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How to show Baby Boomers more marketing R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Digital marketers obsessively court Millennials, for obvious reasons. They're glued to their devices, eager to spend and always open to trying new things. But with so much attention on the 20-something crowd, digital marketers are neglecting an arguably even more lucrative source of business: Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers have long been an important target for every marketer — and, it turns out, they're not just spending their money in brick-and-mortar stores, but they're spending it online. Baby Boomers are the biggest online spenders of all age groups, shelling out nearly $350 on average every three months, according to Forrester Research. Contrary to popular perception, Baby Boomers are tech-obsessed, ready-to-buy and hungry for new experiences.

Our own experience confirms this. Road Scholar is the not-for-profit leader in educational travel, catering largely to older adults. A few years ago, we began to prepare in earnest for Baby Boomers to enter our primary demographic. Today, 35 to 40 percent of our participants are between the ages of 49 and 67.

Remember: '60 is the new 40'

How did we achieve this? First, we had to think hard about our messaging. Our organization had been branded as Elderhostel for more than three decades. Based on our research, Baby Boomers loved the idea of adventurous, educational travel but were put off by the Elderhostel brand. The Boomers feel younger and think of themselves as younger than previous generations did at the same age. They thought Elderhostel sounded like something for their parents, not themselves. So, in 2010, we began to operate under the Road Scholar name.

During our rebranding, we also learned that in order to attract more Baby Boomers, digital marketers need to learn how to “talk” to them. Calling them "seniors" and dangling "senior discounts" to get their attention doesn't work. Baby Boomers perceive themselves as active adults. In a recent survey by SeniorMarketing.com, nearly half of Boomers felt they personally had been unfairly treated as "old," while 72 percent said they knew someone who had been.

As part of our marketing strategy, we use age-neutral language and communicated who our participants are by showing age-appropriate people in pictures on our website. Every program that we offer has an activity level — one of five ranging from easy to challenging — that correlates with the age of the typical participant for that program. The more active programs are marketed to younger customers.

Deliver the right message

Using the right words to connect with Baby Boomers is only the first step. To keep them as loyal customers, marketers must build a relationship with them by finding messages that resonate. Nancy Shonka Padberg, an advisory board member at Navigate Boomer Media, breaks down three key messaging themes for Boomer marketing.

  1. We understand you.
  2. We make your life easier.
  3. We make your life better.

At Road Scholar, we show our customers that we understand them and are listening to them by actively responding to comments from evaluations. We make life easier for our customers by increasing our service levels and offering more options, such as gluten-free meals and multiple hotels. During our 38 years of operation, we’ve learned that our customers want to have options during retirement. Lastly, we have always made life better. Learning, making friends and associating with like-minded people is at the heart of our programs.

Leverage their love of technology 

Baby Boomers, too, love their tablets and smartphones. Visits to RoadScholar.org from a mobile device skyrocketed in the last 12 months. They now comprise 28 percent of total site visits, up from 11 percent the year before. With the knowledge that our customers are increasingly mobile, we’ve targeted our digital marketing strategy to those devices. For example, we are pushing out a mobile app, optimized for iPads, which will serve as a digital brochure of our programs. We plan to do even more with mobile in the future.

At Road Scholar, our extraordinary participants prove to us all the time that making broad assumptions based on age is a bad idea — a lesson that's important for marketers to remember.

What other marketing strategies and tactics do you think are effective at reaching the Boomer demographic?

Drop a comment below.

Ryan O'Regan is a Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at Road Scholar, the not-for-profit leader in educational travel.

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