Marketing to Baby Boomers Busted at FCS Education Summit
More than 100 marketing, communications and media professionals gathered on the 30th Floor of the Reuters building on April 11th for a full morning of discussion around Baby Boomers. Attracted by the spectacular view overlooking Times Square and engaged by the visions shared by the presenters and panelists, the audience was the largest ever for the annual FCS Executive Education Summit.
With the theme, Baby Boomer… Or Bust: How to Market to and Influence the 50+ Consumer, the Summit staged four hours of presentations and panel discussions along with compelling Q&A with the attendees.
The agenda kicked off with a keynote talk by Brent Bouchez, industry veteran and co-founder of Five 0, a strategic communications agency created specifically to help client firms reach, understand and influence the Baby Boomer generation, a demographic that earns more than $2.7 trillion annually.
Titling his presentation, “Framing The Issue, Why The 50+ Target Counts,” Bouchez shared numerous eye-opening stats with the FCS members and guests, including:
- • The average age of a Mac buyer is 54.
- • The average age of a new car purchaser is 56. (In fact, the 50+ crowd purchase 63% of new cars.)
- • The average age of an American Express cardholder is 57.
- • Bouchez contrasted these points with the fact that the average age of a media buyer is only 28.
He went on to highlight other anomalies between the perception of “the older generation” and reality. For example, there’s the perception that “age breeds financial conservatism,” when in fact 50+ investors have helped define new product categories in financial services. He also pointed out the fallacy that “older people don’t try new brands” – yet it is the Boomer generation which grew up with brand experimentation and proliferation. Bouchez continued to punch holes in the false beliefs that “the golden years are for rest and relaxation” (is anyone in their 50’s really ready to retire?), and that “over 50 isn’t cool because we live in a youth-driven culture” (he cited countless 50+ celebrities who remain leading influencers across the arts).
Bouchez made two major points that drove home the challenges for financial services – and all industries – in reaching the 50+ consumer.
- 1 While a Baby Boomer claims to feel 10 years younger, it doesn’t mean he or she thinks like a 40 year old.
- 2 The world has changed – along with age perceptions of the 50+ consumer… BUT, marketing has not changed in step.
The first panel of the day discussed “Best Practices in Marketing Financial Services to 50+ Consumers.” The stellar line-up included:
- • Benji Baer, Managing Director, CMO, JP Morgan Chase Retirement Group
- • Jamie DePeau, Corporate CMO, Lincoln Financial
- • Kim Sharan, President, Financial Planning & Wealth Strategies, CMO, Ameriprise Financial
- • Scott Dingwell, Director, Head of Defined Contribution Communications, Blackrock Lou Rubin of Outgrowth Consulting, who led the FCS Summit committee on creating the event, moderated the panel.
Here are a few highlights:
- • Baer noted that, with more risk to relying on Social Security as an integral part of retirement planning, people have increased their reliance on employer 401(k) plans. Still, she feels that consumers are generally “ill-equipped” for retirement. To combat the limited number of retirement tools available to consumers, Baer noted that JP Morgan’s Retirement Group was focusing on prepackaging products in its retirement service to better provide clients with options that are easy to activate.
- • Dingwell seconded the rising importance of 401(k) plans, but commented that the marketing spend to promote 401(k) plans is “minuscule” and that he is “amazed at how ineffective the employee engagement has been within corporations.”
- • Discussing the emotional components involved in reaching the Baby Boomer generation, both DePeau and Sharan felt current marketing approaches are misguided. DePeau said, “Shame on us. We treat Boomers as if they have the same demographic and psychographics as younger generations.” “Retirement is not the be all and end all for their future,” Sharan said of Boomers, adding, “Boomers don't want to play on the beach.”
- • What the 50+ consumer wants is “peace of mind,” according to DePeau. She elaborated to explain that Boomers are “offended by fear” and that financial marketers who promote their retirement planning and insurance products with advertising that plays off of fear are actually offending their target audience.
- • Sharan sees this mistake as an opportunity to “reinvent financial planning.” With “confidence and optimism at an all-time low,” Sharan said that “more advertising dollars” is not what’s needed, but “delivering an exceptional experience” for the consumer will differentiate a financial services firm’s marketing. Sharan also pointed out several supporting results from Ameriprise’s recent “Money Across Generations” study, and underscored the importance of properly training financial advisors in addressing the needs of the 50+ consumer.
The second presenter of the Summit was Dr. Joseph Coughlin, Director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of the on-line publication Disruptive Demographics
. Through his work, Coughlin seeks to understand how demographic change, social trends and technology converge to drive future innovations in business and government. His presentation was called “Retiring Retirement & Crafting a New Story of Financial Services & Longevity.” Among the findings that Dr. Coughlin shared with the audience was that a person’s well-being was at its lowest during the period of age 37 through 57.
He used numerous factoids to help paint the profile of the Baby Boomers – a study in contrasts from popular perception and expectation. One example was that the fastest growing segment on the Internet is women aged 45 and above.
Coughlin also spoke to the notion that Boomers are not looking for retirement to be a period of idleness. He noted that the most popular retirement communities in the U.S. have been created in established “college towns” or near colleges – because “Baby Boomers want activity, they want intellectual stimulation.”
The second panel at the Summit spoke to the topic “Using Digital to Reach the 50+ Financial Services User.” The line-up of executives included:
- • Liesl Leach, Executive Director, Head of Digital Marketing, JPMorgan Investment Management
- • Larry Nagel, Director, Online Marketing, MetLife
- • Eric van den Heuvel, Director Channel Planning, The Gate Worldwide
- • Michael Venables, Group Planning Director at Neo@Ogilvy
- • The panel was moderated by Rupal Parekh, Agency Editor, Advertising Age.
Here's a roundup of their comments:
- • Van den Heuvel dove right into the discussion by stating that “financial marketers need to start with the assumption that people don't trust them anymore.” He noted, “Baby Boomers trust referrals, they don't trust advertising.” Echoing an indictment against commonplace ad creative, van den Heuvel commented that Boomers are offended by ads that show “old people.” He challenged that a marketer’s “message should be timeless and age agnostic.” Zeroing in on a digital strategy to reach Boomers, van den Heuvel suggested, “the biggest fallacy is that if an ad isn't clicked, it isn't working.” He expounded on the value of an online presence for financial services firms.
- • Nagel supported the role of a digital presence as part of the marketing mix, including social media. He explained that MetLife focused on the back end of handling inbound-communications on Facebook as well as on its own mobile site before launching either presence. The goal was “to ensure control of the dialogue with consumers.” The imperative for Nagel is “to keep the brand safe.”
- • Leach agreed that there is significant “brand consideration” when incorporating social media into the marketing mix. She lauded Amazon as a “great marketing model” for its “use of personal interests to create relevance in communicating” to the consumer.
- • Van den Heuvel supported this comment by encouraging financial marketers to “Amazon your website… and stop selling products and begin communicating with solutions.”
- • While Venables pointed out the parallel between marketing to Baby Boomers and diversity-based marketing – with their mutual mandate for inclusiveness – he offered a compelling observation about the 50+ consumer and the Internet: “Baby Boomers have the most tightly bound social networks of all generations, because of their longevity and the fact that, for the most part, those networks were founded offline.”
Lou Rubin returned to the stage to wrap up the Summit, providing his observations and a synthesis of the many excellent lessons shared throughout the event by the speakers and panelists, as well as the audience.
This year’s Summit was generously sponsored by The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, and hosted by Reuters.
About the Financial Communications Society (FCS):
The Financial Communications Society (FCS), a not-for-profit organization, is dedicated to improving professional standards in financial communications. It provides professionals in the industry with a forum for gathering relevant information, sharing ideas and building relationships with industry colleagues. The FCS hosts the annual FCS Portfolio Awards, for creative excellence in financial services advertising, a monthly luncheon series featuring prominent industry speakers, and numerous educational events. The capstone of the annual charity-focused activities organized by the FCS is the FCS Race for Kids (www.fcsraceforkids.org) which has raised more than $1.5 million for three children's charities since 2000.
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