It’s time to rethink your marketing to tech-savvy Boomers

Baby Boomers are a vast, growing and lucrative demographic but marketers and brands should be careful to make sure they’re sending the right message, write Bernardo Figueiredo and Torgeir Aleti.

Older people are often portrayed in the media as being technologically challenged. Jokes are often shared on social media about older people taking photos on their phones with their thumb covering the lens or accidentally installing viruses on computers. Although these stereotypes may be amusing, they can damage your brand and alienate one of the most significant market segments. The Australian Financial Review warns in a recent article that “brands must not forget cashed-up Baby Boomers who are becoming more technology literate.”

Many older Australians have both wealth and spending power. 15% of Australians (3.8 million) are aged 65 and over and this proportion is projected to grow steadily over the coming decades. With ageing populations in the world’s leading economies, there will be more Baby Boomers globally than children under the age of five for the first time in history by 2020.

The idea that Baby Boomers lack technological literacy is certainly not a generalisable reality. As a case in point, the inventors of the internet (Sir Tim Berners-Lee), Apple Computers (Steve Jobs) and Microsoft (Bill Gates) were all born in the centre of the Baby Boom; 1955. The inventor if WiFi (Dr John O’Sullivan) was born in 1947 and Martin Cooper (‘father’ of the mobile phone) was born in 1928. Picturing these seniors, when thinking about technology, could lead to better outcomes than focusing on negative stereotypes.

Baby Boomers may not polish their Instagram accounts while on the toilet like Millennials. However, when, where and how often a person checks and updates social media is not a measure of digital literacy. Instead, social media participation has to do with needs and priorities when it comes to technology use and consumption. Baby Boomers do not suffer from FOMO. They find their social media usage to be ‘about right’ and are not concerned that the technology they created is taking over their lives. 

Understanding Baby Boomers’ relationship with technology is essential for any firm that either develops tech products or uses modern media to communicate with customers. Although seniors embrace digital technology and have high levels of device ownership, some barriers for usage still linger. Our research unpacks Baby Boomers’ relationships with technology and points out critical insights for understanding this vast and mobile market. Finally, our research uncovers insights related to product design, branding, and promotion.

Understand what your audience seeks – what it means to be connected

Baby Boomers have different views of what it means to be connected than younger generations. While Millennials may equate connectedness with WiFi access, the meaning is much more complicated for Baby Boomers. Through technology, Baby Boomers are interested in keeping in touch with friends and family, getting information and staying up to date, coordinating activities, belonging to communities and having access to products, services and experiences. Typically, they view technology as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. That is, your tech solution may be seen more as a means of transportation than as a roof over their heads. You will miss the mark if you think you are selling real estate to an audience looking for a car.

Product design – integrated rhythms

Baby Boomers do not like to be told what to do. Instead, they have their own rhythms when adopting and learning to use new products. They believe that connecting through technology is unavoidable, but they want it on their own terms. Most prefer to “learn what you need as you go.” As such, technology products that enable them to control the pace and content of learning and use will be preferred. Make it easy to get started and easy to learn more – if and when they are interested.

Branding – value proposition

Many Baby Boomers are concerned about scams and bullying. Many believe that technology may do more harm than good, and sometimes lack the confidence to engage in what may seem like complex products. Thus, they are likely to prefer brands that offer ease of access to get started, with clear and convincing safety features.

The latest inventions may not sway Baby Boomers in the same way as younger cohorts. Rather, they will come on board on their own terms. The key is to figure out the end goals of your distinct audience. From there, a value proposition that explains how your products will get them to where they want can be carefully developed.

Promotion – the power of consumer socialisation agents

Socialisation agents are specific sources of information that transmit norms, attitudes, motivations, and behaviours to learners. Family, peers and the internet are the most prominent socialisation agents for Boomers learning new technology. Family is a crucial source, but frustration is often expressed between older Australians and their adult children. Peers also play a vital role, as they have similar lived experiences and are more prone to use the same pace and mode of socialisation. Finally, the internet works in tandem with the other socialisation agents. It supplements and extends existing knowledge and skills. It can help get results quicker. For those who have the skills and confidence, the internet is the most preferred and useful consumer socialisation agent. 

When communicating with Baby Boomers, do not narrowly focus on one socialisation agent, for example, by playing on stereotypes of older consumers in need of ‘education’ from the young. This does not reflect on their experience. Many prefer to be able to find information on their own through the internet. Self-education is often preferred, as it saves them from not having to ask family (which some dread). YouTube videos that clearly explain how to use products and services are a significant consumer socialisation tool. Baby Boomers often use YouTube to stay up to date and learn new technology-related skills. 

For those less confident using the internet as a socialisation agent, family and peers play a vital role. However, this is not a one-way street. For example, grandparents and grandchildren often engage in an exchange of skills and knowledge. Further, grandparents appreciate the level of acceptance and understanding of learning new things seen in their grandchildren. Finally, peers come in as most useful when engaging in a more formal setting. Seniors willingness to approach new technology through peer-based computer classes tailored for their age-group seems heightened. When technology is disseminated by them and for them, it becomes easier to relate to, and the benefits will be easier to see when explained by someone with similar lived experiences.

The key to reaching members of the large and lucrative seniors market is firstly to understand their current goals. Further, how does your technology solution help them as the means to their end? They have lived long lives; they know what they want and what works for them. This needs to be respected. Take into account their preference for easing into new technology and their scepticism towards what they perceive not to be made to solve their problems. Finally, promote your products through the consumer socialisation agents that they are most likely to consult to stay up to date on new technology.

Research insights

This article is based on a two-stage project including quantitative interviews with 900 seniors from a seniors’ organisation in Melbourne. In the second stage, we conducted qualitative interviews with 30 members of a seniors’ network in metropolitan and rural areas of Victoria in order to drill down on some of the issues. The purpose of the study was to understand older Australians’ relationships with technology, including usage patterns and key influencers. 

The findings reveal that many seniors are quite tech-savvy, despite often being stereotyped as inept. They are interested in innovations that will improve their lives, but often do not see the benefit or perceive many products as not being made for them. A greater focus on understanding the needs and wants of one of Australia’s fastest growing consumer markets is needed.

Bernardo Figueiredo is senior lecturer of marketing at RMIT University. 

Torgeir Aleti is a lecturer in marketing at RMIT University.

Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash