Designing a Digital Experience for the 50-plus Generation | Straight Talk


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Now is the time to recalibrate your digital marketing mix for baby boomers.

By Gaurav Bhatia, Vice President, Digital Strategy, AARP Services

We hear time and again that millennials are the most digitally savvy generation. And yes, members of this generation are typically the first to embrace technology. But baby boomers are incredibly active on digital and social media, too.

Take our members, all 50 years of age or older. Most embrace technology and are at ease with digital channels. And they are a powerful demographic with influence—boomers spend over $2 trillion annually and control 70 percent of the disposable income in the US. Furthermore, the 50-plus population is projected to grow 34 percent by 2030, compared with 12% growth for people in the 18 to 49 age group.

How to Connect with Boomers

At AARP, we recognize potential of this demographic. The organization, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, is an advocacy group for the 50-plus age group, which currently comprises mostly baby boomers.

With more than 37 million members, more than 1.7 million likes on Facebook, and 46,000 subscribers on YouTube, AARP knows a thing or two about boomers’ digital consumption patterns.

AARP Services is a for-profit subsidiary of AARP that researches the preferences of the 50-plus demographic. Then, in conjunction with our partner companies, we develop, manage, and market products ranging from health insurance to financial services, offerings involving everything from travel to travel to lifestyle to shopping.

Building digital connections with people over 50 clearly represents a great opportunity. But there are nuances to how the boomer generation consumes content and engages via digital channels. Their preferences are not the same as millennials. Digital marketers need to understand these differences in order to deliver an exceptional omni-channel experience to this distinct demographic.

If you think you can engage boomers by talking about retirement, medicines, and Sunday strolls through the park, think again. They don’t want to be told that they are old. Furthermore, contrary to popular perception, they are not shying away from luxuries, and they have money and time to spend on shopping, traveling, entertaining, and socializing.

As for channels, don’t assume that boomers only consume content on laptops or desktop computers. The majority of them use the latest smartphones and tablets and are highly engaged on social media, so you need to expand your mobile and social strategy beyond younger demographics.

Boomers are very active on social media like Facebook and YouTube, less so on Instagram or Snapchat. Other characteristics: They are willing to read long copy as long as the interface is friendly and the font size is easy-to-read. They look for connections with brands and can be extremely loyal. But they don’t respond to a pushy sales strategy.

Clearly, there is a paradigm shift around what it means to age and how to design marketing strategies for boomers. These consumers were born in the age of consumerism and they are not diminished or disabled by age. It makes tremendous sense for digital marketers to harness their buying potential.

Our Digital Makeover

AARP is not a newcomer to digital media; we launched our online newsletter, website, email marketing, and social media several years back. But we have recently optimized the user experience and integrated various channels that have mostly worked in silos.

We began by evaluating all our current digital channels, which include email, YouTube, and Facebook, in terms of user experience, technology, data platform, and infrastructure. Next, we looked at where digital would fit best in the member journey and how to manage members’ digital interactions with our brand. We realized that we had a complex mix of technologies and experiences. Each one of them was created to cater to a particular requirement at some point in time but was difficult to manage or scale later. 

So, we decided to sync and optimize all our channels in order to create a future-ready platform. For instance, when we send a product promotion and discount to a member by direct mail, we follow it up with an email, a social media alert, or a mobile push notification. If we see the member is researching that product, reading reviews, or comparison-shopping online, we will remind him or her about the AARP savings they get and guide them to the offer. In addition, we have mobile-optimized the experience to provide quick and convenient access to member benefits on the go.

At our AARP Advantages website, we identify users’ personal preferences to customize their experience, depending on which benefits a particular member cares about the most. We use their location and profile information to identify their nearest provider stores and offices and make the right offers to them.

Besides optimizing the digital experience, we have optimized all our channels and points of contact with our members into a single marketing machine. Data is now captured across channels to give us a holistic view of the entire campaign, and we can track the sequence of events triggered by our marketing efforts. For example, if we send an offer via email or Facebook, we can track the sale if the customer buys it via our website.

The results of our digital overhaul are impressive. Using data and digital assets to enhance our member experience has increased engagement with our brand, products, and services. Repeat visits and referrals have gone up by 12% to 15%; mobile app downloads by 8% to 12%. Social engagement has grown even faster, increasing between 60% and 90%.

Automating with a Purpose

Digitalization is making marketing a data-driven process deeply intertwined with IT. The heavy use of data and technology is freeing marketers from more mundane and repetitive tasks. And digitalization blurs lines between IT and marketing. At AARP Services, for instance, our group is part of marketing but we also manage our IT. I strongly believe that every company should look at digital as a horizontal that serves the entire organization.

The benefits of deploying technology in marketing functions are obvious, but this doesn’t mean that automating every part of the business is always the smartest idea. The idea should be to re-imagine experiences and outcomes in line with the business plan and not just force technology on every process. For example, we track our customers and customize the experience based on what we know about them, but that doesn’t mean we will always automate every process just because the technology allows us to. We identify points where customers need their privacy and don’t want to be tracked, and then leave them alone there. Certain processes aren’t automated in order to comply with regulations in areas such as healthcare. It’s a fine balance between customizing our members’ digital experience and letting them navigate their own journey.

Don’t Boil the Ocean

With experience in finance, marketing strategy, and the tech world, I’ve always felt comfortable navigating this ever-changing marketing landscape. But working at a non-profit like AARP has taught me the need to be patient in building a business case, gradually rolling out a project one step at a time.

Too often, marketers try to do too much at one go and end up with a boil-the-ocean strategy. It makes more sense to begin by picking a few important issues, investing time and resources in those, and then scaling them.

If you have ignored boomers from your digital marketing mix, it’s time to start taking baby steps to connect with this vast, wealthy, and digitally-connected demographic.

The Takeaways 

The 50-plus generation, today’s Baby Boomers, who are more digitally savvy than many marketers assume, represents an often overlooked audience for digital marketing initiatives.

One key to digital marketing success is to optimize and harmonizing previously isolated digital capabilities.

Just because your digital capabilities enable automation of a marketing activity doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. Rather, be sure that such moves further your business plan.