Reaching the Wired Boomer

Note: This page contains an excerpt from the book, Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace, by Dr. Mary Furlong. It was written in 2007.

As they age, America’s 78 million baby boomers will live more active, creative, inventive lives than any generation before them. This represents a truly enormous business opportunity. In the new book Turning Silver into Gold, the world’s number one authority on marketing to "post-50" baby boomers offers a complete blueprint for profiting from that opportunity. Read an excerpt here

The cheapest way to get insights about your customer is to gather information online. The information you get from a website, web log, or email campaign can make your spending on print, radio, and television much more efficient. Or you might be better off ignoring traditional media altogether. At least one successful company aimed at boomers spends 10% of its marketing budget on its website and the other 90% on improving the website’s position in the results of web search engines, such as Google.

Most boomers have vivid memories of television: their first black-and-white set, the birth of color, and the arrival of cable. Television’s ability to reach a mass audience has had a profound influence on this generation. But the most profound media innovation of the baby boom era wasn’t television — it was the Internet.

The Internet now drives the connection between brands and consumers, and it also drives social connections between people. As Internet access has become ubiquitous and its capabilities have evolved, communications have become democratized and decentralized, giving an entirely new meaning to the old expression “power to the people.” Consumers decide what they want to receive, when they will get it, and in what format it will arrive. If you’re marketing a company in the twenty-first century, you need to understand this shift.

We are entering what some observers have called Web 2.0, thanks to a number of new tools that make the Internet more collaborative and participatory. This technology is spawning a huge amount of consumer generated content. Web logs, or blogs, are web-based journals that have periodic posts by one or many contributors. There are also video web logs, or vlogs; downloadable audio files known as podcasts; and collaborative web projects called wikis that all represent new forms of individual expression. One of the best examples of a wiki is Wikipedia (, a free content encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute. You may have even contributed content to the Web yourself by posting family photos on sites such as Flickr or reviewing a product you purchased on BizRate, Epinions, eBay, or Amazon.

The growth in user-generated content sites and social networking sites has been phenomenal. Among the fastest-growing web sites from February 2005 to February 2006, measured by site traffic increase, were (528%), (318%), (275%), and (185%).

Recognizing the unmet need for a social networking website for the 50-plus audience, Jeff Taylor, founder of, launched in July, 2006. content includes health, money, entertainment, love, home, and interactive tools. The site also has a nationwide database of obituaries to which members can add photos and videos. Members can also receive region-specific death alerts.

Safa Rashtchy, managing director and senior analyst of Internet research with Piper Jaffray & Co., cites five major Internet growth areas: 1) online communities and content (social networking, viral, photo sharing, blogs); 2) local search; 3) wireless media and services; 4) web applications; and 5) online entertainment. Safa indicates that communications, commerce, and entertainment will be the fastest growing areas for web applications. Search will continue to grow as a critical means for exploring information and as a gateway for commerce. The Internet has changed our lives already and there are bigger changes to come, as the Internet will be integrated into our lives.

Advertisers realize that, because of the Internet, they have much less control over their brand and the consumer opinions surrounding it than they once did. Everyone who has web access can make their opinions known through public forums. It is also significant that advances in technology have been exceeding the mainstream adoption of those technologies. This means that marketers will benefit from watching closely and experimenting with new tools as they emerge.

Why You Should Have an Online Marketing Strategy

Older adults are going online in record numbers. People over age 50 now account for about one quarter of all U.S. Internet users, according to eMarketer, and their numbers are growing at 7 to 8% each year, compared with 2 to 3% for overall Internet user growth. In 2005, almost two thirds of U.S. adults age 50 to 64, and 25% of those age 65 and older used the Internet, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Boomers are also enthusiastic about high-speed Internet connections, as 44% of Internet users age 50 to 64 have this service. Broadband users tend to stay online longer, which means they are more likely to see online marketing. And broadband connections give marketers more options — they can add audio files to websites, and they can give visitors more opportunities to interact with their databases.

Boomers are such a large group that their behavior online is much like that of the general Internet audience. They send and read email, look up health and medical information, research products prior to purchase, get financial data, view maps, and check the weather. Seventy-five percent of boomer Internet users get news online, 55% research jobs, and 31% use instant messaging, according to the Pew study. But baby boomers spend more money online than average online users do; according to a study from Jupiter Research, 37% of boomers who bought products or services on the Web said they spent more than $250 in the last three months, compared with 32% of all online users. Three out of four baby boomers say they have made online purchases of products or services at some point.

Online Marketing Today — Best Practices and New Technologies

“Let the marketplace drive the marketing,” says Anne Holland. She is president of MarketingSherpa, Inc., a research firm on marketing tactics. “The key thing that most people get wrong is to start by looking at what their competition is doing. They build their marketing tactics in reaction to their competition. But this is me-too marketing. Merely advertising in the same places, using the same tactics, usually doesn’t work well.”

Anne brings a unique perspective to the world of online marketing, which can be overwhelming to newcomers. She worked for a large business-to-business company before founding MarketingSherpa in 2000. The firm publishes case studies twice weekly to keep readers informed about what’s working and what isn’t in web marketing. “Search marketing is still a strong trend,” she says. “Brand awareness can be built through online search and also purchase intent. It can make a tremendous difference.”

Internet shoppers rely on search engines more than anything else when they’re looking for something. If you’re new to the Web, a search engine is a website such as that allows you to type in a word, phrase, or name for free and almost instantly get leads to websites that are closely related to what you typed. If your goal is to drive traffic to your website, it is prudent to include your website’s address (also known as a uniform resource locator, or URL) in all your promotional efforts.

When asked how they typically found websites in the past month, 83% of respondents said they used search engines, 54% linked from another website, 49% clicked on an email from family or friends, 47% typed in the web address, and 43% linked from a source heard by word of mouth, according to Forrester Research. Thirty-six percent of respondents saw the URL in a print advertisement, 34% saw it in a television advertisement, 33% picked it up from a news story, and 32% linked from a promotional email. Only 16% had clicked on an ad in another website (known in the trade as a banner ad).

The top search engine and directory sites in terms of searches are Google, Yahoo! Search, MSN Search, AOL Search, and Ask. Most commercial search engines sell guaranteed placement — in other words, a site that pays them is guaranteed to show up in the first page of results for certain keywords. Paid search is based on keywords, or words that may be used by people who are seeking information on the Internet. However, a good marketing strategy will include ways to get a higher ranking in both paid and unpaid returns. For those wanting to try paid search, there are many online resources available. Google and Yahoo! Search have excellent tutorials, tools, and tips. Another website,, helps you settle on the best keywords for your site.

The most common way to pay for a search engine listing is called pay per click, or PPC. As more advertisers use paid search services, the cost of each click has risen. The best way to manage this rising cost is to understand what you’re selling and buy very specific keyword phrases. For example, if you sell health insurance, use phrases such as “group health insurance,” rather than just “insurance.” Your website’s ad is more likely to appear on searches when the keywords are highly relevant to the viewer’s query. Another important principle is to actively manage your online ad campaign by testing the headline, the description, the offer, and which keywords get good levels of response. Track your results by creating a separate website for each campaign, and make sure you track both click-through (people who visit your site) and conversion (people who buy). A strong call to action encourages click-through.

Copyright © 2007 Dr. Mary S. Furlong from the book Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace Published by FT Press; February 2007

Dr. Mary S. Furlong is the leading authority on the baby boomer generation as it moves beyond 50. She founded Mary Furlong & Associates to help socially and consumer-conscious companies reach this growing market. She is also Executive Professor of Entrepreneurship and Women in Leadership at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business.

Dr. Furlong has appeared on CBS, NBC’s Today Show, PBS, and NPR to discuss trends in aging and technology. She was named one of the top 50 business leaders by Time Digital, and has also been honored by Fortune Small Business Magazine. Her books include Grown-Up’s Guide to Computing (Independent General Use).

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