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Marketers and the media seem to have a certain bias for demographics and lifestage as ways to segment consumers. There is good reason for this as different cultural, economic and age-specific events will influence a person's behavior and how they purchase products. Lifestage, however, doesn't tell the whole story. Lifestage is just what it sounds like: a time period in a person's life. The way a person lives his or her life, now that is the rest of the story.
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There is, perhaps, no more pervasive lifestyle in our contemporary marketplace than the desire among Baby Boomers (consumers born between 1946 and 1964) to lead active, healthy lives. The pursuit of healthy living is hardly unique to Boomers. The fact is that most every consumer is involved with some form of health and wellness. Three out of four (76%) consumers are doing things to lower their health risks and prevent disease (Source: Wellness Lifestyle Insights, 2005. The Hartman Group, Inc.) Boomer consumers, however, are not to be ignored: There are about 77 million boomers (the largest single generation surpassing children) in the U.S. today accounting for approximately $2 trillion in marketplace spending clout (Source: Brandweek, March 2006.).
As Boomers turn 60 this year, it is important for marketers to understand that these consumers do not subscribe to a single type of lifestyle. They move in and out of various lifestyles depending upon the occasion (habit, celebration, convenience). Most consumer participation in the health and wellness arena reflects a pragmatic, piecemeal approach, integrating products and services in some sectors of their lives and not others. Boomer-consumers tend to pick and choose what makes sense for them based on their individual filters, experiences and lifestyles.
Boomers are creating a way of living. While this aging population has a broad array of products from which they choose items that best fit their individual needs, they are also looking for more from companies than just the product or service they are buying. They want the experience of the purchase to satisfy mental, emotional and spiritual needs as well. In this sense, aging consumers are branding themselves by creating a way of living. They don't stick to precise industry product categories, but customize personalized regimes from many categories that make them feel empowered.
Lifestyle Traits that Influence Purchasing
There is an important historic component to this generation of aging consumers. The spirit is as strong today as yesterday for consumers in their 50s and 60s. This is the generation of movers and shakers that not only have witnessed all of the dramatic changes of the last 50 years but were the visionaries, innovators and inventors that gave us the personal computer, mobile communications and the World Wide Web, as well as brought social consciousness to the mainstream. Their "mindset" is informed by having matured in the context of social upheaval, consumerism and the rise of mass marketing and the expansion of communication forms like television, radio and telephones.
While many are "set in their ways" they are also willing to try new things. Their willingness to do so is highly correlated to a specific health condition or "potential" behavior that they have monitored for long periods of time (years) through various media. At some critical juncture (doctor, confluence of headlines, friend's urging) they decide to take action and will, for example, try Tai Chi, go to the health club, cycle off of white flour, try herbal tea, etc. As all of this indicates, aging consumers do not transition rapidly into new behaviors or products, unless triggered by a serious condition.
Lifestyle Trends Affecting Boomers
Aging consumers are not done living. Boomers are now busy redefining how beyond 60 is to be lived and how to get more out of life. The following table shows seven trends affecting today's Boomers with direct implications for shopping and purchase decision-making.
|TREND||TREND CHARACTERISTICS||IMPLICATIONS & OPPORTUNITIES|
|"Balance" will deepen as a dominant health and wellness ideology.|
|A declining reliance on external sources of "Authority."|
|Seeking symbolic and practical expressions of "Simplicity."|
|"Vitality" will increase in importance as a measure of overall health and wellness.|
|"Mobility" will continue to be in demand for all eating occasions.|
|"Authenticity" will be the deciding factor to gauge the value of products and experiences.|
|Take back "Control" of diets and daily food intake.|
Boomers tend to focus on certain values related to consumption depending upon the situation or occasion. To understand and effectively market products and services to today's aging population marketers must understand how they LIVE, SHOP and USE products in the contexts of their cultural lifestyles.
Consumers' behavior and purchase decisions are shifting to reflect what they feel is most important, what products and services they put a value on and what they are most willing to pay for, invest in and, consequently, alter lifestyle behavior patterns short- and long-term.
People are always on the lookout for ways to better themselves or improve their situation. The shift toward healthy living is driven by a deep cultural longing to find a more "soulful" way of living. To keep pace with aging consumers, marketers would be well advised to focus their attention and energies more on understanding the forces that are changing and moving aging consumers and less on monitoring and anticipating competitors' activities.