Talkin’ To My G-G-G-Generation

Before you talk to a target audience of 50-plus-year-old adults, you’d better relearn how to talk to them, MediaPost post advises.

“Knowing the preferred terms when talking about particular groups of people is important from both a human and marketing perspective. The wrong word or phrase can alienate your target audience overnight,” Kevin Williams, president of, told the online publication.

The reasons being that today’s adults over the age of 50 are different – different from people their age in previous generations and different from each other.

Adult consumers have always pictured themselves as 10-15 years younger than their actual age, and today, for adults over 50, that perception is backed by reality.

Baby Boomers’ “perceptions of themselves are very different from the previous generations,” says Long-Term Living magazine editor Pamela Tabar. “They don’t consider themselves old at 60.”
That’s largely because they aren’t, as a 1,114-respondent survey by Williams’s company demonstrates. In it, 55% of respondents aged 55 to 65 prefer to be called “active adults” or “55 plus.” About half disliked the terms “senior” and “boomer.”

While 75 may not quite be the new 45 yet, it is true that, unlike in previous decades, people who’ve reached “retirement age” aren’t frail, aren’t sitting around on their rocking chairs waiting to die, and, in many cases, aren’t even retired.

Different from each other – and from stereotypes
“The 49+ crowd are not all alike,” MediaPost points out.

They are more diverse than any other market segment, spanning those at the peak of their careers, to active, independent seniors, to the elderly in need of care. It really doesn’t matter what product or service is being marketed. Effectively approaching Baby Boomers and older customers demands knowledge of their values and purchase motivators and converting that knowledge into images and copy that connects with them.

That’s why it’s essential that your direct marketing talks to them as individuals

Watch your language
At the same time, though, it’s equally essential to avoid words and expressions that almost universally tick them off as a group:

  • Addressing them by first name in Direct Mail & emails– To Millennials, that’s a sign of friendliness, but to people raised in the 1940s and ’50s, that’s a sign of excess familiarity and disrespect. Better to call them Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. [last name] in person, and by first name only with permission. In Direct Mail and email, it’s also okay to address them behaviourally, as in “Dear Sports Fan” or “Dear Movie Lover.”
  • Any kind of “facility” sounds like an institution. The euphemism “community” sounds better, because while people hate being institutionalized, they like being part of a community.
  • “Retirement” or “successful aging” – Both are passé.
  • “Golden age” – “It gives the idea that the sun is going down and life is waning,” Tabar explains, while “at 65 there’s still plenty of life left.” In fact, at age 65, most people are just reaching the three-quarters mark.

Thinking in advance about what you say to the audience is even more important than watching how you say it. You need to consider their motivations and values, and assure the product or service you offer meets their lifestyle/living needs.

Design your Direct Mail piece with these suggestions in mind

  • Act their age, but don’t remind them of it. (Remember, adults all perceive themselves as younger.)
  • Depict them realistically. If you photograph models using your product, it’s better to use models in their 50’s or sometimes even late 40’s. But make sure they have at least some greying hair and wrinkles. And whatever you do, show them positively, actively and independently.
  • Build a factual sales argument. While all people make purchase decisions more on the basis of emotion than fact, over-50s still care more about substance than about self-proclaimed coolness or peer pressure.
  • Remember that they read. They’re willing to stick around and read what you have to say, so long as it’s something worth reading – in which event they’ll not only read your content, but appreciate the fact that you provided it.
  • Don’t try to con them. They’ve been around long enough, and exposed to more than enough hype, to have developed very good horse manure detectors.
  • Build trust. As noted above, they’ve seen it all and are understandably skeptical, so you’ll probably have to win their business more gradually.

Lets not forget, 20 years ago, paper based communication was heavily relied upon, so much so, people living in & around that time became so used to receiving mail, other marketing tools rarely got a look in. As a result, this generation is much more receptive to a piece of mail, and is likely to spend more time reading what you have to say, so why not give them something that speaks to them on a personal level.

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