Four Reasons Online Marketing Pros Need to Get Ready for Baby Boomers

Are you ready for the boomers? Well, you need to get it in gear well before they hit retirement!

Fortunately, marketers have time to get ready. While senior citizens (i.e., people over age 65) currently make up only 13 percent of the population in the United States, the rate is set to surge to 20 percent by 2030, when baby boomers hit the magic age. Here’s where it gets even more interesting, according to an eMarketer blog post this week: by 2015, well before the boomers hit the “old age” threshold, 26 million seniors will be online.

So, it pays to spend the next few years figuring out how to market to and interact with this demographic on the web. Fifteen years after that, it will be mandatory.

This need extends into mobile commerce, where the need may be even more urgent. The older crowd still likes land lines, with 77 percent of them considering these soon-to-be relics “a necessity,” according to Pew Research Center, with only 29 percent of them saying the same of mobile phones. Yet, close to 70 percent of Americans 65 or older will have cell phones this year – just below the overall penetration rate of 75.5 percent, says eMarketer.

And, what of social media?

Seniors flocked to the likes of Facebook and Twitter between 2008 and 2010, with penetration increasing from 4.7 percent to 28 percent, with estimated penetration rates of 31 percent this year and an astounding 36 percent by 2013.

Just think about it: the stakes are high now, and it’s still just a training ground to prepare us for the arrival of the baby boom generation to the “golden years.”

Simply put, this is a terrifying thought for Gen X and Y marketers, who are more accustomed to talking to their own generations. The implications reach well past marketing, of course, to product development and user experience – not to mention the ol’ fashioned art of closing the deal (now called “driving conversions”).

What’s necessary, of course, is adaptation. This starts with five simple questions you can ask yourself (and your organization). Failing to answer them effectively can leave you in an untenable position in a few years and mean the difference between planned obsolescence and enduring success.

1. Do I know my (new) target market?

Start simply by asking yourself what you know about the generation at or approaching retirement. What are their financial situations like? Where do they live? What makes them likely (or unlikely) to adopt your product. You need to get to know later generations as well as you know your own, and this difficult task is far harder than it seems. Good luck.

2. What does my target market expect in a product?

Users of Tumblr and Twitter, among others, have become somewhat accustomed to coping with outages (though, in my experience at least, Twitter has gotten a lot better). We’re used to having cell calls dropped. We may not be happy with these technology failures, but we’re starting to become accustomed to them. Take some time to see if this is true of older generations. The results may surprise you.

3. What is the adoption pattern?

The numbers on cell phone adoption are incredibly interesting: penetration rates are roughly equivalent to the percentage of seniors who see a land line as “a necessity.” They may be willing to adopt what’s new, but this also indicates that they aren’t likely to give up what they feel they can rely on. The result: you’ll be in constant competition with the norm for much longer than you’d like. You need to demonstrate the value your new solution provides every day and for a longer period of time. Expect silent harsh criticism, which limits your ability to respond to it.

4. Whose vision wins?

It’s becoming common for social media companies to launch first and figure out a raison d’etre (and a business model) later. Facebook did this. Twitter is doing this. So is FourSquare. The users are effectively in control of their futures. Expect a wave of senior adoption to have disproportionate influence. I could be wrong, but I’d lay my bets on the contrary. If you have enough users who don’t use your product the way you anticipated, you’ll change for them. If you don’t, you’ll be freshening up your resume and working for someone else (again).