Marti Barletta: How to Land a Boatload of Money

Don't Discount the Over-50 Set

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Let's say you're the CMO of an apparel or jewelry company, a bank or a brokerage firm. Your innovation group has brought you the intriguing idea of going after the captive audience of cruise-ship passengers -- fresh prospects every week! -- and you're trying to decide whether your ship-shape new retail outlet should be on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 or Carnival Cruise Lines' Celebration.

Marti Barletta is a recognized thought-leader on marketing to women and author of 'PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders' (January 2007). Her trend-setting book, 'Marketing to Women,' is in its second edition and has been published in more than 15 languages. She is founder-CEO of The TrendSight Group, a think tank specializing in marketing to women.


Kiss of death
Costs are the same. The 2,600 QM2 passengers pay $400-$900 a day to sail the seas in luxurious majesty, and the average age of passengers is 50 to 70. The 1,500 Celebration passengers pay about $175 a day for fun and festivities aboard, and generally average 25 to 49. Which would you choose?

Well, if current marketing behavior is any indication, most CMOs would pick the Carnival ship with fewer, poorer prospects on their passenger list. Why? Because in almost every industry -- from media to music to motor vehicles -- the consumer over 50 is viewed as the kiss of -- quite literally -- death.

John Wolkonowicz, a senior car-industry analyst, recently proclaimed in an MSNBC.com article that "Camry buyers are on average in their low- to mid-50s, and if Toyota doesn't change the trajectory ... the Camry will become the Oldsmobile or the Buick of 20 years from now. ... Their customers will be the oldest Americans, who are dying out of the market every day."

Time to face reality
His perspective isn't at all unusual, but pity the poor marketer who listens to him, because the reality, according to The Wall Street Journal, is that of the 13 cars bought by a typical U.S. household, seven are bought after the head of household turns 50. In fact, households headed by 55- to 64-year-olds spend 20% more on new cars and trucks than households headed by 25- to 34-year-olds.

Catering to their ill-informed customers, the Big Four TV networks continue to spin out shows targeted to a younger audience: "The Bachelor," "Survivor," "Fear Factor" and "American Idol," to name just a few. When searching the Time Warner website, typing in "adults 18-49" delivers 70 options, including ABC Family, Bravo, ESPN, the History Channel, Spike TV, TBS and FitT. Typing in "adults 50-plus" yields a measly four choices: CNN, Capitol News 9, the Fox News Channel and TWTV (the regional/local feed).

CBS, the one network that can boast a rich composition of mature viewers, is hastening to correct that competitive advantage. When questioned about CBS's recent purchase of Last.fm, an online music service, CEO Leslie Moonves assured advertisers: "Their demographics play perfectly to CBS's goal to attract younger viewers and listeners across our businesses." CBS digital chief Quincy Smith said: "We're emulating what Fox did with MySpace. ...There are a lot of super-cool, whiz-bang applications they have that I can't wait to apply to other parts of the business."

Too many mature viewers: Evidently, that's a bad thing?

Let's take a closer look at the passengers on the QM2:

1. The largest population segment. As of 2000, 38% of the U.S. adult population qualified for AARP membership. By 2026, 49% -- one of every two U.S. adults -- will be over 50 years old.

2. All the growth. Between 2006 and 2016, the U.S. population will grow by 22.9 million people, of which an astonishing 22.1 million -- 96% -- will be in the over-50 group, while the 18-49 "junior leagues" will account for a whopping 4% (Matt Thornhill, The Boomer Project newsletter, March 2006)

3. The most money. Folks 50 and older already control 79% of U.S. financial assets, and that will keep growing as boomer households continue to bring in two paychecks from their career-peak jobs. And far from hoarding that money, people over 50 actually spend more than twice as much per person as the average U.S. consumer (Ken Dychtwald, "Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old")

Prime Time Women
And who's doing all that spending? The women. That's right -- your sales success for the next two decades is in the hands of middle-age ladies. Or, to use the term I coined for women between 50 and 70 years old, Prime Time Women. We're talking about the healthiest, wealthiest, most active, educated and influential generation of women in history. Not only are they in the prime of their lives, but they make up the prime spending segment for virtually every consumer category.

Not surprisingly, female consumers buy according to very different priorities, preferences and decision processes than their male cohorts. And while the principles of marketing to women certainly apply to PrimeTime Women, companies seeking to home in on this "golden bull's-eye" of target marketing will want to get specific about the next level of consumer insights that apply to them in particular.

Marketers who walk away from the QM2 are missing the boat big-time. Worse, if they stake the future of their business on the young-adult market, as everyone else seems to be doing, they are likely to find themselves in the middle of the Poseidon Adventure. The numbers are inarguable: With their huge numbers, rapid growth and incredible spending power, PrimeTime Women are the silver bullet marketers have been looking for. So the next time you're looking for your ship to come in, I want to hear you humming "Hail to the Queen."
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