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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Understanding the Boomer Generation - Part 3

Author – Lisa Nelson (2003)

This Series, the third and last of three installments, is sourced from National Tour Association’s  (NTA) Current Assessment Report 2002 (CAR), and authored by Lisa Nelson, NTA Director of Research and Education. This is the final installment in a three-part series of articles by Lisa Nelson on the Baby Boomer market.  The first two installments dissected the two distinct cohorts found within this one generation - the trailing and leading edge Boomers, while this third and last of this series applies those differences to the development of marketing campaigns, and promotional materials aimed at the Boomer market.

In the first two installments, the Baby Boomer generation had been broken down into two sub-segments or cohorts, as they are often referred to in marketing circles.  These are the leading-edge Boomers and trailing-edge boomers.

With nearly 20-years differences in ages of the youngest and oldest Boomers, a successful marketing campaign cannot be aimed simply at "Boomers".  Boomers in their late thirties and early forties have very different attitudes, needs, and desires than those nearing retirement.  As you may recall in Part 2 of this series, the leading-edge Boomers were born between 1946 and 1954, thus are now in the age range of 49-57.  The trailing-edge Boomers, born between 1955 and 1965 are 38 to 48 years of age.

According to the July/August 2002 issue of American Demographics, Baby Boomers represent 42-percent of all households and control 50-percent of all consumer spending.  It is both helpful and cost-effective to break the group (totaling nearly 78 million people) down into these two cohorts when considering marketing campaigns.

American Demographics also identified the spending priorities of these two cohorts.  For the younger or trailing-edge Boomers, the priority is home and family.  The estimated annual spending power for this cohort is $1.1 trillion (U.S.) spread over 23.9 million households.  The average household income is $56,500 with each household spending $45,149 on average.  These Boomers are still fully entrenched in their child-rearing years, making home ownership and family the prevailing priorities.  However this group still devotes a large piece of their household budget to entertainment outside the home.  For instance, they spend 14-percent more than average on "fees and admissions", which includes everything from tennis and country club memberships to movies, and 100-percent more than average on "other vehicles" including motorcycles, boats and personal aircraft.

The older Boomer - the leading-edge Boomers, have children who are grown and are taking the opportunity to get away from it all.  This group's spending priority is vacations.  They spend on average, 23-percent more than do other households on hotels and vacation homes.  That is great news for the travel industry as this cohort makes up 21.9 million households with an average income of $58,889 and spending per household is at $46,160.  Averaging between 49 and 57 years of age, these Boomers are caught between the parenting and grandparenting years, and are focusing on that empty-nest stage - sprucing up their homes, their wardrobes, and their travel experiences.

With this being said, both groups of Boomers represent outstanding markets for the travel industry.  However, the message must be very different for each.  When targeting trailing-edge Boomers, the travel message should center on family.  Packages should be child-friendly and shorter.  While they are long on income and willing to spend, this group is short on time.  They're being pushed from every angle - commitments at work, commitments inside and outside the home.  They need a kid-friendly, relaxing family getaway.

The leading-edge Boomers are different.  Nearing retirement with grown children, they can now focus on themselves.  According to Mary Furlong, of Third Age Inc., these "older Boomers are eager to respond to brand messaging relevant to their lifestyle.  Not only do they want to spend time with their families (the average age for a new grandparent today is 47), they also want to take the opportunity to rekindle romance or old friendships."            

While 48-percent of leading-edge Boomers report traveling with family, 30-percent like to travel with friends.  Through vacations, those friendships from the past that might have diminished over the years due to commitments from work and family can now regain importance.

While marketing to the older Boomers, nostalgia can be utilized but not to the point of being patronizing.  While Boomers, particularly this cohort, are known to look back fondly on the past, they are also very educated - 62-percent of this cohort has college degrees.  They want to remember the past and keep their youthful zest alive, but not at the cost of their dignity.  Nostalgia can work but it cannot be contrived or insincere.

To reach any Boomer, whether the message is tailored to leading-edge or trailing-edge, the "typical" product must be reworked.  Adventurous, experiential, educational, cultural, flexible - all of these attributes must be taken into account.  The structure of a traditional group tour, as we have known it in the past, will not work.  This market wants "tours by me".  They want to be in control of where they go and what they do.
The NTA Research and Development Council's Current Assessment Report on the Baby Boomer Market, released in January 2002, details a number of new travel trends.  According to this report, the type of trip is often dictated by the cohort being targeted.  As previously mentioned, leading-edge Boomers who have grown children and are nearing retirement have more time on their hands to travel.  They are much more willing, and able, to commit to a trip that might be from seven to ten days long.  Whereas trailing-edge Boomers with young children and other commitments prefer the long weekend or Saturday-to-Saturday trip schedules.  Family travel can be appealing to both - either the nuclear family on a kid-friendly trip or the extended family that includes children, parents, and grandparents.

The marketing possibilities for the Baby Boomer generation are endless.  However, to best utilize the dollars spent marketing to this group, one must consider the cohort that best fits into the product being advertised or tailor the product to fit a particular lifestage.

There is a great deal of research on leading and trailing-edge Boomers on NTA Online and in other NTA developed publications.  If one researches and understands the differences that exist in this single market or generation, and tailors both the travel product and marketing messages accordingly, more success is sure to follow.