27th July 2017
Baby Boomers didn’t get to experience digital technology until they became adults. A few decades later, and that generation still largely remains mystified by it.
As a Boomer who makes a living, studying, evaluating, advising and writing about technology I’m in a sometimes flattering (and somewhat unenviable) position: I’m often the go-to guy for my peers who remain flummoxed when it comes to using their smartphone, laptop, or even apps.
I’ve seen that Boomers who have mastered an iPad or computer typically use it only for the simplest of tasks, such as email and web access. So it makes perfect sense that Grayling’s new Inside Influence study has found that the most popular online place Boomers go when looking to research a purchase is a manufacturer’s own website - because it’s so easy to do.
As the oldest generation to not yet have felt the ravages of aging, Boomers naturally trust their own age group first; Boomers talk to other Boomers to get their opinion about product buying.
But while Boomers are now in their 50s and 60s, younger generations have not yet put them out to pasture. Gen Y individuals - people their children’s age - see Boomers as the second most-sought after age group to get an opinion on a prospective purchase.
Even a handful of Gen Z members, four percent to be precise, still look to Boomers for advice. Apparently, people their grandparents’ age may still have something worth listening to.
While online search is the most important source for people looking to make a purchase, people of every age group rely on personal contacts, both friends and relatives. And, when speaking to them, 58 percent of those polled prefer to do so in person, as opposed to speaking to someone on the phone, or reaching out via email, SMS or other electronic means.
The point is, personal interaction - not impersonal websites or online product reviews written often by people of dubious authenticity - remains key for most people.
And there’s no doubt that this approach is strongest for Boomers, people for whom a one-on-one conversation doesn’t mean you alternate between looking at someone in the eye while staring at a smartphone.
Not surprisingly, our youngest adults are most likely to socialize their purchase experience after the sale. But Boomers aren’t far behind; 90 percent of the post-WWII generation like to let others know about their purchase, compared with 96 percent of Gen Zers. And across all groups, most of that feedback is shared with friends and family, rather than online.
So what does that mean when it comes to marketing to Boomers? With their natural technology reticence, satisfied customers can be turned into powerful live brand ambassadors. Older customers who have a great research and buying experience - whether in retail or online - will spread the word, to their peers and their children.
When Carl Jung was looking for the right person to pen the forward to his famous work, Man and his Symbols, he asked a BBC reporter to do the honors. The reporter was flattered, until Jung told him that he assumed if the reporter could understand the book, anyone could.
As a marketer, if you can create a great online buying experience for the least tech-savvy of generations, you can bet that it’ll work for every younger generation as well.
Eric Taub is a contributing technology writer for the New York Times. Download the free PDF summary of Grayling's Inside Influence research, below.
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