Phoning It In: Boomers Go Mobile

Baby boomers are a funny bunch. Although they have pretty consistently swallowed whole each new iteration of technology — fax machines, VCRs, personal computers, cordless phones — their unbridled enthusiasm for the next new piece of technology has become, over the years, bridled. It is no longer certain that members of the post-World War II baby boom will hungrily devour every piece of next-generation technology. Now they pick and choose. The same generation that has taken to Facebook in numbers larger than the millennial generation that invented social media, is a lot slower on the uptake when it comes to making full use of their mobile devices.

One third of Americans are now over the age of 50. But boomers are not like previous generations of senior citizens. They are affluent (they spend 38. percent of CPG dollars); they are not resistant to technology; they are willing to try new products. Boomers carry and use mobile phones: more than 86 percent of boomers have a mobile device. More than one quarter of them even carry smartphones. They like being able to check in with family and friends, to be available to employers and employees. But the rate at which they have embraced other mobile technologies — the mobile Internet, apps, check-in services — has been leisurely.

According to a study conducted jointly by AARP and Microsoft, boomers have become what the report terms “sensible adopters.” They insist that technology fit itself to their lives, not the other way around. However, when study participants were presented with new technology that addressed specific needs, they were enthusiastic.

Even though they, arguably, invented the concept, boomers have become less concerned with “cool,” according to Joy Liuzzo, senior director at InsightExpress.

Even though they have their mobile phones in their pockets and purses, it has taken them a while to make use of many of the functions that younger demographics take for granted. Liuzzo said that InsightExpress has been tracking the age group for four years.

“At the beginning, very few folks were texting, very few using the mobile Interne,” she said. Those numbers, especially the number of boomers texting, have been steadily growing.

Baby boomers are also much less likely to make use of check-in services such as Foursquare or Twitter. According to Liuzzo, boomers are interested in a “value proposition.” Because of the sheer numbers of boomers, marketers have been trying to speak to them almost since the boomers could speak. Liuzzo said that as the generation has grown older, it has become more jaded about and inured to efforts to market to it. “Show me what’s in it for me,” she said. “If I am checking in, what am I going to get out of it?”

One area where boomers are giving their children and grandchildren a run for the mobile money is mobile games. Research shows that 40 percent of mobile phone gamers are between 35 and 54 years old. Another 16 percent are 55 or older.

Boomers often consume technology at the same rate as younger members of their families, but they do not have the same voracious appetite for the next new thing. Liuzzo says that marketers interested in reaching boomers should create content that will address their needs.

“Talk to them about wellness, managing family life, things that help their life; things that can inform them,” she said. “They won’t jump through six hoops to get the marketing message,” she said.

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