Making A Connection with The Bookend Generations

Every May I attend the Iconoculture Global Trends conference and every year I leave with research that proves brands need to be more human.  Brands today are like bright spots in our lives, providing solutions to everyday needs and inspiring us to be our better selves. This fact is both a privilege and a responsibility.

Among many insightful presentations, one was a bit surprising.  I admittedly went in skeptical about what more there is to say about the Boomer/Millennial connection.  We know these two cohorts – lovingly referred to as the Bookend Generations – are intimately connected and the parent/child bond continues to be strong as the oldest Millennials start having kids.  But it is worth noting (and reminding brands) of the continued influence and power Boomers have and how important it is for brands to tap into this unique dynamic.  With so much focus on Millennials themselves, I wonder if marketers realize they need to not only connect with Boomers, but seriously cater to them.  Boomers defined the very idea of brand loyalty and they continue to be loyal to the brands who are loyal to them.  But the bigger story is their rising influence over the 75 million Millennials in the US alone.

To get the full picture, a few stats on Boomers.

  • Point one: they’re still a huge generation, 76-million-strong, 1 in 4 Americans.  They still have a lot of money, are working and are experiencing a variety of new life events that will spur new kinds of spending patterns in the years to come.
  • Point 2: counter to what you might hear, Boomers are not downsizing.  In fact, they’re adding – more, bigger, better renovations to their homes (nearly 50% plan to redecorate or renovate their homes).  New cars — since they were teenagers, cars represented freedom and have always been a merit badge of sorts.  More travel — but now with their extended families and to the tune of $157 billion.  And, by the way, they are paying everyone’s way, including the grandchildren.  Boomers have made more money than Xers at this point in life and the economy has been kinder to them throughout their lifetime, so they continue to spend more than other generations.

A few simple things to remember when connecting with Boomers: use the right language and this means remembering that Boomers never want to grow old.  If you talk to them like they’re old, you will lose right out of the gate.  Language choices are key: it’s accessories over necessities, good life over golden years (never talk about the golden years!).  Show them coupled, being spectacularly active and with their Millennial kids making memories.  This is the imagery they want to see.  And, by the way, just call them Boomers.

With regard to Boomer influence over their Millennial kids: what started as a borderline obsessive connection (remember, they were the helicopter parents) has grown into an extraordinary bond that keeps uncovering  advantages for both generations.  When it comes to brands, Millennials are greatly influenced by their Boomer parents.  In fact, over 40% are loyal to the same brands their parents use.  Millennials were trained by mom and dad to look for both quality and value.  If Boomers are not loyal to (or simply don’t like) specific brands , there is a strong chance their kids won’t either.  So, create brand reciprocity with Boomers and you’ll get their Millennial kids.  Market to shared values and be able to articulate where your brand’s values collide with the shared values of Boomers and Millennials.  Finally, look for opportunities that capture the attention of both generations and examine your language and imagery.  One of the biggest reasons this is important is that Millennials are starting to have their own kids and will look to their Boomer parents to help them as they transition into this new life-stage.

With the leading edge of the mammoth Boomer generation in their mid-60s, Boomers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  They will continue to wield tremendous influence.  A gentle reminder to brands: engage correctly, connect in the most relevant way and, last point, be a more human brand.

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Therese Caruso is Managing Director of Global Strategy + Insights for Zeno Group and architect of The Human Project, Zeno’s proprietary IP that helps brands connect emotionally with people.