November 29, 2011 — Marketers have been salivating about baby boomers since the time we started overwhelming kindergartens in 1951. Developers are still excited about our huge numbers (76 million); today they are are eager to supply us with real estate for our “golden years”. Yet, just as when we were in our teens a lot of companies couldn’t connect with us, many of the people trying to market to us today are hopelessly young, and they don’t always get what makes us tick either.
One constant is that baby boomers will never think of themselves as old. Our bodies might not look much like what they did when we got naked at Woodstock, but, attitudinally, we still tend to place ourselves in our late teens or 20’s. Keeping that in mind, here are the top things that baby boomers don’t want to hear as they think about retirement. Some are contradictory, but heh, who ever said we were predictable. See if you agree, and use the Comments section to give us your ideas about approaches that might appeal to you as a baby boomer.
1. You’ll love our Premier Senior or Retirement Community. It’s easy to see why 30 something marketers pitch their communities to “seniors” – to them anybody over 40 is pretty old. Although just about every new development has learned to avoid these charged names in their advertising, it is surprising how many communities still age themselves by using these terms. No self-respecting baby boomer thinks of himself as a senior, or could see herself in a “retirement community” – those are for old people! Thank goodness the terms “retirement home” and “old folks home” seem to have disappeared, replaced by the more acceptable ““Assisted Living”” or “Nursing Homes”.
The same goes for the no-no of speaking of “golden years”. First, it just sounds so old. And second, it’s ironic: so many baby boomers are financially insecure about retirement that their “gold” has been tarnished.
2. You will love all our activities. Amenities are the surest indicator of when a community was built, and how old the population is. When a website or brochure talks about shuffleboard, bingo, and card games – look out. Golf is in the middle and declining in popularity. Many people are crazy about it, some people can’t stand it, and still other folks are leary because maintaining the courses is expensive. Aerobics classes, pickle ball, and college classes are a lot more appealing to the boomer generation.
3. We’ve been around since 1965. Financial strength is a powerful benefit these days, no doubt. Communities that exhibit staying power are a lot safer than half-finished ones from builders without a strong track record. But the flip side is that the longer the community has been around, the older its population. A lot of baby boomers would prefer being around people their own age – or younger.
4. Great suburban location. Active adult communities take up a lot of land. Developers have tended to place them out in the sticks where real estate was cheap and plentiful. But increasingly, boomers are rejecting places that are strictly a place to live and are far from towns, shopping, and cultural venues. Master planned communities that integrate some of those features into a walkable town are often much more attractive to boomers. And so are urban apartment or town house complexes that keep boomers in the thick of things.
5. You will love our Florida location. Florida has an image problem. Although as we reported recently, it is still a popular place to retire, there are hordes of boomers who “hate” Florida. Although many of the haters have probably not spent much time there, developers in the Sunshine State need to do a better job of convincing people that their state is not just a hell on earth populated by outsize bugs, suffocating humidity, endless ticky tacky developments, and hordes of old people. There are places in Florida that defy the stereotype, and many that fulfill it have the virtues of great weather and cheap prices.
6. Enjoy these luxury homes with the championship golf courses. There is certainly an enormous segment of baby boomers who have significant financial resources who can afford luxury homes with expensive amenities. The high end should do well in the long term. But the majority of boomers haven’t saved enough to afford luxury. What they need is affordable – as long as these communities are pitched as offering value. Smaller homes, fewer but carefully chosen amenities, nice finishing touches – boomers might be able to afford these type of homes and not feel they are having to deprive themselves.
7. It’s a great investment for your kids. Wrong. Most boomers have always been in it for themselves. We didn’t save enough, we took out home equity loans, and we went for instant gratification. We spent a lot for our kids’ colleges and weddings – for most of us the younger generation is on its own.
8. We’ve got a wonderful Home Owners Association. Baby boomers are rebels, always have been. The idea of following lots of rules that someone else made up is the last thing a boomer wants. Even if they protect the common good, there are many boomers who will never live anywhere that a Home Owners Association is in charge.
9. We’re very affordably priced. As we discussed earlier, most boomers don’t have enough for a secure retirement. But we don’t want to be reminded of that. Shown that value exists and that self-image can be preserved, boomers will buy.
10. Our community is great for couples. Baby boomers have always had a high divorce rate and that will continue. At the current pace 400,000 couples a year over 50 will be getting a divorce in 2030. Communities that don’t try to create an environment that singles recognize as friendly will miss out on a lot of prospects.
The marketers that get it
Fortunately there a lot of savvy marketing people who understand what makes baby boomers tick. They start by calling themselves active adult communities, master planned communities, or other appealing terms. Most of the advertisers that we talk with get it. Lake Weir Living, for example, understands that there is a baby boomer segment who wants to retire with their “big toys”. On Top of The World is a well-established active adult community in Florida, but they have skillfully avoided anything that smacks of old in their marketing. Sun City Hilton Head, Solvita, and Valencia (Active adult paradise) all have figured out how to design communities that will attract skittish baby boomers to Florida. Even communities that are mostly targeted to World War II babies can find a way to avoid sounding like places for old people – notably Abby Delray and the Watermark at Logan Square.
What Can You Do With This Information?
You can a lot about a community by how it is marketed. Visiting a community, and preferably staying there for at least a few days, is an even better way to understand if the community is baby boomer friendly. Are the amenities what you are looking for – for example a first class exercise facility with indoor pool, plus plenty of walking and biking trails? If you choose to live in a town, can you walk or bike to shop or take part in activities? Do the people look and talk like folks you would like to hang with? And lastly, knowing that image is important for baby boomers, does the community look like the kind of place you would like to have friends and family visit you in?
For further reference:
Our inspiration for this article was a somewhat negative, but highly interesting article from SmartMoney.com. They took it in a different, more far-reaching direction – we aimed at baby boomers and retirement.
10 Things Baby Boomers Won’t Say
Comments: Please share your ideas about how boomers feel and what they want/don’t want below.