Baby Boomers have been hailed as rule breakers, trend setters and big spenders, as well as some other, often unflattering characterizations. When targeting products or campaigns toward Boomers, marketers have tended to view this generation as a single monolithic group with lockstep needs and purchasing patterns.
They have often failed to understand this generation's reputation as individualists. At best, marketers acknowledged the sweeping 19 year age span by splitting the segment into halves and addressing older, "leading edge," Boomers, which are those born between 1946 and 1957, and younger, "trailing edge," Boomers, those born between 1958 and 1964.
The observed differences in purchasing behavior between these two groups are attributed to underlying shared social, political and cultural touch points. But Boomers across ages have made different lifestyle choices that significantly impact their buying tendencies. No shared cultural milieu resonates with all Boomers, according to Doug Anderson of ACNielsen Homescan & Spectra and Laurel Kennedy, author of, "Age Lessons."
These two marketing experts contend that, "household composition," is a more accurate method for measuring the buying tendencies of inter-generational variations among Boomers. Under this method, the overriding factor dictating Boomer subsegments proves to be the presence of children in the home.
A detailed Nielsen Homescan & Spectra analysis of Boomer households reveals eight distinct segments that cluster into two broad groups. The first four of these Boomer segments are those with children under 18, and it represents 39.7 percent of the whole, while the four segments without children represent 60.3 percent of Boomer households.
Four of the groups, according to the analysts, are aligned as follows, with both the late and early Boomer age groups:
- Trailing Edge Families: These comprise larger, stable households of four or more persons with a tendency toward younger children. They are the least educated of any Boomer group and the segment with the highest concentration of Hispanics.
- Leading Edge Families: These have at least one adult child for every four children under age 18. They fall into the lower tier of academic accomplishment, compared to other Boomers. After trailing edge families, these leading edge families are the most Hispanic dominant among Boomers, and far and away the most married.
- Trailing Edge Couples: They represent the highest rate of unmarried partners living together among Boomers. They are less educated, and have fewer Hispanic and African American members.
- Leading Edge Couples: These are among the top three best educated Boomer segments. They are more single and less ethnically diverse than other Boomer groups.
The researchers found the four remaining groups particularly interesting in that their heads of households aren't linked to any age, but span the entire Baby Boomer generation.
- Late Blooming Boomers: These members have smaller, younger families, comprising one to two children under the age of 12. They either made the choice to start families later in life or are the byproduct of divorce. A single parent heads fully one third of late blooming households. This group has a higher proportion of African American and Asian members, but a lower than average proportion of Hispanic members.
- Ready To Launch: This group splits roughly in half between couples with one child and single parents with one or two children who are skewing toward their late teens. The segment contains the lowest proportion of Hispanics and the highest proportion of African Americans among Boomers
- Single Boomers: Some 41 percent of single boomers never opted for marriage and established single households. This group matches late bloomers as the most educated segment.
- New Family Frontiers: This group is characterized by containing three or more adults who share a household. They are among the highest earning households, and second only to leading edge couples on the savings front.
Looking at household composition, the researchers argue, provides a more accurate method for tailoring campaigns to Boomers, based on wealth, education, ethnicity, household makeup, and a myriad of other characteristics. Understanding the subtle nuances among Boomers can spell the difference between a successful marketing campaign and a complete misfire.
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