Department Focus--Marketing: Boomer Truths

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You know everything there is to know about baby boomers, right? They're the generation that's going to keep your hospital in business for the next four decades. There are a ton of them. And their creaky knees are going to send your orthopedic revenues through the roof.

Well, there's a little more to it than that. Here are five things you need to know if you want to convince boomers to choose your organization over your competitors:

1. Boomer is not an age—it's an attitude. With generations, we tend to think in terms of age ranges and birth years. But with boomers, it's not about age—it's about life stage, says Marilynn Mobley, senior vice president of Edelman. The Atlanta PR firm this year launched the Boomer Insights Generation Group, specializing in marketing to boomers.

Consider, for example, two men in their early to mid-50s. One could be on his second marriage and just starting a family. The other could have kids in college. "It's important to understand which of that market segment you're talking to," Mobley says.

2. Boomers don't think they're boomers. Twenty-eight percent of boomers do not self-identify as a boomer, according to Edelman's 2007 Boomer Insights and Implications Study. And that result was across all ages—not just among the younger members of the generation.

3. Boomers don't think they're getting older. Boomers don't like to be reminded that they're getting older. Assisted living? Reverse mortgages? Perish the thought. Gym memberships and walking clubs? Now you're talking.

"The boomers are not taking this aging thing very well," says Kenneth W. Gronbach, principal of KGC Direct in Haddam, CT, and author of The Age Curve: How to profit from the coming demographic storm. "The boomers will be the youngest old people the nation has ever seen."

Boomers want to keep their hair and lose those potbellies, says Gronback, who predicts that bariatric surgery will someday be as popular and accessible as Lasik surgery. "Boomers are enormously vain, and desperately trying to remain young," he says. As a marketer you "absolutely, positively" need to appeal to that. Don't put the emphasis on being sick—focus instead on staying well.

"Boomers today are much more optimistic about their future," says Susan Isenberg, general manager of Edelman's health division. "They see great opportunities for themselves and they're really looking to stay fit and healthy."

4. Boomers don't like to be lumped together. Boomers can be a little, shall we say, sensitive. "Be very careful about the language that you use when you reach out to boomers," says Mobley. In fact, you should avoid the term boomer altogether.

And don't assume they're liberal ex-hippies who smoked pot and went to Woodstock, she adds (although some of them are).

5. Boomers are not afraid of technology. Boomers may know how to use a card catalog, but don't assume that's the extent of their research capabilities. Women boomers, in particular, tend to use multiple online sources—from WebMD to social networking sites—to research drugs, treatments, and healthcare providers. "They'll do all kinds of research … They do a lot of comparing," says Mobley. "They're very savvy."

Gienna Shaw

Find the right boomers

With so many different types of baby boomers—many of whom won't admit that they're boomers or even that they're getting older—how do you win over this lucrative group? You've got to hit what Edelman's Marilynn Mobley calls the "boomer bulls-eye," the boomers who arm themselves with knowledge and have the power to pass it on to others.

"Boomer women in particular are very influential," Isenberg says. They are the healthcare CEOs of their family and the community. Speak to them, and you'll reach a much wider audience. One last piece of advice. If you're a healthcare executive, chances are you're a boomer yourself. But that doesn't make you an expert.

"It's really important that marketers not just assume that they know this marketplace, even if they are a boomer," says Isenberg. "That is a mistake that a lot of marketers make."

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