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When Marketing to Boomers, Money Means More than Age

It’s tempting to imagine all older folks in a single block with the same views and habits — much in the same way that younger Americans tend to get lumped into a monolithic group of technology-obsessed “millennials.” But according to a new research report, financial demographics have a stronger impact on behaviors than age, and baby boomers as a whole are a lot more diverse than marketers often assume.

Epsilon, a global marketing research firm, dove into the spending habits of what it calls “boomer+” Americans, a group that includes both traditionally defined baby boomers born between 1946 and 1965, and older “silent generation” members with birthdates from 1928 to 1945. The firm clearly isn’t the first to take a look at these demographics, but still turns in some interesting findings about the habits of older Americans.

For instance, the enduring image of boomers as confused by new technology is becoming less and less true by the year. About half of all Americans aged 50 and up have a computer, and that percentage is more or less the same for 50-to-70-year-olds and those older than 70. Use of e-mail and Facebook is common for these Americans, though certain more exotic social media options — including the image-deleting Snapchat app or Twitter — remain rare among the older set.

“Although assumed to not be tech-savvy, both boomers and silents overindex on devices like e-readers, tablets, smartphones, and even smart TVs,” the report notes.

Even among folks aged 70 and older, online purchases account for a little more than a quarter of all annual spending, with boomers doing 34% of their spending online. Brick-and-mortar stores represent about half of all spending among both boomers and “silents,” but the real divide comes with direct mail: Perhaps predictably, those 70 and up still prefer traditional mail-order purchases, which account for 31% of their total annual spending. Boomers only spend 17% of their annual dollars through the mail, signaling a continued decline for this industry as boomers and younger generations age.

After probing these overarching trends, Epsilon breaks out boomers and silent-generation members into four financial demographic groups each based on income and net worth; for reverse-mortgage marketers, the demographic sketch of “Comfortable Charles,” a 50-to-69-year-old with high net worth but low income, might be the most intriguing.

According to Epsilon’s market research, “Charles” is receptive to information about stocks, bonds, and other investments that might help to increase his net worth, and is interested in being able to fund continued hobbies and entertainment into his older years, such as domestic travel and attendance at sporting events.

His 70-and-up counterpart, whom Epsilon has dubbed “Solid Standing Saul,” also has high net worth for his age but low income, and is far more concerned about covering health care costs for himself and his wife. Unlike younger people with his financial circumstances, folks like “Saul” spend less money on entertainment and leisure and more on hard goods that help his make his life easier, such as walkers and as-seen-on-TV gadgets.

While it won’t come as a surprise to those who work in the reverse mortgage industry, home ownership among these demographics is strong no matter what their financial standing, though naturally higher-net-worth families are generally likelier to own a home: 79% and 77% of baby boomers reported owning a home, according to the research.

Written by Alex Spanko