Boomer Basics

Photography by Barbara Banks By Beth Luberecki February 29, 2012

BoomersWe’ve heard a lot about baby boomers, that 77 million-strong segment of the U.S. population born between 1946 and 1964. It’s a market that just about every business should be pursuing, or at the very least keeping an eye on.

“Marketers who choose to ignore baby boomers are making a big mistake,” says Sam Stern, partner and “chief brandtrepreneur” at Sarasota-based CAP Brand Marketing. “They have spending power, and marketers who ignore that are going to find themselves in a lot of trouble over the next 20 years.”

But companies can’t reach consumers in their 50s and 60s today the same way they might have targeted their parents. “If you look at the baby boomer crowd, not only do they believe they look younger than they are, but they actually do look younger than people of the same age in the past,” says John Fain, executive vice president and partner at Grapevine Communications in Sarasota. “Boomers look active, feel active and are vibrant people. Making sure to project them in that form is very important.”

Boomers are also tech savvy. “They are big tech buyers, and they’re all over social media,” says Stern. “Companies are going to have to reach them, maybe not with the same exact content, but in the same ways they’re reaching younger people.”

“I’m 60 years old, and I read two newspapers in the traditional way,” says Fain. “But I read the e-version of probably six papers every day. Boomers still do like print; they still read newspapers, magazines and books. But they’re becoming quick adopters of things like iPads.”

We spoke with four local companies to find out how they’re targeting the baby-boomer market.


Admiral Travel Owners Malaka and Ryan Hilton.(Admiral Travel)

Baby boomers comprise 70 percent of Admiral Travel International’s (ATI) customer base. After all, many of them have the time and money for European cruises and African safaris. And the Sarasota-based luxury travel planner hopes that once boomers have experienced travel at this level, they will keep coming back. “We want to have planned eight or nine years’ worth of travel experiences with them,” says co-owner Ryan Hilton.

ATI reaches clients through print, electronic and social media. “There’s not just one way to reach baby boomers,” says Cemantha Crain, the company’s director of marketing.

Targeted messages get the best results. “We always get better open rates on our emails, for example, if we make sure we’re only talking about cruising to people who like cruising,” says Crain. Admiral keeps data on customers’ interests, where they have visited and the products they like. “Email can be a hard nut to crack, but I couldn’t imagine how we would communicate with customers if we didn’t have a successful email relationship,” says Crain.

ATI also gets data and other information from its suppliers and through its membership in the Virtuoso luxury-travel consortium. That helps the company craft messages that resonate with its baby-boomer clientele, a group that’s well educated and well researched, and that wants travel experiences that are both innovative and immersive.

“Baby boomers want to be engaged; they want a learning experience,” says Hilton. “When they’re in a destination, they want it thick and fast and to go all day long. They’re looking for destinations that are a little more exotic. They’re hungry for details. They don’t want a cookie-cutter approach; they want to be a part of the planning process.”

Crain says you market travel differently from real estate or cars. “Travel hits people in a very passionate place. Great travel advisers become familiar with their clients’ family, relationships, industry, interests and lifestyle. We interpret their bucket lists and design experiences that make the most of their most precious asset, which is their leisure time spent with family and friends. And with baby boomers, you always have to come up with the next thing that’s going to impress them, surprise them, or inspire them in a way they wouldn’t have considered.”

Neal Communities President Patrick K. Neal.(Neal Communities)

Neal Communities was just named Builder magazine’s America’s Best Builder in the 100 to 500 closings category. Pat Neal and his company closed 376 homes in 2011, largely by catering to boomers, or as he calls them, O.P.A.L.s, older people with active lifestyles. About 57 percent of his business is with this demographic niche.

This year, he says, looks even better. “In the last five or six months, we’ve seen an increased number of people come into our sales offices,” he says.

But boomers aren’t spending as freely as they have in the past. “People used to buy more home than they could afford, thinking that the price was always going to go up,” says Neal. “Now they buy less home, because they’re nervous. Because they sell their home in Pittsburgh for $250,000 instead of $450,000, they buy a smaller, less expensive home here.”

And baby boomers do their research. Because they’ve likely bought and sold a few homes through the decades, they enter the real-estate process a few steps ahead of a first-timer.

“Customers walk into our sales offices with something printed from the Internet,” says Neal. “They know prices, square footages. So our advertising, even our print ads, is designed to drive traffic to our website. The shade structure over the door of any sales office has our company website address on it.”

For each of its developments, Neal Communities examines the target markets and takes steps to reach out to them. If it thinks a particular community might appeal to baby boomers, it plays up amenities favored by the over-50 set or decorates models in a style boomers find attractive. “They want a Florida look,” says Leisa Weintraub, vice president of marketing and creative director. “They’re interested in a pool, in homes that have lots of windows and are light and bright.”

They also want great room plans and open kitchens so they can entertain and be a part of the family group. They’re concerned about community amenities, especially for visiting children and grandchildren. Boomers often prefer buying a brand-new home vs. an existing one, and maintenance-free properties are popular. “They want the joy of designing it their way,” says Weintraub.

Neal Communities’ marketing plan, whether online or in print media, plays to the demographic’s youthfulness. “We use images of people doing fun things in Florida,” says Weintraub. “Boomers are a very active group. They will look at the community to see if it has an active social calendar and a way for them to meet new people.”

Adds Neal, “We don’t speak to boomers as retirees. They’re ageless and have an active lifestyle. So we try to speak to that activity, to their views and dreams for the future. Retirement is no longer static; it’s now a dynamic thing.”


Lakewood Ranch Medical  Center CEO Jim Wilson and Jennifer Anderson Bryan, marketing manager.(Lakewood Ranch Medical Center)

Even though boomers may look and feel young, they still have to deal with the typical health issues that accompany aging. And every local medical facility wants to be the one to get the call when a colonoscopy needs to be scheduled or a knee replaced.

Through print media, television, direct mail, the Internet and email, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center has been playing up its service line. That includes things like 3-D mammography (it’s the only facility in this area to offer that) and its orthopedic center.

“Boomers in this area have no intention of slowing down,” says Jennifer Anderson Bryan, manager of marketing, volunteer programs and guest services. “They want to continue being active, to play golf and tennis and go for long walks and bike rides. That’s a reason why we highlight orthopedics as one of our main service lines and use the tag line ‘getting you back in the game.’”

The hospital knows boomers don’t blindly choose their healthcare professionals. Providing them with plenty of information to use in the decision-making process is key. “Many boomers prefer print, but we also do a lot of email and are even on Facebook,” says Bryan. “Boomers know they have options, and they do their homework. Our goal is to let them know all of our accreditations and accolades and the quality care that we provide.”

Initiatives like the Senior Advantage Program further help create a relationship between the hospital and patients. Open to people age 50 and older, the program offers everything from classes

and discounts to free blood-pressure screenings.

When a boomer has a good experience at the hospital, he’ll hopefully return if he needs future medical care and bring in new patients. “By reaching out to boomers, we’re also reaching out to individuals in their circle,” says Bryan. “Many boomers have parents in the 85-plus range and children in the 35-plus range. So when we reach out to boomers, we reach out to several demographics.”


Bacon’s Furniture & Outdoor Living President Bill Bacon and designer Barb Tye.(Bacon’s Furniture & Outdoor Living)

The oldest baby boomers turn 66 this year. Millions more are nearing traditional retirement age and thinking about things like a second home or a move to Florida. Bacon’s Furniture & Outdoor Living, with stores in Sarasota and Port Charlotte, hopes to benefit from these life transitions.

“It’s the biggest retiring group of people in the history of our country, and it’s only just starting,” says company president Bill Bacon. “The boomers are a huge market and most of them have disposable income, so it’s something we’ve got to look at as the future of our business.”

Bacon’s reaches out to boomers through traditional print media and television advertising. A recent print ad included the tag line, “Where Your Dreams Come Home.” The company also realizes that boomers have become more sophisticated about technology, so it maintains an attractive, information-packed website and a Facebook page where it posts design magazine articles, sale notifications, and videos and photos pertaining to lines it carries.

“Baby boomers want to be well informed; they want to know what they’re buying,” says Bacon. “They want value, but they don’t mind paying for quality. And they want service, which is why we have trained decorators and designers to help them make their house a home.”

That level of service is something that sets boomers apart from younger generations. “I don’t think many baby boomers would click on a website and order furniture sight unseen, whereas younger people can do that,” says Bacon. “What our customers want is to come into the store and touch, feel and sit on the product.”

Direct mail has proven to be effective in connecting with customers. Bacon’s will reach out to homes that have a certain market value with a discount offering and special financing deals. The company can gauge a pitch’s effectiveness when customers bring in the letter. It also tracks the traffic that comes into the stores following an ad in the paper.

“How the baby boomer market will end up impacting us, I’m not sure,” says Bacon. “But I think it’s a positive thing, because we’re located in Florida, which is still a great place to live.”


Targeting Boomers

Best sources for attracting the aging post-WWII generation.

The Boomer Project is a market research consulting firm that specializes in the boomer consumer.

Founded by the author of Turning Silver Into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace, Mary Furlong & Associates specializes in the baby boomer generation as it ages.

Boomer expert J. Walker Smith is author of Generation Ageless and executive chairman of The Futures Company.

Award-winning writer, speaker and consultant Brad Edmondson contributes regularly to Biz(941) and Sarasota Magazine and is an authority on demographic changes and the aging of the baby boomer.
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