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Friday, February 18, 2005

UFO Marketing

The business world is starting to swarm around the huge opportunities for marketing to Baby Boomers, a market segment that has annual discretionary spending of $750 billion and controls more than 77% if the U.S. financial assets. Over the next ten years 78 million Baby Boomers will turn 50 years old. In less than two generations, there will be 2 billion people over 60 and the elderly will outnumber children for the first time.

The question among many marketers is, “what marketing approaches and messages will appeal to Baby Boomers?” Based on Foghound’s Boomer Market Watch, which daily monitors 30 key Boomer issues, we’re seeing three powerful themes:

1. Usefulness
2. Fear
3. Optimism

As we age, career quests and acquiring new things lose some of their satisfaction. Instead, people seek to lead useful lives. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “I would rather have it said, ‘he lived usefully’ than ‘he died rich.’ Or, as a character in Marilynne Robinson’s new book Gilead says, “To be useful was the best thing the old men ever hoped for themselves; to be aimless was their worst fear.”

We believe this message of usefulness will be extremely relevant to Boomers. Here are just a few of the things we’ve begun to see that support the appeal of the usefulness.

· For assisted living communities: market how your properties allow residents to continue to live useful lives. At a new type of assisted housing called the Green House Project, “residents take pride in doing things they hadn’t been able to do for years in their former nursing homes,” according to Newsweek International. “One resident actually cried when she was able to bake corn bread again, recalls project director Hude Rabig. “They really grab onto the fabric of life again.”

· For real estate developers: tap into the emerging trend of Boomers getting together in small groups to create postmodern elder families, eschewing the assisted living concept.

· Travel: market trips and destinations that allow grandparents to share new experiences – particularly cultural and educational -- with their grandchildren. “After the gold watch, what you need to do is get work out of your vocabulary and pay attention to your fourth grade grandchildren. They have self-esteem without contributing to the GNP,” advises George Valiant, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who studies aging.

· VCs and technology and product designers: think cool canes, walkers with computers to identify obstacles, kitchen products for those with arthritis, new car designs that are hip yet taking into account physical realities. Keep an eye on what’s happening at MIT’s Community Innovation Lab.


The second motivating message is fear. Here are some of the boomers’ greatest fears – all of which have opportunities for marketers:

· Becoming isolated and lonely. Losing friends. (Attention real estate developers, non-profits seeking volunteers, and employers looking for part-time workers.)

· Not having enough money and ending up in nursing homes. “Residents who leave assisted living usually do so not because they die but because they run out of money, and go to nursing homes,” according to a recent New York Times article. “There the impoverished, including middle-class men and women who have outlived their savings, are covered by Medicaid as they are not (except for a small percentage) in assisted living.” (Attention financial services companies, and long term insurance providers)

· Getting sick and needing extensive (and expensive) rehab and care giving services, yet not having adequate health insurance. (Attention health care insurers, guardians of Medicare, gyms, food manufacturers, physical therapists.)

· Not having adequate health insurance. (Attention employers.) Older workers want and need to continue working for health insurance and because they need the money. Others want to continue working for the intellectual challenges and camaraderie. Advice to employers: don’t be scared off by ageism; recent research shows that older workers can learn new technologies and are less absent than younger employees.


And yet despite these looming fears, Boomers are inherently optimists, understanding that Americans have the power to change what is and create new possibilities. The oldest of the boomers, who will begin turning 65 in 2011, were raised on John F. Kennedy's 1961 call to action. It’s a generation of activists who know how to organize and lobby.

A recent study released by the Harvard School of Public Health says Boomers can become an unprecedented resource if they are mobilized across the nation as community volunteers.

''There's a major opportunity on the near horizon to recruit large numbers of older boomers to help strengthen community life in America,'' says Jay Winsten of the Harvard School of Public Health. Winsten is director of the Harvard-MetLife Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement. But he says non-profit organizations that could use those volunteers need to create meaningful jobs for them. Boomers, he says, won't be satisfied stuffing envelopes. ''Boomers have expectations as to the kind of useful roles they can play in helping organizations.''

If your company is looking at growth market, think Boomers. And think UFO marketing messages.