Bravo to Mary Furlong for pioneering the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit for the last 10 years. Advocating for big business and investors to not leave money on the table, she is a leading visionary voice bringing big money attention to us, the 50+ market. The summit is the place to be for big money to meet the innovators and thought leaders in providing services and products that have promise to improve our longevity and quality of life.
The tide is changing. A full onslaught of big money is not yet focusing on you and me, but it’s coming. Just in the last year, we’ve seen an increase in the number of reverse mortgage ads and retirement investment and planning offers still hawking the good life. The first push is always in the women’s beauty arena, so the shift to sell us some new wrinkle-erasing magic is nothing out of the ordinary anymore. We are already inundated with anti-aging messaging and promised fountains of youth in a jar, or tube. The guys have it easy—they get a pill with no side effects…unless it goes awry. As a generation, we are a mighty big market, and we are demanding innovative solutions to give us the best shot at outliving the odds and still loving being here, while we make a difference… again.
Mary’s intention is to bring the two together for mutual benefit, to build “an intelligent network of relationships to drive your Boomer business.” If you’ve got an enormous engaged platform or a beyond-the-box solution to whatever Boomers will need and want, then the Boomer Summit is the place to connect with those who hold the keys to our generation.
Although the event was held in a typical downtown conference site, Chicago’s Hyatt Regency, once I signed in and got my bearings, I felt like I was entering a trade secret marketplace in a land I hadn’t visited in quite some time. Everyone present was there to learn now to make money on Boomers or to show you how.
I’m all for combining making money with serving Boomers as long as it contributes to the Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, profits), upstream and downstream. Early in my career as a futurist, strategic marketer, and corporate intrapreneur, I became intoxicated with exploring the aging trends and their impact on the markets of tomorrow. So I’m an easy mark. I get off on hearing about all the edgy new technologies and services, and what works and what hasn’t and why. I am a faithful fan for life of this generation, especially its women. This convergence of money focused on our growing older is a fortuitous shift in attention just when we will need it the most.
I knew this was going to be an intense day as I reviewed the agenda of presentations, ranging from money, retirement, grandparenting, trends, tech, and media to the future of global and digital Boomer consumers, and of course, the latest on health and wellness. No way could I attend all the sessions, so I had to be very selective.
Marketing to the People, Not the Stereotype
For my first session, I was drawn to “Money, Retirement, and Grandparenting.” The topic brought me back to my roots in retirement services and marketing at Equitable/AXA. So I still like to do a reality check on the status of MetLife’s current research. The panel was impressive, with Deborah Jacobs, Senior Editor of Forbes Media, moderating Mark Miller, journalist, and Sandra Timmermann, VP and Director of MetLife Mature Market Institute, which produces groundbreaking studies, provides education, and funds innovative ventures to share the implications of this research for business and marketers. Sandra was the real draw for me.
She had a lot to share, too many stats to record. The bottom line was good news: Contrary to the exhortations of media pundits that there’s enormous discord between the generations, she reports that “It’s all in the family,” meaning that the generational war is not found in their studies. It seems to be all hype. Boomers, the media-labeled “Me Generation,” has grown up, choosing “purposeful giving” over frivolous spending. Boomers seek memorable family vacations, quality everyday time together, and being family wisdom anchors. No surprise to most of us, Boomers want to enjoy the rest of their probable 40+ years with friends and family, on special interests, making a difference, and focusing on health, rather than leaving money on the inheritance table.
Then we were all swept into the main ballroom for the keynote plenary, which would be followed by the luncheon, with each table hosted by a blogger, author, or journalist. As a table host, I asked my tablemates about why they came and what they had gotten as takeaways thus far. We chatted and passed around biz cards, fostering new connections, until Gail Sheehy, author of Passages and Passages in Caregiving, introduced Mary Furlong, fearless founder of the day’s event, and Jody Holtzman, Senior VP, Thought Leadership, AARP.
Gail spoke about how writing Passages in her 30s limited her scope to an age range that stopped at 50. Now she realizes, of course, that there are more passages after 50 than we ever could have imagined. She suggested there are perhaps double the number of passages. Each of us post-50 women and men has another 30–40 years to go. Some of us living today will celebrate 105!
Gail went on to describe what gerontologists and developmental psychologists like Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, Beatrice Neugarten, and so many others before us have noted, that mid-50s equals the middle of our midlife transition. I’ve always suggested that there are actually three major stages in the midlife transition, early, mid, and later. Some folks will experience a biggie in their mid-30s or around 45, while others go through all three combined as they leave midlife in their later 60s.
I loved Gail’s metaphor of the lobster shedding its shell so that it can grow larger still as an alternative to the metamorphosis of the butterfly from the chrysalis. This works great for my model of Visionaries Have Wrinkles and creating aspirational ageless futures. She repeated the now familiar stats that are driving us all in the field to scale up and meet the needs of Boomers suddenly starting over.
Next up was Jody Holtzman, who blew my fuses by confirming with hard facts what I and others have presumed for years. Although I’ve heard our times described as “The Longevity Economy,” I really appreciated his explanation that it depicts the upside of longevity and aging. After his yearlong study, he believes the conversation around longevity has shifted. With 100 million people 50+, why leave hundreds of billions of dollars on the table by disregarding this demographic shift? No one can afford to walk away from this opportunity. Entrepreneurs have various marketing strategies available to penetrate the 50+ market. For example:
- Universally designed products good for all ages, including 50+, such as Apple’s iPad, iPhone, Macbook Air; Facebook, which is rapidly gaining acceptance by women 55+; and Wizard101 games, created for kids but now marketed to grandparents too.
- Age-targeted products and services, designed with functionality in mind for 50+, that end up crossing demographic lines. BMW X5, for example, is designed ergonomically and marketed to men 50+, but the advertising messaging is in 30+ lingo. NCIS is CBS’s most profitable show because over 50 can watch it on TV and the under 50 can stream it onto their devices.
- Products and services with a universal design morphed for specific age targets, such as cereals that are good for everyone but now appeal to health-conscious Boomers, dating sites (a proven success) aimed at Boomers, Ferraris redesigned to be easier to get in and out of, and Harley Davidson’s three-wheel motorcycle for hip older adults.
Jody had fabulous slides filled with tables of numbers no one could possibly decipher in his short presentation, but he was able to capsulize them down to three broad categories on how to judge the viability of products and services: 1) utility, 2) maturity of the market, and 3) consumer appeal, particularly combining functionality and hip styling.
What isn’t news, of course, is that to Boomers, age and decline don’t sell. Yet in my post-graduate gerontology program of the early ‘90s, disease and decline were center stage. We continue to see terms like “senior” used to refer to populations who will never see themselves that way, not to mention discussions about our aging population as if we are the “other” that those in the “we” need to deal with. In the media addressing how this larger demographic will affect housing, jobs, and other issues into the mid-21st century, we are left out of the conversation when we would all be far better served by including “us” in the “we,” all working together to make our communities more effective for all generations.
So the big aha for AARP is that they are putting a great deal of new emphasis on startups and innovators. Jody added that the really new innovation is that AARP will allow its members to be a focus group of sorts for new innovations to be piloted and field tested or reviewed by its members. This real-time market feedback will enable new products and services to be tweaked quickly and brought to market sooner, with more probability of success. AARP has newly put its clout and research resources behind venture capitalists.
With the 50+ market spending over $3 trillion a year, the market is ripe for creative reimagination, but this challenge is not being met effectively. All of us should be asking the advertisers, marketers, and venture capitalists, What’s your new 50+ strategy?
Next up was Myrna Blyth, an award-winning editor, Founder of More magazine, inheritor of Mary’s Third Age, and recently named AARP SVP and Editorial Director. Professionals in the field and members like me are thrilled she’s setting the new tone by taking up our positive aging meme, that of “life reimagined” by blending passion and purpose in a new wave of entrepreneurship that “may be the sweet spot for a generation that reinvents aging.”
Before we exited to the afternoon sessions, Mary Furlong shared what she’s learned over the last 10 years about what’s next. She left us laughing and not quite sure if she was serious when she shared that after she started Seniornet, then Third Age, and now Boomer Summit, her husband recently said it’s now time to turn “what’s next” into “that’s it!” 🙂
Owning Our Bodies, Our Businesses
For the afternoon, I headed to a panel that was right up my alley: “Engaging the Younger Boomer Consumer: At Her Stage of Life, She’s a Long way from Old.” Steve Reily, founder of Vibrant Nation, moderated, which struck me as an unusual choice—a young Boomer male leading a panel about younger Boomer women (ages 47–51). The panelists focused on case studies that revealed how to engage this shopper based on her life stage more than her age, going beyond stereotypes of what it means to be a woman 47+.
The best of the case studies was presented by Elizabeth Metz, Brand Director for Kimberly-Clark Corporation. She described the problems they had with their Depends product, which was not exactly a winner with Boomers at any age, men or women. Depends and incontinence meant you were old, with one foot in the grave. She cracked me up when she shared consumers’ description of walking down the grocery or drugstore aisle to get their Depends as walking down the “aisle of death”! Clearly Metz and her team had to reinvent the brand from being a grown-up diaper to cool real-fitting underwear. The branding team had a big aha breakthrough in recruiting celebs, like Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboy stars and Days of Our Lives actress Lisa Reynolds, to be spokespeople for the new product and to carry the conversation forward.
Jerry Bowden, Deputy General Manager for Edelman Media’s Chicago Health Division, is the brand strategist assigned to Pfizer. I was looking forward to hearing him speak about his work with Pfizer since I’ve been tracking their launch of GetOld.com, which they kicked off last June with a press release entitled “Have Americans reached a new era of optimism about aging?”
Over the years, Jerry had specialized in serving pharma, and Pfizer was one of his key clients on women’s health care, including breast care, endocrine systems, and menopause. Edelman, on behalf of Pfizer, determined that it would be beneficial to do a study with Healthywomen.org to discover what knowledge and attitudes women have that may be negatively affecting their sex lives. Now why would they want to do such a study?
I chuckled, thinking that Jerry was going to tell us that they came up with an equivalent of Viagra or Cialis for women. Oh wow, think again! Edelman and Pfizer wanted to respond specifically to an issue for younger Boomer women, age 47+, and I wondered if this would be a new product for us peri- and menopausal women. (Women on average enter menopause at age 51.)
The issue? In Jerry’s words, “female painful sexual dysfunction” and the “vaginal dryness” symptomology associated with this dysfunction. I started to feel hot flashes all right, and I’ve been in menopause since I was 42, so they weren’t caused by hormonal shifts.
It wasn’t the findings that threw me off (although they are extremely disturbing). It was hearing about this from a middle-aged man, a pharma marketer, who spoke about this deeply personal women’s issue, framed as a dysfunction for men to solve.
The subtext of these invaluable findings suggests that something is terribly wrong. We aren’t talking to each other, woman to woman. We aren’t framing this issue in a way that matters to us and that gives us agency in addressing it. History has proven that when we women stop talking to each other about what matters, we lose ownership of our own health. Then our voices truly do go silent.
Having been an affinity marketer for financial services in a much earlier career incarnation, I can truly appreciate that Steve and Jerry are brilliant brand marketers. Each has successfully built and leveraged Boomer women affinity groups with serious client relationship both on the online platform side as well as on the advertiser and marketer end of the equation. This is clearly a win-win strategic partnership business model for marketing and selling to Boomer women. Both case studies demonstrate how invaluable it is to team up with women’s organizations whose platforms then become a rich research base for easier real-time data access, as well as a potential goldmine for new innovation, upsells and cross sales, and exponential expansion of distribution opportunities. There was much to learn and value in what they offered for those of us who serve the Boomer market, but the real lessons for me and for the future of women of all ages lay in the implications, which I’m still sitting with.
A Family Affair
The last session I attended was “The Grandparent Economy,” moderated by Amy Goyer, Family Expert at AARP. I was looking forward to hearing Lori Bitter, President of The Business of Aging and Publisher of Grand magazine, talk about the shift to and growth of spending by grandparents across every product category, and a shift in what grandparents plan to leave as a legacy.
Instantly, Amy got the attention of all the grandparents in the room by sharing that there are 60–70 million today and that the average age of first-time grandparents has downshifted to 47–48! Boomers are again redefining roles as they move from parenting to grandparenting, with a focus on improving the quality of life for their grandkids and adult kids while preserving their own. One stat in particular is amazing, harkening back to first- and second-generation immigrant families living under one roof or in tightknit enclaves: Two out of every ten grandparents live in multigenerational households.
Panelist Robert Stephen, VP of Home and Family Portfolio, AARP, told us that grandparents are spending 75% of their monies to contribute to necessities and 25% for medical or health insurance coverage for their kids and grandkids. He also compared AARP’s grandparent membership with Facebook’s 30 million, thus encouraging us to pay attention to the “Grandparent Economy.”
From Lori, we were in for another peek into the near future based on her Grand readership of 4 million (and growing), with 67% (2.4 million) being grandparents. Approximately 40% of Boomers overall are grandparents. Her compelling numbers reveal a fundamental sea change occurring in the role and position of grandparents from solely authority figures to trusted caretakers, conspirators/pals, and key supporters for both adult kids and grandkids alike.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that the youngest ex-hippie grandparents are highly educated, still working, and culturally diverse. I am glad that my husband and I don’t fit into the Boomer “helicopter parenting” stereotype. Lori asked what I’ve often wondered myself: What impact will Boomer helicopter parents, as newly minted grandparents, have on their Gen X and Echoboomer children as they become parents, especially new mothers and daughters-in-law? Caught between generational parenting models, I’ve escaped becoming a shrewish interfering helicopter grandmother. But as with the majority of Boomer grandparents, the legacy my husband and I are most consumed by isn’t the money transfer but rather helping our kids and grandkids get ahead by passing along our values, connections (especially family ties), education, and wisdom earned from experience.
By the end of the day, I could definitely say that Mary’s Boomer Business Summit packed a wallop, fulfilling her promise that we discover how others are developing, funding, and scaling businesses for the Boomer market. For sure this was a day to forge new intelligent relationships and ignite strategic partnerships. The only downside was the one-day format, which was way too short for me to cover all the sessions realistically. There were several more I would have loved to report back on, such as the technologies Boomers and those who market to them are using, the regulatory changes that will drive new business opportunities, and the future of home, work, and play for the Boomer generation.
I certainly hope that “What’s Next” is another, perhaps longer summit in the future, because one thing was clear as this one ended—for Boomers and those who serve them, this is only the beginning.