Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The “grey-quake”? Once again, Boomers are the in thing.

Occasionally, when I’m bored, I’ll answer my landline – the phone that no one who actually knows me uses. The callers typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Trying to scam (sub-categories: “your credit card”, congratulations-you-won-a-vacation, in trouble with the IRS, sent by Microsoft by way of India);
  • Looking for money (sub-categories: charities I’ve given to; charities I’ve never given to; politicians – nice talk to you last night, Russ Feingold dialing-for-dollars guy);
  • Polling for my opinion (generally political, occasionally commercial product).

It’s when the pollers come a callin’ that it gets reinforced that I’m in the not-so-desirable “over 65” cohort.

Oh, I suppose we’re desirable enough to the politicians: we actually vote.

But, except for “no one can tell” adult diapers, nutritional supplements, and retirement communities, ain’t no one trying to sell us old geezers anything.

And this is not just my perception.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) calculates that less than 15% of firms have developed a business strategy focused on the elderly. The Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister organisation to The Economist, found that only 31% of firms it polled did take into account increased longevity when making plans for sales and marketing. (Source: The Economist)

And Germaine Greer – and who would know better than Germaine Greer (b. 1939, and thus a pre-Boomer)  – has quite aptly said: “just because I’m over 60 nobody wants to sell to me.”

But the times, they might just be a changin’.

Those over 60 constitute the fastest-growing group in the populations of rich countries, with their number set to increase by more than a third by 2030, from 164m to 222m. Older consumers are also the richest thanks to house-price inflation and generous pensions. The over-60s currently spend some $4 trillion a year and that number will only grow.

Why, just yesterday (i.e., 50 years back), us Boomers were the “youth-quake.” Now, well, welcome to the “grey-quake.”

First, a bit of a digression. I know, I know. The Economist is a Brit publication. But I do think they’re off the mark with that “generous pension” bit. My career was in high tech, where there’s very little by way of pension, generous or paltry. So maybe I’m biased here. But most of the folks I know who actually have pensions taught school or were otherwise part of a unionized workforce. Those of us who labored in the tech vineyards got options (generally worthless) and have been pretty much left on our own with defined-contribution plans, where our employers as often as not defined their contribution as something as close to zero as possible. Which is not to say that we’re all hurting. Some of us just plain aren’t. Still, I know plenty Boomers who are plenty worried about retirement, even the ones who’ve been max funding their 401Ks all these years.

Of course, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, all Baby Boomers can’t be lumped into one big same-same demographic.

They loved Bob Dylan or the Beach Boys. (Sometimes and/or.) Boomers went to college or Vietnam. (Sometimes and/or.) The toked up or run a meth lab in the shed out back. (Sometimes and/or.) They worked in white collar jobs or broke their backs on construction sites. (Rarely and/or.) They retired – or plan to retire- in relative comfort. Or they’ll be working as Walmart greeters until they drop dead.

This lumping everyone together is not, of course, limited to the Baby Boomers. When people talk about Millennials they’re probably thinking more about kids in pricey colleges, sipping their lattes, being ironic, and requesting trigger warnings when a micro-aggression is coming on. Not a high school grad in upstate working as a prison guard so he can stay in his home town.

But when you start breaking down the Boomer demographic, and ignore the ones that will not have any money other than their Social Security, the marketers will be coming after the ones sitting pretty.

Some industries such as health care and automobiles have been thinking about the grey market for a while. Others such as retailing and consumer goods started paying attention more recently. Now comes the silver rush. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute points out that older consumers are one of the few engines of growth in an otherwise sluggish global economy…The old are becoming the new new thing.

The trick for marketers is figuring out how to pick our pockets without constantly and explicitly pointing out that we’re on the back 9, heading for the eternal 19th hole. Which – forever young until we’re forever dead – we just don’t want to hear:

Retailers are surreptitiously lowering shelves and putting in carpets to make it harder to slip. Package-goods firms are printing larger typefaces and using more white space. Kimberley-Clark has overhauled its Depend brand of adult nappies to make them more like regular underwear. Sabi, a design company, now sells walking canes in bright colours. Car firms don’t make a song and dance about the fact that old people with stiff necks and fading vision will benefit disproportionately from self-parking cars.

Well, hand me down that bright colored walking cane. And, please, do start marketing to me. Let’s see if I can figure out when it’s happening. I’ll be expecting a survey call any evening now. Love being part of the new new thing.

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