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Talking to Baby Boomers

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John Klein

John Klein

John Klein

What do the British Invasion and disco have in common?

Both of these musical and cultural phenomena were embraced by Baby Boomers. These trends couldn’t be more different. And that’s the point.

Much is written about the growth and impending influence of Boomers on our society. Their sheer size and economic power make them hard to ignore.

However, Boomers have been participants in one of the fastest and most profound cultural changes in recent history.

By being part of these changes, Boomers are an intellectually and culturally diverse group, complexity that makes categorizing them into one unique demographic group misleading.

Effective communication with Boomers will be a challenge for nonprofits as they maintain and grow their missions. That will require and understanding the group’s size and unique point of view.

In his presentation “Disruptive Demographics,” James Johnson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shares insights about the results of the 2010 census, giving a peek at the largest and most rapidly growing segment of the population – the “grey.”

The “grey”

Over the past decade the 45-64 age group (the Boomers) has grown 27 percent to almost 17 million people. This represents the largest age-demographic increase within the past 10 years.

That trend is occurring in spades in North Carolina. During the same period, Boomers grew by almost 33 percent, adding over 300,000 to this demographic group in the state.

North Carolina has a Boomer growth rate 22 percent greater than the US.

So there are a lot of us. The real challenge is to try to understand the diverse nature of Boomers, or identify some characteristics that can illuminate that understanding.

How different is Baby Boomers’ media consumption?

Most Boomers grew up with limited media options – three or four television stations, more AM than FM radio stations and both a morning and afternoon newspaper.

Today’s media landscape is overwhelming by comparison.

However in July, Nielsen Media Research published a monograph on Boomer consumer behaviors.

Its theme suggested rejecting the conventional wisdom of Boomers as small spenders, resisting technology and slow to adopt new products. Rather, Boomer diversity was showcased by highlighting their media consumption patterns. A few examples:

  • Boomers comprise a third of all TV viewers, online users, social-media users and Twitter users
  • Boomers time shift TV shows (record and view at a later time) more than 20-somethings, by almost an hour a week
  • Eight of the top 10 Boomer websites, including Facebook and YouTube, are the same as 20-something sites

Opera, for example

In a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts, “Public Participation in the Arts,” opera patrons were profiled in two ways: Those who attended a performance within the past year, and those who participated through media, also known as sampling.

Boomers represented the largest group of samplers, at 43 percent, most of whom sampled through the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts and digital downloads.

In other words, Boomers are using technology to introduce themselves to different art forms.

Practical applications

Use the full arsenal of communication tools. Boomers are the most likely group to be reached by all of your marketing efforts, both traditional and digital.

They are the ones who might see your ad in a newspaper or hear it on the radio, visit your blog or website to learn more about you, use search to view other organizations like you, and then to donate or buy a ticket online.

Be open to new things. Despite the current economic situation, boomers will continue to search for value.

In this case value will have at least two dimensions: One of cost-effectiveness, and one that fulfills their desire for personal and cultural growth.

Be consistent. Most Boomers remember advertising slogans from their youth, largely because marketers believed that repetition was a key to learning.  And it worked.

Creating a compelling message that speaks to their interests – and sticking with it – will help leverage this important demographic group in the next decade.


John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.

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