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Baby boomers LOVE consumer tech

I have participated in several marketing studies of baby boomers and I’m a huge fan of Don Potter’s book, The 50+ Boomer: Your Key to 76 Million Consumers which came out of a great marketing study by the ad firm, Potter, Katz, Postal, & Ferguson (now ICEBOX). In addition, I have wasted much of my life marketing independent films and have been constantly frustrated by the utter lack of competence the studios (and their tweener employees) exhibit in trying to market films that skew to an older audience (such as Winter Solstice and The Dukes. Hollywood and most indies have pretty much given up trying to convince anyone over the age of 30 to plant their asses in a theater seat. And there’s absolutely no question that various tech entrepreneurs, particularly in social marketing, have the same the-world-stops-at-30 blinders on. Even when that boomest of boomers, Oprah Winfrey, cannonballs into Twitter.

So I am absolutely delighted by a new study by Accenture. According to their annual report, “Consumer Electronics Products and Services Usage Report 2009,”

Baby boomers are embracing popular consumer technology applications nearly 20 times faster than the younger generation.”

Takeaways after the jump.

While baby boomers don’t equal younger (under 45) consumers in using tech such as mobile entertainment, video games, and social networking, the boomer market is growing exponentially faster in all consumer tech areas:

Baby boomers (people ages 45 and up) are swiftly adopting such Gen-Y habits as playing videogames on the go and listening to music on an MP3 player . . . Baby boomers are also adopting new non-mobile technologies at a faster pace then Gen Y, although they’re still way behind. The endeavors include blog reading, tapping into social-networking sites and watching Internet videos.

Over the past year, the percentage of boomers listening to podcasts or reading blogs jumped 67 percent, to 26 percent. The percentage of Generation Y stayed flat at 45 percent. . . .

During the same period, the percentage of boomers watching or posting videos online climbed 35 percent, to 36 percent. The percentage of Generation Y doing the same dropped almost 2 percent to 67 percent. . . .

Finally, the percentage of boomers playing mobile video games climbed 52 percent to 13 percent. The percentage of Generation Y climbed just under 2 percent to 45 percent.

From a marketing point of view, baby boomers are revolutionary in one major demographic fact: their interests and consumption habits have not homogenized as they’ve grown older.

Let me flesh out that insight. The baby boomer market is by far the largest market in U.S. consumer history. They spend more discretionary income than any other market in the U.S. Which is my primary beef with Hollywood — the studios and the music companies have literally given up on the largest demographic spending the most money in the country (it is, of course, creatively much easier to produce crap for teenagers and collegers than good movies).

Tech companies have the same blind bias. They tend to target younger consumers (who don’t have much disposable income and so drive price points down) and they tend to be staffed by people in their twenties and early thirties. Like all the marketing staff I’ve dealt with at the studios (who are in their twenties or thirties), they know how to market to younger generations but are completely lost with older consumers. This means that they are leaving millions or billions of dollars on the table simply through willful ignorance.

But what does that market look like? Every generation of consumers (since we started studying consumers) tends to converge as they grow older. Interests and consumption habits are diverse when a generation is young, but as they age, buy a home, settle into their careers, raise children, and save for retirement, their consumption habits tend to homogenize and narrow. I mean, really homogenize and narrow — consumption diversity looks like a funnel wide at one end (when a generation is young) and getting increasing narrow as the generation ages. Its a sad fact of aging — all the exciting and revolutionary things you do as a youth become hazy memories as you stand in the store aisle buying either Huggies or Depends.

The boomer generation was the first generation in consumer history not to homogenize with age but, in fact, to show greater diversity and interests. It’s as if — despite the home ownership, families, careers, responsibilities — they maintained their youth in terms of interests, curiosity, spending habits, and willingness to try new things. In every aspect: sports, entertainment, travel. We are looking at 60-year olds who are as diverse in their entertainment, travel, or music interests as they were when The Beatles took the U.S. by storm. More so. Perhaps its because boomers were raised as the first 100%, from top-to-toe, I-am-what-I-buy consumers, but the fact remains that this has never happened in consumer capitalist history. And, like all previous generations, boomers have a LOT more money now than they did when they were young (and a LOT more money than their Generation X or Y compatriots).

What this means, as Don Potter beats into us on every page, is that the boomer market means tons of money for anyone who figures out how to market to them. It means that there is just as much opportunity developing niche products for a 45+ market as there is for a 20- market (something totally improbable twenty years ago). Which behooves you to ask questions like, what kind of downloadable music has captured niche boomer markets? What do baby boomers do on social networks differently than younger folk? What type of video games to boomers tend to enjoy (answer: they’re not multiplayer worlds)?

Sinbad had a routine: “You think your parents aren’t cool? Well, they used to be cool, but then you came along. You made your parents not cool.” Thinking in Sinbad terms, what the marketing demographics of boomers teach us is that boomers never stopped being cool, if by being cool you mean free to pursue individual interests and eager to discover new things.

Take iPhone Apps or Facebook applications. Most of them are simply nonsense designed to waste the time of teenagers and college drunks. Since the number of people over the age of 35 who have signed up to Facebook in the last six months has increased that user base by 276 percent (!), what about Facebook or iPhone apps that skew to an older audience? What about Facebook apps that aren’t about what color crayon you are, but what kind of mid-life career change you should be contemplating? How about, “what kind of child are you raising”? Or, “What’s your best retirement?”

Remember the key insight: boomers are as diverse in their interests and buying habits as younger generations. That means that as they adopt consumer tech, that’s millions of dollars of opportunity moving into the tech market.

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2 Responses to “Baby boomers LOVE consumer tech”

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  1. [...] the early adopters of consumer technology haven’t seen 30 summers, yet. Now, we know from an earlier blog post, that baby boomers are unlike any other consumer demographic in history. Not only have they [...]

  2. [...] of computers and social media: a.) It’s all about kids and b.) it’s all about guys. In a previous post, I examined how boomers in general were the fastest growing users in social media. And just a few [...]


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