Editor’s Note: Our newest guest expert, Mark J. Miller, presents a look at Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) — and it may surprise you. As he points out, this is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to serve this demographic as Boomers enter a new phase of their lives over the age of 50. Set aside your preconceived stereotypes, because the Web is ideal for serving them.
By Mark J. Miller
Looking for a growth market for your next online venture? Look no further than the 50+ market.
The number of U.S. adults over age 50 will soar over the next ten years. In fact, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 50+ adults will be the only growth demographic — measured by age — between now and 2015 as the massive Baby Boomer generation enters its 50s and 60s.
Plenty of companies hesitate when it comes to marketing new products to Boomers — especially products with a technology focus. Many marketers adhere to traditional — and wrong-headed — thinking about older consumers: They’ve already made their brand choices and can’t be interested in anything new. They’re resistant to change. They don’t adapt well to new technology.
Marketers will tell you the big opportunity lies in young consumers, because that’s where you can convert a “customer for life.” But with today’s ultra-dynamic product marketplace, the notion of acquiring lifetime customers is obsolete, perhaps with the exception of mundane consumer products such as toothpaste and soap. The pace of product change is just too great for any company to hold on to consumers that long.
What’s more, Baby Boomers are just as open to new products as younger consumers. This is a generation that has broken the mold during every stage of life — and middle age is no different. As Boomers hit midlife, they’re open to a wide range of new products and experiences — just as they have at every other stage of life.
In fact, Boomers always have been at the forefront when it comes to embracing new products and technologies. During the course of their adult lives, Boomers have embraced personal computers, cell phones, PDAs, e-mail, and voicemail, and a wide range of other products.
“Boomers are leading the companies that are bringing new technologies to the world,” says Anne Wall, senior vice president of C&R Research, a Chicago-based market research company that specializes in Boomer consumers. “They’re using it at work, and at home and their kids are using it, too. Their entire lives have been about change.”
When it comes to the Internet, the story is no different. Boomers are using the web at nearly the same rates as other age groups, and in just about the same way. Contrary to the stereotypes, 70 percent of adults age 50 to 64 are online, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 12 percentage points less than younger age groups.
And while fewer 50+ Internet users have access to a broadband Internet connection than the general online population, their overall usage patterns mirror other age segments, according to Pew research. They’re more likely than GenX’ers to use the web to gather information, nearly as likely to shop online, and they’re avid consumers of digital health information.
Beyond those usage patterns, we’ll see a general “graying trend” online in the years ahead as the overall U.S. population mix turns older. At the same time, over the next ten years the 50+ web audience will include more of today’s younger Boomers — and their Internet usage patterns point the way toward some of the most interesting future opportunities.
Older Boomers’ Internet usage mirrors the overall population — they tend to use big portal sites, do their banking and shop online. By contrast, younger Boomers — age 40 to 49 — are much more attracted to niche websites, blogs, multimedia and social networking applications, according to Ken Doctor, of Content Bridges, a digital content consultancy.
“In the early going, things like podcasts and video are seen as gadgets — they’re for early adopters,” argues Doctor. “As these technologies become easier over the next five years or so, there will be adoption by a broader range of Internet users,” he argues. “It won’t seem as geeky.”
One Boomer-focused site already is leveraging social networking and Web 2.0 technologies. Eons, launched in the summer of 2006 by Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor, is the largest website launch to date that specifically targets the 50+ market. The site’s traffic recently topped 500,000 unique visitors per month, and is challenging AARP to be the highest-traffic site for 50+ Americans.
Site users need to be at least 50 to register on the site — or at least, claim that they are. Founder Jeff Taylor’s slogan: “Let’s live to 100 or die trying.”
Eons’ biggest success is the way it engages members with its tools for social networking and user-generated content. These include discussion boards, online self-assessment tools, and content ranking and voting systems.
Says Linda Natansohn, Eons’ senior vice president of strategic development: “Every tool we put out, our members use. And, community is growing like wildfire on the site.” Eons hosts over 1,000 discussion groups, many of them created by users. “Some of the largest ones have 5,000 members, and they’re spawning new ones,” she says.
Eons’ experience points toward lots of online opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to tap into the burgeoning 50+ market in the years ahead. In fact, the Eons list of top searches offers a good road map for online entrepreneurs gauging possible niche website launches for the 50+ market. The most popular topics in 2006:
- Alternative health
- Hearth & home
- Ones to watch
- Travel spots
- Web 101
How’s that for a list of possible niche website launch topics? It’s not hard to imagine smaller web-based businesses succeeding in these areas. The key here is to provide highly targeted value-added content and services in the areas most demanded by aging boomers, provided effective traffic-building strategies are applied, and expenses are kept in check.
“The web is increasingly a really efficient way to do very specific targeting,” says Eon’s Linda Natansohn. “You need to have a very specific niche, and get smart about search engine marketing and tactics. There definitely will be room for smaller businesses.”
I recently asked Mary Furlong, who has been watching the Boomer generation closely since the mid-1980s, where she sees the best entrepreneurial opportunities in the Boomer market. Mary heads Mary Furlong & Associates and recently published a new book on Boomer entrepreneurs called “Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace.”
“Remember ‘Plastics, Benjamin’ from The Graduate?” she said. “Now, it’s blood sugar and reverse mortgages. When you look at the big categories for new businesses they all relate to security and longevity for older people — money management, wealth transfer, lowering their bills and home income plans.”
“Eldercare is a another giant category. Everything from in-home services to adult day care, new assisted living solutions and cognitive fitness classes and fashion. We haven’t even imagined the services boomers will need when they start to need eldercare. And travel is just enormous. Boomers and their grandchildren are the fastest growing part of the travel business.”
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