I have spent most of my marketing career targeting a “mature” demographic (55+ would be on the young side, 65+ more the norm, and 75+ not out of the ordinary).
And hardly a week has gone by without someone lecturing me about the dangers of having an audience that is “too old.”
Some even went morbid reminding me that my best customers were close to the grave—meaning that we better go after a younger audience or die a painful death ourselves.
However, I always addressed this worry in a different way (and I still do):
“We don’t have to get younger…we just need to be ready for the new 50 year olds when they are ready for the kind of information we provide.”
In addition, when anyone warns marketers I work with today about their vulnerability because they are targeting seniors, I don’t dismiss them.
But I remind the critics that this audience has, in abundance, more of what we all want our potential customers to have:
Time and money.
And with the average life span of most Americans only getting longer, there are many more “young 75 year olds” than ever before. The reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.
However, I am not naïve either.
Many seniors are on fixed incomes and many are not as “spunky” in general as they get older which could make them less active buyers.
But then again, not everyone under 50 is super rich…and many people under 50 are less spunky in terms of their attention span.
Making sure your audience can afford what you are selling needs to be handled in list segmenting at any age; and grabbing their attention is still about great story and copy at any age too.
Despite being loyal to my senior audience (and respecting my elders), my defensiveness led to curiosity (and some research) into the other end of the demographic spectrum.
I became fascinated with “marketing to Millennials” since I knew so little about it.
With so many people telling me that I was missing the boat by not exploring this market further, I needed more info.
This group is defined on Wikipedia as:
Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
Both of my kids are part of this generation and I define it more simply:
“I will never hear from my kids if I don’t text them.”
E-mail is so 1999.
I learned that in general, Millennials (which have some similarities to “Generation X”) have less time to be engaged with long copy…and less money to buy stuff too.
Nothing too revolutionary there.
And I don’t have to give you any numbers regarding the ownership and use of smart phones by this generation…and clearly there is no turning back.
I always love reading how the best marketers (especially those targeting a younger audience) always focus on how their online promotions and designs will appear on mobile.
But every trend has a counter trend.
My direct marketing sensibilities always go to three basic questions:
1) “Who is buying?”
2) “How are they buying?”
3) “What do we need to know going forward to be as effective as possible with our marketing messages so they continue to buy in the future?”
My kids (and young adults like them) are buying something.
In my case they are mostly using MY credit cards.
And it might be the case that if marketers are not selling to them through a text message (or something equally short and sweet), good luck getting their attention.
But I will go out on a limb and repeat that there are some counter trends we should pay attention to.
Multi-channel marketing (i.e. looking at all media, online and offline) and multi-platform selling (i.e. the precise way we communicate with prospects) need to be looked at more closely going forward…as does the future messaging for this up-and-coming audience.
Simply put, 20 year olds today will be 50 year olds thirty years from now. Trust me. I did the math.
They might have more technological dexterity than the 50 year olds of today when they get there but I believe they will still be human beings with similar needs and emotions (i.e. some things do not change from generation to generation).
Again, I won’t argue the point that there is no turning back from smart phones and technology running our lives and the lives of the generations coming up behind me…but let’s never lose sight of the benefits of diversification and making sure we are ready to meet the Millennials where they will need to be met once they are all buying stuff with their own money.
Dare I say too that the “stuff” that we buy now… and “stuff” (maybe in a different form) that our parents and grandparents buy/bought as well…is also “stuff” those 20 year olds of today will eventually need too.
Believe it or not, every Millennial in their 20’s or 30’s today will someday (sooner than they think) need to think about estate planning, retirement savings, life insurance, college funding for their kids and yes, even their clogged arteries.
And if they look like us when they are 50, many will also be pre-diabetic and facing all of the aches and pains of aging.
Also (believe it or not), their mortality rate will be 100% just like every generation who came before them.
A smart phone does not reverse the aging process (as I indicated in my subject line).
Simply put, financial and health issues are only two universal subject areas that will have as much relevance in the future as they do today. There are many more.
The challenge for us as marketers will be to deliver information in a form that they are most comfortable receiving it.
It could be on the I-Phone of 2045…but I would suggest that we should keep an open mind on format and design…and still focus on the message and the content being the most compelling (and relevant) we can deliver (i.e. make copy a high priority).
The words and the information will still need to make our audience vibrate through personalization and relevance.
The words and the information must be useful, practical, and applicable and in language that is understandable by everyone.
How we deliver information in the most powerful way to a generation that is totally distracted is the ongoing adventure and inquiry.
A very successful entrepreneur and marketer I know shared with me a key insight after studying Millennials as a marketing target.
He changed his focus to be more about design over copy so his company is prepared for this generation going forward. I think that’s both smart and a little dangerous too.
Another respected marketer who has a younger audience talked about moving from 70% of his creative staff being copywriters and 30% being designers to the other way around—also forward thinking but I hope this drastic shift doesn’t compromise the quality of the copy.
When today’s Millennials come looking for the same, critically important information their parents needed when THEY reached 40 or 50, it will need to be packaged differently (“design”)…but it is still critical information they need…and it will NOT be delivered on just “one thing” or “one format” or “one smart phone,” or “one funnel.”
And the copy still has to speak to them powerfully.
I encourage you to both change with the times and look for counter trends at the same time.
Turning some of those counter trends into “diversification opportunities” could give you an unfair advantage differentiating content, promotion, products and marketing your brand into the future.
Keep an open mind. Don’t assume it all has to be delivered like everyone else is delivering it.
Here’s one: How can you creatively send physical mail or physical product to Millennials successfully?
You probably think I am crazy for saying that.
But I currently take every opportunity in any meeting when there are folks under 30 present to ask them if they know what a mailbox is, if they check their “snail mail” every day and would they open a personalized, hand addressed, lumpy package before running back to their computer to open up the next email — or to their phone to check what texts came in — during the walk to the end of the driveway to pick up that snail mail.
I know this is only anecdotal research but the response from “under 30’s” wanting more physical mail was 100% positive (or maybe they were trying to appease this “old school guy” in the room?).
I’m not sharing this example to give you an “or” regarding using physical communication over digital communication…just an “and.”
Regardless, it screams diversification if you can figure it out.
The bottom line is that we must be sure to meet today’s Millennials on platforms they can relate to…some will be obvious but some could be counter-intuitive…and it will be different today than it will be 30 years from now.
However we do it, though, compromising the quality of the content we deliver is a non-negotiable…wherever it ends up residing.
We all cringe way too often these days as lazy marketers go for the quick buck and replace proper list selection, well-crafted offers and innovative messaging with technological wizardry.
To that point, I read an article from someone who even went so far as to say that the “40/40/20 rule” is now a “25/25/25/25 rule.”
That is, instead of the success of any direct response marketing campaign, online or offline, depending 40% on the quality and relevance of the list, 40% on the offer being made to that list, and 20% on creative/copy, this marketer said those three things were 25% each to make room for “25% technology.”
I don’t want to diminish the importance of technology in the equation, but I will quote advertising pioneer Bill Bernbach here (as I did in my first book and I will in my second book too):
“Adapt your techniques to an idea, not an idea to your techniques.”
(More about the 40/40/20 rule in the P.S. below if you have not heard me on it before…)
I know I probably sound like a Luddite (and a broken record) but my gut tells me it’s still all about the right message going to the right audience with the right offer.
Your feedback and opinions are always welcome.
Oops…need to go…my daughter is texting me…
P.S. One of the most important voices to Millennials is my buddy Ramit Sethi…he’s teaching life skills to his audience that they never learned in school, about finance, running a business, marketing and even copywriting.
I was interviewed some time ago for his “Growth Lab” which advises his tribe about building an online business; and frankly, my message would have been the same if I was talking to an older audience rather than Ramit’s.
During the interview I was reminded about some “basics” myself…it’s a pretty quick read. I repeated some greatest hits including “40/40/20.”
I also have a short video on the topic which most of you have seen before.
P.P.S. And a friend who heard I was writing a post about marketing to Millennials, sent me this wonderful video (it’s short and fun…and catchy)!
I thought you would enjoy it.
Click here to watch it. Feel free to sing along.