From the June 2008 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

Advertise with impact

There has been much ink spilled over the last half century, much of it in breathless hyperbole, about the baby boomer generation and its impact on society, culture, politics, media, economics, consumerism, vanity, debt accumulation, plastic surgery and marketing.

People have tried to find the pulse of a 78-million-person-strong cohort. It is a grueling task much like explaining to a 5-year-old why the sky is blue and it's because baby boomers do not comprise a homogenous demographic set. Some were born before Elvis ever performed his first hip thrust, while some never had the chance to be kissed by Ike on the campaign trail and still others were ankle-biters -- some not even born -- when President Kennedy was assassinated.

With all of the different age sets within one umbrella generation, and all of the avenues available to reach them, how is a financial advisor supposed to know where to start? Since boomers are the last generation of readers, traditional print media offer a solid marketing opportunity. But boomers also spend a lot of time online, searching for health and financial information. Plus, there has been a recent proliferation of Web sites aimed at boomers, social networking sites where they may not accumulate thousands of "friends," but where they can actually find some useful information. So online is a good idea, too.

Online, print, radio, television, direct mail -- all of these can work depending on an advisor's budget, experience, desired audience, desired geographic reach and more. That is something to be worked out as part of an overall plan. But no matter where advisors seek boomers out, no matter the medium, they have to know what to say and how to say it. If the message isn't right, they won't come. Advisors need to deep-six the word "retirement," put boomers in control and remain positive.

Ditch the r-word

Many r-words are going to appeal to boomers: reinvent, refocus, revitalize, re-engage. One will not: retire. Retirement seems to conjure up images of front-porch swings, patterned shorts combined with dark dress socks and pasty-white legs, and winters in Fort Meyers or Brownsville. That's not what boomers see for themselves.

Research from The Boomer Project ( in Richmond, Va., shows half of boomers don't plan to retire. And it's not just because they don't have enough money; Fifty-three percent said they aren't going to retire because they like to work. So whether they recommit themselves to their life-long career, reinvent themselves in another career or revive their spirit by opening their own business, a majority of boomers are going to keep on keeping on.

"When we see two-thirds of the ads aimed at retirement, we shake our heads," says John Martin, CEO of The Boomer Project. "It's a turnoff to half of the group."

If retirement used to indicate the end of something, then the message advisors should be looking for needs to say something about the beginning of something else. Martin, author of The Boomer Consumer points to Lincoln Financial's advertising phrase, "Hello future," as an example of a message boomers will grasp. Ameriprise has Dennis Hopper talking about a Dream Book to plan the future. Other companies have started asking "What's next?" All of those appeal to boomers' desire to do more.

"Reinvention is a core message," says Brent Green, president of Denver-based Brent Green & Associates Inc. ( and author of the book, Marketing to Leading Edge Baby Boomers. "Think of boomers as people who are looking to reinvent themselves."

But don't try to mandate or even guess what that reinvention will be, as that will go against something else boomers tend to value: control. The director's chair

The genius of the Lincoln Financial and Ameriprise concepts is that they have seized on the whole idea of leaving boomers in control of their future. They can map the future as they see it, without worrying about investments, returns and payout schedules -- that all comes later.

Advisors need to make clear in any sort of promotion that the clients are in control. Martin says that's where financial professionals have to start. Begin the conversation with where clients are, where their family is, where they want to go.

"You have to ask questions that show you understand they are in control," Green says, backing up Martin's assessment. Doing so not only engenders trust, but plays to boomers' anti-authoritarian sentiments.

There is a fine line here: Boomers want to feel like they are in control, but they also know they need help; they're looking for a financial partner, not a financial boss. Financial services giant UBS recognizes this with its ads that proclaim, "You & us. UBS." The 'you' is first, and boomers like that. It puts them in the primary position.

Boomers want to know the answers to a couple of questions, according to Green: Do you see the world through my eyes, and do you recognize my dreams, wants and needs? Clever advertising can answer those questions in the affirmative. It should show that the advisor "can help them have the freedom and control to do what they want to do," Martin says.

Accentuate the positive

Aside from the occasional hearts-and-flowers story, the news seems to indicate the world is trekking to a hot place on railroad implements, but boomers still possess great optimism for the future -- or at least their own future. Martin says it's ingrained, and he points to research that says older brains gravitate toward the positive. Advisors need to appeal to that trait and not try to forcefully convince boomers they don't have enough money -- even if they really don't.

"Fear puts them on the defensive," Martin says. "It goes against the grain of optimism. Boomers have a deep-seated feeling the future will be better. Scaring them will cause you to lose your standing as a trusted advisor."

Boomer-targeted advertising has to stay positive, upbeat. It needs to mirror their optimism and play to their vitality. Green says 38 percent of boomers put staying vital at the forefront of their goals. They want to stay healthy and get the most out of life. Television commercials from financial services companies don't show boomers golfing anymore. Boomers are skydiving, scuba diving, riding horses on the beach, driving race cars, playing guitar in rock bands and sailing boats they presumably own.

Their positivity sometimes flies in the face of realities on the ground -- like the countless studies that show retirement savings in serious deficit -- but that is because of what they've accomplished as a group, whether as movement leaders or foot soldiers. They think the future can be shaped to their benefit.

"Through hard work we changed things to what we wanted," Martin says. "We created a lot of societal advances for the better."

Boomers firmly believe they aren't done changing things, and they want to work with financial professionals who believe the same thing and can help them on their quest.

Yes, it's foolish to generalize about 78 million people. Not every boomer took part in the political and cultural upheaval of the 1960s and '70s or the business and technological boom of the '80s and '90s. However, there are themes that cut across all of the demographics in the boomer generation. Advisors need to stick to positive messages and images, give clients the power to remain in control, and ixnay talk of etirement-ray. A nicely weighted combination of those will allow advisors to, in the words of Green, "match services and products to the values that are most important and ascendant in the minds of those we are marketing to."

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