Your older audience is not what you think

May 17, 2024

Ever since I got my first marketing job more than three decades ago, I’ve been working with products aimed at primarily an older audience — mainly 60+ and older.

My first marketing gig was with a major health insurer in their individual market division (direct to consumer). The main engine of that division’s sales were policies to fill the gaps in Medicare that we marketed to people who were 65 and older.

As a young 20-something, I strived to put myself in the shoes of the older consumer and understand this market inside and out.

I spoke at senior communities about our insurance plans (at one such gathering a slew of angry seniors bombarded me with questions about the company’s slow claims processing to the point that sweat was pouring off my back — but they still made a beeline for the company’s brochures at the end of my talk).

I volunteered to counsel seniors about their health insurance claims at the local hospital’s senior outreach facility. I ran our company’s booth at the county’s annual senior fair and handed out freebies to the seniors who visited it.

And when I worked with the graphic design team to design our brochures, ads, and direct mail promos for this market, we’d make sure the type was large enough and easy to read. In fact, it was often said we should put Vaseline on our glasses and try reading the type that way, though no one I know ever did that.

I mention these things because they’re just a few examples of how I realized early on that it’s crucial as a marketer to understand exactly who you’re selling to… to know and connect with them… and to have empathy for them.

And in the decades that followed, serving a primarily older market worked out very well for my career. From promoting health newsletters and supplements to financial newsletters and skin care, the majority of my marketing and copy endeavors have been targeted to the booming 60+ market.

But I’ll admit — many of us copywriters and marketers have often tended to lump this market all together. We think of them as one mostly homogeneous group of “old” people… even though within this huge cohort there are obviously vastly different segments.

Back in the days when a long-form direct mail promo was often the prime marketing workhorse for bringing new customers in the door, you’d have ONE control for each product.

That one control had to speak to the entire audience — from folks in their late 50s through their early 90s. This obviously created challenges, since these people had different types of health or financial concerns.

More importantly, they had different influences that affected their attitudes, beliefs, and the types of products or solutions they desired. Their lifestyles were different, and what they were able to spend for those solutions differed, too.

Today, it’s easier to target this diverse older audience with vastly different psychographics by using multiple different control promos, ads, and social media campaigns. It starts with knowing who this huge “baby boomer” market really is.

I sat in on a presentation yesterday by an ad agency where my former boss from the insurance company I worked at in my 20s and early 30s is a partner.

And it showcased the differences between two generational cusps: those born between 1946 and 1954 (the early Boomers) and those born between 1955 and 1964 (the later Boomers or “Generation Jones” for “keeping up with the Jones”).

The two groups were exposed to different experiences and influences growing up: for the early Boomers during the post-WWII era, it was JFK, MLK, Gloria Steinem, and TV. For the later Boomers, it was Nixon’s Watergate, Vietnam, and personal computers and the internet.

Now HERE’S where the marketing “gold” lies...

These different experiences and influences impacted these boomers’ values, beliefs (political and otherwise), and how they consume and spend money.

There are also practical differences between the two cohorts that impact how they respond to your marketing messaging. The early Boomers are in their 70s now, so they’re already living in retirement. This older segment is more worried about their bills, and how much longer their money will last.

They also tend to prioritize family values and community — something to focus on when making your emotional appeals to this market. And when it comes to making purchasing decisions, they rely much more on testimonials, product reviews, and other assurances (like studies) that a product will work for them.

The younger Boomers or “Generation Jones” are different. They’re still working or in the early stage of retirement. They benefited the most from low mortgage rates and rising home prices, as well as a lengthy mostly-bull market, so they’re more affluent and spend more freely.

They value individuality and self-expression, with the use of humor and irony. So how you make emotional appeals to them AND the way you do it is different. This is where more personality-oriented copy becomes more effective, along with more entertainment-driven VSLs or other video promos.

These younger Boomers tend to make their own decisions about which products to buy. They’re turned off by hard-sell tactics. They focus more on product facts and attributes, and not as heavily on testimonials.

And they consume media differently than older Boomers — more streaming, “second screening” (using smartphone while watching TV), podcasts, social media, etc.

There were many more insights, but think about which Boomer audience you’re speaking to when writing to this older market. If you want to sell to both of these huge cohorts, you’ll likely need different ads, VSLs, promos, and other campaigns for different channels to reach them as effectively.

If you’re not, you could be ignoring a lucrative part of your potential market, and leaving money on the table.

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. One of the things I work with my mentees on is thinking like a marketer, not just a copywriter. When I think about why I decided to get into marketing in the first place, I liked the idea of solving problems.

That’s why yesterday when I listened to Ken McCarthy speak as a guest in Brian Kurtz’s Titans Xcelerator mastermind, I loved that he started off his talk with saying the REAL job of copywriting is to solve problems.

Focus on mastering copywriting, but make sure you focus on the bigger picture as well. Most companies need as much or more help with coming up with the right strategy, products, and offers as they do sales copy.

When you can help them with all of that, your odds of getting a big winner for them go up exponentially (as do your earnings!)

If you’re interested in being part of my next cohort for future copy mentoring, you’ll want to get on the wait list¬†here. That way you’ll be among the first to hear about what’s coming up (as always, space will be limited).