How do you appeal to a group as wide as the baby boomers?
by Lain Ehmann
They are 75 million strong. They have the largest average
household income in the history of the United States. They're
the baby boomers, and virtually every marketer, online and
offline, wants a piece of them.
to a group so large and disparate is no easy task. The best
strategy, successful Web entrepreneurs have decided, is to
discuss the major themes of interest to the boomer population
like travel, finance and health and hit them on target.
a bit of confusion as to what exactly constitutes a baby boomer.
The age groups targeted by boomer-specific sites range from
35 to 54 at the low end, and up to 45 to 59 at the high end,
with the majority spread around the 40-something mark.
aside, it's safe to say most boomer sites are aimed at midlifers.
If we were talking men's undergarments, they would be the
guys between boxers and Depends. But more important than age
is attitude, most Web entrepreneurs agree. "It's more of an
approach to life," says Trish Halamandaris, VP of marketing
part of this approach to life is the Internet. According to
Media Metrix, an Internet and digital-media measurement service,
35 percent of the Net's 63 million users are aged 35 to 49
smack in the middle of baby boomer country.
boomers have household incomes averaging $75,000 and above,
compared to only $58,000 among the overall online population,
according to MyPrimeTime's initial research. Consultancies
like AtPlan in Stamford, Conn., have suggested that older
Net surfers are far more likely to buy online than younger
wired and wealthy, the boomers are a marketer's dream. They
always have been. By virtue of their numbers, they've been
the group to capture since their teens.
reaching such a huge group poses challenges. "A generation
is really too large to target," says Chris Charron, research
director at Forrester
in Cambridge, Mass. "Even in its short history, the Web has
taught us that targeting large consumer segments is a difficult
and expensive proposition."
a Go At It
You'd think boomers have enough shared experiences to make
it easy for sites to draw a sizable cross-segment, but typically
that's not the case. For instance, the GoGrrl network tried
to develop a news and information site for women between the
ages of 45 and 65, called Freedom.goGrrl.com. Because they'd
successfully introduced women-oriented wedding and erotica
sites, the GoGrrl team thought they could just as easily create
a destination site for female boomers.
instincts were wrong. Marketing to an age group proved significantly
more complicated than marketing to an interest group. Women
hung out at the wedding and sex sites, but used the Freedom.goGrrl
site to find links to other Web resources. "We really found
that it didn't work the way we thought it would," says Melinda
Powelson, editor of the Boulder, Colo.-based GoGrrl.
to visitor feedback, GoGrrl added more links and community
resources. Still, Freedom.goGrrl, which launched in May, has
been much less popular than GoGrrl's other ventures. While
reluctant to give stats, Powelson concedes, "it's not been
our most successful site by far."
launched in August, is a broad-based site. Founder and CEO
David Henderson says he created the site in response to print
magazines that feel too "old" those featuring ads for burial
services and recreational vehicles, for instance.
about to develop a Web site that was targeted at active baby
boomers," Henderson says. BoomerCafe is a combination of community
resources and editorial content on topics like money, relationships,
literature and "inner direction."
of private investors funds the site, which is experiencing
modest page views: 30,000 to 40,000 hits a month. Henderson
hopes to offer revenue-generating services in the future,
focusing on leisure activities.
Is Better But these smaller sites are in for a tough battle
to get boomer time and money. Their first step is to identify
a hook to lure people away from boomer giants like MyPrimeTime
and ThirdAge Media's ThirdAge.com. "You need to target people
based on their interests," says Michelle Slack, an analyst
for Jupiter Communications' online advertising group. "And
the deeper you can target them, the better."
have megastaff, megacontent and megamoney. Spun off from CNNfn,
MyPrimeTime is backed by Joan Rivers and has an investment
partnership with Fidelity. ThirdAge Media got $89 million
in financing in June, with a significant chunk coming from
they appear to offer something for everyone, these sites are
actually strategically segmented into vertical topics that
appeal to boomers. MyPrimeTime, launched in October, offers
four main channels: work, money, health and play. Recent features
include a health article on the possibility of gene therapy
to reverse balding, a business piece on e-commerce's role
in bringing philanthropy to the Web, and another on how pets
can improve your health.
are the right topics, according to Jupiter's Slack, who names
pets, finance, travel and health as boomer "sweet spots."
deeper, Halamandaris says MyPrimeTime is after an even more
narrow audience: people intent on "improving their lives"
in different ways, and MyPrimeTime directs its content accordingly.
She says this approach targets a specific "psychographic,"
rather than demographic. "When you approach it from a demographic,
the ages are so disparate," she says.
aside, 2-year-old ThirdAge.com spreads itself a little further,
including sections about family, romance, technology, travel
and more. But the segmentation and the intended boomer appeal
is evident. To attract men and women, ThirdAge offers elements
for both, to create a balance, says Shelly Porges, ThirdAge
Media's executive VP of marketing.
says the men gravitate toward news, finance, sports, politics
and the "speak out" section, an area where visitors can post
opinions on the topic of the day, which can range from mandatory
marriage counseling to politics. Women congregate on the family
and romance channels. Both genders are interested in travel,
which is another sweet spot for boomers, given their high
disposable income and interest in leisure activities. "Travel
is huge in this cohort," Porges says. That led to the recent
introduction of ThirdAge's travel channel.
approach appears to be working from a consumer standpoint.
Halamandaris says hits at MyPrimeTime are doubling weekly.
ThirdAge boasts an audience of 1 million, with 2 million visits
per month. Both sites plan to try to lure a larger crowd with
on- and offline ad campaigns.
the works, Porges says, is close cooperation between ThirdAge
and CBS. "We'll be working hard with CBS to leverage their
investment" in the areas of both news and entertainment, she
draws more visitors to sites and the sites, in turn, draw
more dollars. "When you have that very targeted focus, there
are more opportunities from advertising and commerce activities,"
says Forrester's Charron. That's an area where the smaller
sites even if well targeted will be at a disadvantage.
Advertisers want to hear about big numbers. "Until there's
precise targeting, there'll still be interest in amassing
a large audience," Jupiter's Slack says.
and ThirdAge are participating in extensive sponsorships and
plan to build their e-commerce efforts. "The year 2000 will
be a huge year for commerce," ThirdAge's Porges says.
baby boomers go, so goes the rest of the Web, one might say.
The countertrends seen as successful in this market increased
segmentation coupled with the "bigger is better" mentality
should work equally well for Web sites that draw from a
large demographic, whether it be women, men or young people.
to capture the boomer market, in particular, the key is to
keep the focus narrow and avoid that middle-age spread.
are a hot demographic for e-commerce. At ages 35 to 55 (although
some draw the line at 59), this group is wired and wealthy.
While boomers represent about 52 percent of the online population,
according to Media Metrix, they appear to be an untapped market.
Boomers with Internet access have household incomes of $75,000
and up, compared with incomes of $58,000 for Net users overall.
Yet today, they're not buying too much more than the rest
of the folks online, suggesting their business is ready to
surveyed the online purchasing habits of different age groups.
Here's what they buy.