In 2006, companies across the United States spent billions and billions of dollars on advertising of products and services. The investment services companies were right in there, spending billions on advertising that tells consumers how to manage their money in advance of their retirement years.

You see advertisements filling magazine pages with announcements of product innovations such as the latest in annuity guaranteed minimum death and income benefits.

The result is clutter in the retirement industry space, and it ends up sounding more like white noise than real advice.

Still, the fact remains that baby boomers are retiring. And at an estimated 78.2 million (Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program, 2005), boomers are the largest, most watched and perhaps most controversial generation to come of age in the era of media.

This is uncharted territory. But it’s also the ideal time for the retirement industry to start a meaningful dialogue with boomers. So much money is being spent on telling boomers what they need instead of listening to what they want that many boomers end up without any real answers to their retirement questions.

Baby boomers have changed the national conversation at every stage of their lives. Now, as they enter retirement, they are making their own rules. That is why it is the charge of companies in the retirement space to start listening to what people in this group are saying about what they need to help them plan for their futures.

Boomers are still worried about financing their retirements, according to an August 2007 survey by the Lincoln Retirement Institute. Their concerns range from ensuring they have enough saved for lifetime income to protecting against retirement challenges such as long term care needs and the eroding effects of inflation. Subsequent focus groups uncovered more details about boomers.

The combined results indicate that boomers react positively to messages of increased accountability and responsibility for their own destinies. This internalization stands in stark contrast to conventional retirement advertising, which tends to focus on anonymous retired couples enjoying high-end retirement “moments” that may not be ideal or even attainable for many boomers.

Additionally, boomers are not only concerned about making it to retirement, according to the research. They also want techniques that will help them save, invest and spend assets while they transition through the many stages of later life. This means being prepared for unforeseen challenges coming their way–and for the big events they know they’ll encounter at some point.

Another finding is that for boomers, retirement success is not determined purely by having a specific dollar amount in the bank. It is measured more by the lifestyle a retiree is able to enjoy.

How can retirement firms best respond to these concerns? Move the issues of retirement saving and planning from an idealized, generic idea to a highly personalized one. That is, engage boomers in true conversation about their own retirement.

Where advertising outreach is concerned, for instance, it is more realistic to focus on the aspects of life that happen to everyone–such as birth of a child or illness of a loved one–than on random idealized moments. It is during these times when boomers truly expect their financial situations to provide strength and stability.

For instance, 92% of the surveyed boomers say that a specific catalyst or “trigger” event served as the motivation for them to start retirement planning in earnest. Of the 92%, almost one-third say the death or serious illness of a loved one made them think more carefully about the importance of saving for the future. Other catalysts include the birth of a child or grandchild (12%), children moving out of the house (15%), changing jobs (11%), and the reality of aging (14%).

A conceptual awakening in marketing should act as a springboard to transform the current conversations around aging and finances. Financial service providers have the responsibility to create messages that help address the financial challenges of retirement, and provide boomers and retirees with the confidence to successfully find their way.

This shifting of the conversation from saving for retirement to navigating through retirement will make for a more personal connection with baby boomers. It should help spur boomers to look within themselves to discover their own retirement destinies. Ultimately, no one knows what each boomer wants for a financial future better than the boomers themselves.

Priscilla S. Brown, is chief brand officer with Lincoln Financial Group, Philadelphia, Pa. Harry A. Horn, CLU, ChFC, is a financial planner with Lincoln Financial Advisors, Baltimore, Md. Their respective e-mail addresses are: and Harry.Horn@lfg.com.