What Makes Them Buy: Baby Boomers

8 Surprising Traits About How Boomers Are Using Digital Media (… and Yes, Social Media) to Make Buying Decisions

Baby Boomers are an economic force. They are a generation of adults who are still in the workforce, still affecting social change, and still crushing it on a day-to-day basis… despite being in or approaching retirement. They are the most active , vital and healthy generation of over-50 we’ve ever had. They are digitally savvy, spirited, and are redefining what it means to be an elder American.

Fact is, if you’ve focused your marketing strictly on wooing Millennials, you are probably leaving stacks and stacks of money on the table. In this post, we shed some light on 8 traits most marketers would never suspect about Boomers, and how this digitally-savvy, financially strong generation uses social media to make buying decisions.

Of course, you know us… before we get into that, let’s talk numbers.

Who Are Baby Boomers?

In the years following World War II, we had what you call a baby boom, a temporary spike in the number of children being born. The general consensus is that the generation of Americans, born between mid-1940s and the early 1960s are the Baby Boomers. They grew up in a post-war world with three important values:

  1. High hopes for the future

  2. A great work ethic, and

  3. A make-do-and-mend mentality

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A Boomer will tell you he or she grew up during one of the best periods in modern history, and they’re probably right. The years between World War II and the modern Civil Rights movement in the U.S. were ripe with social change and technological advancements. They grew up in a society with a good level of wealth and job opportunities, are still one of the fittest generations to date, and ushered in a new age of consumerism for all to enjoy.

Today, there are more than 70 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. ranging in age from 54 - 72 years old. But, their age doesn’t stop them from indulging in social media like the rest of us. Sixty percent of 50-64 year olds are active on at least one social media site, with Facebook being the most popular. They’re also fans of longer online content, with 60 percent of Boomers regularly reading blogs, and 70 percent watching video content online.

So, as is our way, we want to use this post to outline some of the key things you need to know about marketing to Boomers.

Trait #1: Boomers Are Doing HALF of All Spending Right Now

Yeah, half.

Boomers grew up during a time of affluence, when finding a good company you could stay with for your entire career was THE move. And there were plenty… which is how Boomers were able to spearhead a little something called consumerism. Boomers have more disposable income than any other generation.

In fact, in 2012, Nielsen reported that by 2017 upwards of 70 percent of the disposable income in the U.S. would be controlled by the over-50 crowd. That’s a little misleading because by 2017, the oldest Gen Xers were already in their early 50s. But by and large, the over-50 crowd is made predominantly Baby Boomers. If you’re sleeping on Boomers, you’re sleeping on a huuuge market of spenders. Boomers are controlling most of the disposable income and doing half the spending in the U.S..

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Source: Visa

Even though Boomers have tons of cash to spend, they are typically very bargain-oriented. Maybe this is why they have such a large chunk of savings to dip into. But, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re marketing to this generation, you’ll be well-placed if you portray your prices as a bargain, deal, or special offer.

Despite staying in the workforce longer, many Boomers are reaching retirement age, too. They have the time and means to research and find the best product for their needs and budget. You won’t be able to fool them with splash campaigns. You’ll need to make sure your product, strategy, and marketing are all top-notch to get them eyeing your product.

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Unlike Millennials though, Boomers are much more confident in choosing when to spend their money. We’ve seen influencer marketing grow in effectiveness in recent years thanks to the shopping habits of the younger generations who trust recommendations more than traditional advertising. But, Baby Boomers aren’t as reliant on this kind of information as their younger counterparts. In fact, only 12 percent prefer having the help of others to make buying decisions.

Instead, Boomers are most concerned with the level of attention and customer service they receive from a business. They are traditionalists at heart, and they grew up in a world where the customer was always right, and the service you received was often more important than the product itself.

Who else has a parent or grandparent who still eats at the same restaurant they have for years, where the food is only so-so but the staff members know their names and always ask them about their family? With Boomers, good service trumps a celebrity influencer campaign any day.

Trait #2: Baby Boomers Spend More Time Online Than Millennials

The typical view that older people don’t know how to use the Internet like us young ’uns is slowly falling apart (the Facebook - Capitol Hill weirdness aside). The vast majority of the Boomers use social media regularly, find information through search engines, and spend a large portion of their free time online. In fact, on average they spend 27 hours a week online - that beats Millennials’ time by two hours!

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A large percentage of a Boomer’s online activity is carried out on their cell phones. Not only that, but of all the generations, Boomers are the most likely to click the links they see on social and YouTube. Why? They’re researchers who like to get a feel for what a company is about before making a purchase - especially an online purchase. That’s good news, right? It gives you a chance to get them on your site so they can see what you’re about and make purchases. Just one more reason to make sure your website looks and works great on mobile devices.

Facebook is by far the most popular social network across generations, Boomers included. They use to it connect with friends and family, keep up to date with local news and events, and more and more, Boomers are letting Facebook influence their shopping habits.

Businesses that are active on Facebook, and using targeted ads as part of their strategy will be able to cash in on this much easier than those who don’t.

Trait #3: Boomers Spend More Per Online Purchase Than Millennials and Gen Xers

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Here’s one for you: 92 percent of Boomers shop online, and the average Boomer who shops online does so at least once a month. Surprised?

Boomers shop online just as much as Millennials, but they have more disposable income in their hands so their average spend is much higher. Boomers are more likely to spend on higher-ticket items like wine, appliances, home goods and healthcare.

Trait #4: Baby Boomers Are Proud and They Have Reason to Be

Boomers came of age in the 1960s and 1970s - a heady time of social change and fighting for causes. Even though Gen Xer and Millennials have been walking the road to social change that were paved by Boomers back in the day, Boomers are still deeply invested in the issues swirling around in social chatter today. Boomers favor socially-conscious companies that give back to their communities - especially those pushing for domestic issues that support the country’s long-term success.

Trait #5: Boomers Still Prefer to Shop In-Store

We already know Boomers spend more per online purchase than do Gen Xers and Millennials. But they’re a lot more like their Gen Z grandkids when it comes to shopping because they still prefer to shop in-store.

In fact, 84 percent of Baby Boomers prefer to make their purchases in person to experience great customer service first hand and get a feel for the merchant. Boomers spend more time mulling over a purchase than do time-pressed Millennials. So, they are more likely to take their time wandering the aisles (physical and virtual) looking at a wider range of products, or talking to service staff to get the low-down on products that interest them.

Here’s the social connection to in-store shopping though: According to Sprout Social, one in four Boomers follow brands on social media, and 60 percent of them are following those brands to get access to discounts and promotions you don’t typically see in-store. That’s in addition to the assumption Boomers have (like all of us) that brands should leverage social as a way to provide higher quality customer service.

So, the carrot dangling in front of your Boomer customers could be as simple as announcing a senior discount across social or a targeted ad campaign. But don’t call it a senior discount - that’s a sucky name for Boomers… maybe go with something like “Boom Day Discount” or something not quite so… senior-y.

Trait #6: Boomers Are Too Busy Crushing It to Be

Once upon a time being part of the over-50 crowd was considered being old. Makes sense. A hundred years ago, the average life expectancy was something like 47 years (WOW!), according to the Nielsen & BoomAgers report, Introducing Boomers: Marketing’s Most Valuable Generation (you can download it here).

Source: A recent pic of 60 year-old Angela Bassett from    Mastiffhaven   . Yeah… 60.

Source: A recent pic of 60 year-old Angela Bassett from Mastiffhaven. Yeah… 60.

Occasionally, we still slip up and think of Boomers as an “old” generation. Stop it. Not only do they not want to be reminded of their age, if you saw Tom Cruise doing his own stunts in Mission Impossible: Fallout or have ever laid eyes on Angela Bassett, you know “old” is woefully inappropriate.

It makes more sense to focus on their accomplishments and what they can still accomplish in the future now that the kids are gone. Many of them are enjoying an empty nest and they now have the opportunity to experience “grown-up” things WITHOUT THE KIDS for the first time in decades.

This includes the retirement staples like community work, sure. But it also includes things like solo traveling (which we raved about here), dating and building their own social media followings to become influencers in their own right (you can check out our post on Instagram influencers over the age of 50 here).

Trait #7: Baby Boomers Are Fit and Healthy

Speaking of hot bods...

Boomers are actually an incredibly active and healthy group. Many of them have yet to retire, and are still working full-time, working hard to pay off their mortgages. Boomers have always been more health conscious than their parents. They were adults in the 80’s when diets really started to take off, and the public started to exercise in order to lose weight. Health has long been a top priority for them.

People now live longer than ever thanks to medical advancements, and Baby Boomers don’t want to retire simply to relax. They want to use this new found freedom to explore the world. They want to travel the world, take up new hobbies, and experience that 24K Magic Bruno Mars talks about.

Trait #8: Baby Boomers Value Loyalty

Once you have captured the trust of a Baby Boomer, it’s your for life - as long as you look after it. Loyalty is hugely important to this generation, which you can easily use to your advantage in marketing. They love a good loyalty scheme, both in-store and online, but make sure it’s obvious you have one.

This idea of brand loyalty also ties into what we mentioned earlier about exceptional customer service. One of the best ways to keep customers coming back time and time again is to provide the best service you can. This is especially true with Boomers.

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Let’s Wrap it Up

Baby Boomers are much easier to market to online than many marketers think. They may prefer shopping in store, but they’re more than happy to research online, and make purchases there if it’s going to save them money. Don’t discount them just because they’re older because they are, by far, the most valuable generation to marketers today.

Baby Boomers value quality - quality of the product, quality of the customer service, and quality of the marketing. As long as you can focus on this, you’ll have no problem marketing to this affluent group.