Boomer Behavior Change During COVID-19

Things Marketers should consider to better influence

No US demographic group is financially undamaged by the pandemic – but the impact to boomers (now ages 56 to 74) has been less than younger groups. Boomers tend to have more significant household wealth, above-average incomes and with a high rate of homeownership – a cushion the younger consumers simply don’t have. In addition, the current national unemployment crisis is irrelevant to those boomers who are retired.

Marketers looking to reach them must understand how boomer behavior has shifted (or not) amid the turmoil of recent months to ensure their products and messages resonate. This is especially true for tech products.

One shift to keep in mind is digital consumption. Boomers on average use fewer  digital outlets, less often than other population groups, so they will be challenging to reach in this space as compared to younger consumers. However, they have increased their usage of social media and digital video.

Social and Digital Communication Tools

The pandemic has boosted social media usage by boomers, with 36.8% saying they spend more time since the pandemic started, and boomers who use social media tend to be on Facebook. In AARP’s polling, 63% of respondents 50 and older say they use Facebook “on a regular basis.”

They’re not likely to bother with digital tools that aren’t clearly useful to them, but video chat is one exception. About one-third of older adults tried it for the first time during the lockdown. They miss the feeling of being in the same room together so they are trying new things to stay connected.

Watching and Watching

Boomers joined younger generations with increased streaming video usage during lockdown with over half (53%) increasing their usage. With more familiarity of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, they will probably continue to use them after the pandemic is over. The increased streaming doesn’t appear to have had much of a negative impact on their traditional TV viewing, though, which averages more than 5 hours per day.

And Elsewhere in Digital

Technologies like voice assist, wearables and telehealth that can assist with aging in place have typically seen slow adoption among boomers.

Voice technology could be helpful for those whose who find it challenging to read a small screen and use a tiny keyboard, yet boomers who own smartphones have lagged in using the voice assistant capability. They are also not adopting smart speakers in part due to their worry about digital privacy.

Wearables can be useful at an age when health problems proliferate. Here again though, boomers have been slow to take them up with only 14% usage for those 65 and older.

Adoption of telehealth has risen across all age groups during the pandemic. Among boomers, though, the increase has come from a low pre-pandemic base. In November 2019 YouGov polling showed 7% of boomers had used telemedicine technology to communicate with their doctor. CivicScience polling found an increase in use to 13% in March and 28% in May.

The lag in boomer adoption in apps and other digital technologies reflects shortcomings by the tech industry in developing products they want, and then marketing those products in an inclusive way. When it comes to advertising tech products, the images often omit older people altogether or display them in a stereotypically negative way. As a generation who experienced the birth of branding, boomers are accustomed to highly personalized marketing that’s aimed directly at them, and still prefer to buy products that showcase their identity and reflect their values.

When boomers and seniors do try a new technology and find practical benefit in it, they’re likely to stick with it. And they have the discretionary income and spending money to actually purchase it. One positive effect from the pandemic is the willingness to try and explore new things, which means a higher comfort level with digital technology for many older consumers.

While media consumption habits and technology adoption continue to evolve, one thing is for sure – there is a lot of opportunity for marketers looking to engage boomers. Adapting plans and personalizing messaging will help make this sometimes-overlooked audience feel more included and make them more likely to become brand adopters.

Sources: eMarketer’s Be Nice to Boomers and ZenMedia’s What Tech Companies Need to Know about Marketing to Baby Boomers and Beyond in 2020