interesting, "the 50+ population represents 40% of customers paying for wireless services and represent 40% of Apple’s customers buying computers." Hard to know what to make of that last one – are we talking about Macs? You would think Apple would show some appreciation of this fact -- and try to at least mention boomers (a picture, perhaps) somewhere on Apple.com. Why don’t they? I bet it is because they don’t think Boomers are as an addressable cohort -- unless they need its accessibility features. Moreover, how are they different from the 60% of buyers of Apple computers that are not boomers. Apparently, what the younger folk like about Apple products also appeals to older buyers.
Identifying market segments in giant cohorts is impossible. So one-third of the adult population of 245 million are baby boomers. That is a giant and amorphous non-cohort. The younger aged adults have parents and maybe even grandparents in the oldest age range. Other than a common interest in children, grandchildren, granny pods (or their avoidance) or even iPods (and hearing loss), there is no consumer common ground – perhaps except a possible end-of-life fondness for Motorcycles and Facebook -- that is, at the funeral. Likewise, at the young end, there is no way to really know if a product or service for 30-year-olds may also appeal to 63-year-olds. Or, as Arlene Harris said about the original Jitterbug design, “The mobile phone is made to serve us, not to enslave us.”
So let’s get over demographic-based marketing – the functionality matters most. Marketers should continue to track usage of tech and products by age, that is, sample all ages, not just an amorphous lump of the 65+ or the 50+ populations. But it is more important to focus on delivering or improving functionality, utility, and service – basically what it does, rather than who it’s for. With that mindset, now check out venture investment in fitness trackers like Fitbit ($43 million!) or MyFitnessPal ($18 million), neither of which actively associates a target age for the user. Or look at smarter smart phone designs (hopefully becoming smarter still) like iPhones and Samsung Galaxy. All of these need improvement to meet such a broad range of physical, social, capability and cognitive needs. Marketers have for years been telling me that they are surprised by who uses their products. Duh. That would be because somebody thought thefunctionality you offer was of benefit to them. And the marketers can never be sure about what that is.