There are more 77 million baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964 -- in the United States right now. By the end of 2015, Americans 50 and older will represent 45 percent of the population -- and will control approximately 70 percent (some say more) of the wealth.
And while the buying and online habits of millennials seems to dominate the news, their buying power pales in comparison to the buying power wielded by baby boomers -- some $3 trillion in just the United States alone.
But just like millennials, baby boomers are not so easily wooed. Moreover, these 50-, 60-, and 70-something consumers, unlike their children and grandchildren, are less likely to be using smartphones and apps, such as SnapChat and Instagram, which are all the rage with marketers right now. (While an estimated 79 percent of baby boomers regularly use the Internet, less than half use smartphones to check email or go online. Though a majority shop online and engage in social media, from a computer.)
So how can marketers reach this golden demographic? Here are nine suggestions from marketers and ecommerce experts who specialize in the baby boomer generation on how to reach and sell to baby boomers online.
1. Understand that not all boomers are alike -- and target those most likely to purchase your product or service. "As with marketing to any large group, be careful to not cast a net that is too wide," cautions Linda Pophal, owner, Strategic Communications, a marketing and communications firm. "The baby boomer generation is quite large and the members of this generation vary significantly." So rather than targeting all boomers, figure out which segment is most likely to purchase, or be interested in, your product or service.
Then "identify which communication channels will most effectively reach them," and craft messaging that will appeal specifically to them. "Don't make assumptions," she warns. "For instance, it is often assumed that baby boomers are not active users of social media. But that's not necessarily true." While older boomers (70+) are less likely to be on social media sites, or shop online, younger boomers do use sites like Facebook and shop online regularly.
2. Show you care and understand them -- be relatable. "Strive to be honest and upfront and factual about your product offerings," advises Sandra Powers, Internet marketing manager, LawyerReviews.com, an attorney referral site. "We frequently display pictures of baby boomers in our newsletters and other marketing materials. Baby boomers better identify with your products if the marketing materials include pictures of people that look like them."
Similarly, "have a rich About Us page [on your website] that shows [boomers] who they are buying from -- and include pictures of your staff [if appropriate]," suggests Danielle Kunkle, vice president, Boomer Benefits, which markets Medicare supplement insurance to baby boomers. Boomers "value businesses that care about their community," she adds. So "show them your philanthropy." For example, "our company funds a scholarship for baby boomers who return to school as an adult." By sharing that information online, "our potential clients can see that we give back to the same generation of clients who have made us successful," and feel good about interacting with them.
3. Skip the hard sell. "Most boomers don't want to feel like they are being 'sold' something," says Billy Bauer, marketing director, Royce Leather, which sells leather gifts. Explain what it is you are offering, and the value of your product or service, without being pushy or patronizing. Remember, boomers like "to do their research before making an informed decision," he says. And because older boomers like to ask questions, "make it clear that you are available to answer any questions."
4. Focus on benefits, not just features. "Focus your messaging on how your product or service solves a problem vs. pushing features and specifications," advises Craig Hood, executive vice president of Allegro Medical, an online medical supply store for durable medical equipment and medical supplies. "Boomers are smart, know what they want and are not afraid to pay for it. Tell the story of how your product makes life easier, better or more enjoyable."
5. Make the online sales process easy and secure. Make it easy for baby boomers to find what they need on your site and purchase it with as few clicks as possible -- while letting them know that their credit card and personal information is secure. "Make the checkout process quick, not too many pages, with very quick load times," says Kenny Kline, CEO, Slumber Sage, an online sleep and mattress guide.
6. Make it easy to communicate with you. Be sure to include contact information -- a phone number, an email address, social media links -- on your website and on your marketing materials, where it's easy to find. And respond promptly to people when they reach out to you with a question.
Don't discount the power of the telephone, says Edward Nevraumont, CMO, A Place for Mom, which connects families to senior care. "Even Expedia still does 25 percent of its bookings over the phone. The internet is great for a lot of things (including keeping costs down), but it's almost always worth it to make it easy for someone to pick up the phone and call you to help complete a transaction."
And don't forget about social media. "Facebook is a great way to have a conversation," says Kunkle.
7. Build a referral program. "Boomers are much more likely to come from referrals," says Hood. "Do a great job for your customers and then ask them to spread the word through their personal networks. And make it easy to share a product or service through email, or social media." Also, consider rewarding customers with discounts or perks for referring family members and friends. Boomers love to feel special -- and that they are getting a good deal.
8. Don't forget "old school" marketing methods. "Social communities like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are not the best way to reach out to the baby boomer demographic," says Powers. So "we use old school delivery methods like direct mail and print brochures," which are more effective with older boomers.
That said, remember Tip No. 1 and do your research regarding the best channels and methods to reach your target audience before committing thousands of dollars, or human resources, to a particular marketing method that may not be effective.
9. Respect their privacy. When collecting or using data about baby boomers, especially data on individuals, keep in mind that "baby boomers value their privacy," says Aaron Tellier, vice president, Insurance and Wealth Management, Merkle, a customer relationship marketing agency. "So it's important to seek some form of permission before utilizing their information in a way that assumes some level of intimacy," he explains. "A few complaints can easily derail an otherwise well-conceived marketing program."
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