15 Don’ts (And 5 Dos) When Advertising to Baby Boomers

Nearly 40% of baby boomers in the U.S., or about 29 million people, are age-eligible to take out a reverse mortgage this year. And by 2026, all baby boomers, or 76.4 million Americans, will be at least 62 years old.

However, in order to attract and capture this massive cohort, reverse mortgage lenders will have to rethink their advertising and marketing initiatives entirely — starting with what not to do.

Born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boom generation is more diverse than any other market segment, says Jim Gilmartin, principal at Coming of Age, a baby boomer and senior marketing agency.

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The population spans those at the peaks of their careers to active, independent baby boomers and the elderly in need of care, he says. Despite such differing lifestyles and life stages, one thing rings true for this population:

“It really doesn’t matter what product or service is being marketed — effectively approaching baby boomers and older customers demands knowledge of their values and purchase motivators, and converting that knowledge into images and copy that connects with them,” Gilmartin says.

But before reverse mortgage lenders reinvent their advertising and marketing campaigns, Gilmartin advises 15 “don’ts” to avoid and five “dos” to consider when communicating with and ultimately selling to baby boomers and older customers.

1. Don’t talk down to them, treat them as children or remind them of their age. Most do not consider themselves “old.” Remember that aging customers, on average, have a superior sense of reality. Don’t succumb to the myths and stereotyping about aging that pervades our society — you may do so at the expense of the long-term potential of your business.

2. Don’t use words like “senior” or “senior citizen.” To describe older populations in a way they won’t find offensive, use terms such as “customer,” “consumer” or “person.”

All the typical euphemisms used to describe older populations reek of ageism. If you connect with the values and motivators of people in the fall and winter of life, they’ll recognize the product or service is right for them.

3. Don’t use unrealistic and negative images of older people, or portray them as frail, weak or not smart.

Portray them as doing for others, and as smart, active and wise individuals. Show them with wrinkles but advertise them doing something active.

4. Don’t pressure older customers to purchase your product or service. Older people make more independent judgments and base their decisions on information rather than peer pressure.

5. Don’t create an overly busy website design with small type sizes, garish colors and gratuitous design elements such as flash or slow-loading graphics.

Don’t try to shove 10 pounds of copy into a five-pound page. Less can be more, especially in the early stages of communications. Design your online promotion to allow the customer to define the service attributes using his or her imagination in terms of his or her needs and desires.

6. Don’t promote hyperbole “hype” at all costs. The older consumer has seen it all and is naturally skeptical.

7. Don’t rush them. Win older people over gradually. You will have to gain their trust before they will buy from you.

8. Don’t be stingy with content. Older people are avid readers and will appreciate the information you provide.

9. Don’t assume you know about physical and behavioral changes caused by the aging process. Learn and apply your knowledge to product design, online and traditional marketing approaches.

10. Don’t promote features. Promote and advertise your product as a gateway to desired experiences beyond the intrinsic value of the product. What additional value does it provide?

11. Don’t be dishonest. Be authentic and give them the facts. Avoid over-embellishing product or service performance claims. Doing so may be automatically perceived as misleading, as would small print on product labels and advertising.

12. Don’t use marketing and advertising firms that don’t have a demonstrated knowledge of your target market. Check to see if people matching your target age are on the creative team.

Additionally, don’t use younger people exclusively to create and market products or services. Use aging customers to assist in product, service and communications development.

13. Don’t be practical or pragmatic in the early stages of connecting with them. Touch their hearts and they will allow you to enter their minds.

14. Don’t attempt to instill a “sense of urgency” during a purchase consideration. Time is usually not of the essence in their decision-making process.

15. Don’t stress images that are contrary to traditional basic values. Generally accepted universal or traditional values may include the American flag, a church or temple, home, traditional small town, et cetera.

With these in mind, Gilmartin suggests a handful of “dos” to take into consideration when reverse mortgage lenders are overhauling their advertising and marketing initiatives.

1. Fun sells. Anything you can do to get a “Wow” reaction will work for you.

2. Older populations are increasingly becoming immersed in the Internet and, in many ways, can be compared to users who are decades younger. Baby boomer and older customers are using all forms of information-gathering available to them, and so should marketers. Those that discount new media — assuming that these customers fail to use it — are making a big blunder.

3. Understand their buying habits. Ninety-three percent of older consumers regularly or occasionally use the Internet to research products prior to purchase. Almost half (46%) say searches are triggered by traditional advertising or an article they’ve read; nearly as many (45%) are prompted by television or other broadcast media.

4. Marketers continually look for ways to group targeted customers to efficiently connect with them. Instead, treat baby boomers and older customers as individuals.

5. Assure the product or service meets their lifestyle/living needs.

Ultimately, the key to baby boomers’ and older customers’ pocketbook, Gilmartin says, lies in gaining a better understanding of the cohort’s minds, and treating them as individuals without making any assumptions or lumping them into stereotypical roles.

“Marketing needs to be adjusted to the facts that no two people perceive anything exactly the same way,” he says. “At a time when such terms as ‘permission marketing,’ ‘customer relationship management,’ and ‘online personalization’ are widely bandied about, more serious thought needs be given to the uniqueness of each of us and why we are unique.”

Written by Emily Study