Growing Bolder: Stalking the Boomer Consumer

04/05/2011 02:46 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2011

This week, Bolder Media Group VP Bill Shafer and I were hired to take part in a qualitative research project funded by a major corporation and serve as experts on the Baby Boomer market. You know this corporation very well, but I'm not at liberty to disclose its identity. I was happy to participate because I've always been fascinated by qualitative research and the lengths to which major companies go to understand what tickles our fancy; what might become a viable product or service offering.

I disclose to you what I disclosed to those who interviewed me for this project. I am an expert only in the sense that I have studied and observed the demographic cohort known as the Baby Boomers for more than a decade. I am an expert only in the sense that I pay close attention and ask lots of questions. I am an expert only in the sense that I work for a company on the frontlines in the battle to resonate with the increasingly powerful 50+ market; a small and nimble company that is able and willing to make quick and constant course corrections. I have not written a book on the subject and I don't have advanced academic credentials in the area. I have, however, accumulated an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence and empirical data. They said, "Cool. That's exactly what we're looking for."

I told them up front what I've previously mentioned in this very column. If you are trying to market to Baby Boomers as a whole, you are destined for failure. Baby Boomers are not a whole. They are a highly diverse, highly fragmented group of people born between 1946 and 1964. Period. So choose which slice of this very big pie you are going after because attracting one part will repel another. And oh yeah, don't call them Baby Boomers. That's a great term for internal discussion but to brand something for Baby Boomers is a big mistake. I could see the wheels turning and the pencils scribbling on that one.

We are as diverse a group as there is because we have money or we don't. Because we are fit or obese. Because we become more and more interested in personal growth or more and more set in our ways. We are very liberal or very conservative. For the first time ever, we're a 50+ generation that is not necessarily living linear lives. We're divorcing, dating, finding love and losing inhibitions. We're going back to college, reinventing ourselves and returning to the passions of our youth. For some of us, this is thrilling and liberating. For others, it's upsetting and debilitating.

What we do share is experience and it's the first key to resonating with Baby Boomers. We've been around the block. We've seen behind the curtain. We've heard endless superlatives of advertisers. As a result, we've been inoculated against the desire to throw our money away in an emotional response to ridiculous claims. We've been lied to and we've been burned. It doesn't mean all of us have lost our optimism. It does mean most of us don't trust advertising. (They started scribbling again when I said that we trust the opinions of our friends more than we trust them or their multi-million dollar, exquisitely crafted campaigns.)

After a lively session talking about the demographic as a whole, we were invited back to offer our opinion on a series of products or services that might be created and marketed to Baby Boomers. Based upon our input, those ideas were going to be tweaked and presented to a focus group of consumers. Of course, I'm not able to share with you what the ideas are but let's just say I wouldn't invest in any of them -- at least not the way they were presented to us.

It is encouraging that this major corporation realizes the opportunity presented by the most unique 50-plus generation in history, but until they realize the way into our hearts, minds and pocketbooks is building campaigns on respect, quality and value and not on broad generalizations, stereotypes or age-related silliness, we're not buying -- no matter what they're selling.