Episode 60: Mary Brown, JWT BOOM on Boomer Archetypes, Seasoned Sexuality and the "Club Sandwich Generation"
Meet Mary Brown, Partner, Strategy and Insight at JWT BOOM, and expert in the Baby Boomer generation. Mary has co-authored (with Carol Orsborn) the definitive book on Boomers called "BOOM: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer - The Baby Boomer Woman." On this episode, she closes the gap on what we collectively know about Boomers with the latest research and insight into this all-powerful demographic.
LiveWire: The Summit is an annual Boomer marketing conference that JWT BOOM (a subsidiary of J. Walter Thompson) produces annually. On DishyMix, she updates us on the key takeaways from some of the most interesting presentations at the recent event. Find out what Gene Cohen, behavioral scientist has to say about "Mirror Mirror on the Wall, What is Aging After All?" Jonathan Pontell's insights into the Generation Jones cohort and Richard Adler's "Boomer's the Next 30 Years" also give us some new data to consider.
Mary talks about new Boomer findings, generational influences, the continued importance of understanding lifestage events and how to craft your message to archetypal Boomer segments: Conventional, Transitional and Aspirational profiles.
We talk about Seasoned Sexuality, the new blossoming Boomer woman, as well as the Boomer's search for meaning, significance and contribution and how that can be leveraged with brands, services and the appropriate positioning.
Get more detail with the ThirdAge/JWT BOOM study: "Boomers and Social Networking" and a Boomer Trends Study "Boomers: The Next 20 Years Map of Future Landscape Affecting Boomers" by the Institute for the Future in the Related Links on the right side of this page.
Susan Bratton: Welcome to Dishy Mix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and on today’s show you’re going to get to meet Mary Brown. Mary is the partner for insight and strategy at JWT BOOM, the Boomer marketing subsidiary of J. Walter Thompson. So, you thought you knew about baby boomers, you might even be one, we’re going to learn the latest and greatest takeaways about the boomer market. We’ll talk about boomer motivations. We’ll talk about seasoned sexuality. We’ll talk about “Eat, Pray Love,” movie junkies, and of course what’s happening in the world of aging. So meet Mary Brown. She’s an author, strategist, a partner at JWT Boom and helps produce LiveWire: The Summit on Boomer marketing. We’re going to get some highlights from the most recent summit.
Susan Bratton: Welcome Mary.
Mary Brown: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, absolutely. So, I first found out about you Mary when we were introduced by Joe Pine. Joe is the author of some definitive books in marketing, including his latest, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, and he’s been on Dishy Mix and he was raving, not only about you, but about the Live Wire Summit…
Mary Brown: Great! Yes he was one of our keynote speakers at the summit this year.
Susan Bratton: And he told me about your book, Boom: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer, The Baby Boomer Woman. So my question for you Mary is to set the stage for the boomer world today. What’s happening now with boomers?
Mary Brown: Well, a lot has changed since I wrote my book just in the last two years, particularly in regard to awareness of the older consumer. We’re seeing a lot more awareness that the Boomer generation, as they age into their 50s, 60s, are having significant impact, not only just from a marketing standpoint, but politically, culturally, economically, everything. This is going to be a very interesting election when you consider that the first boomer is going to be turning 65 on this next President’s watch. When they turn 65, they start hitting that magic Medicare reality, and we’re going to see a whole lot of very surprised boomers when they realize this is their healthcare reality and there is a lot about the system that is flawed and problematic and there is a lot that’s not quite right out there in the political realm and it’s going to trickle through to a lot of different areas.
Susan Bratton: So you talked about the first boomer turning 65, and obviously at that point in your life you might be starting to think about retiring, although I know a lot of boomers are pushing retirement off and continuing to work as long as they possibly can, which is probably a big boomer trend. There are these kind of life stage events, one of them being this move from being an everyday worker to starting to look at what’s happening in your world, that, one of those things being turning 65 and looking at Medicare. What are some of the big life stage events that marketers are leveraging now in the boomer generation?
Mary Brown: One where we see so much opportunity is the empty nest phase. There’s before empty nest and after empty nest, and from a behavioral standpoint they’re often two different mindsets driven by the fact they have more time, or at least their time is of a different quality. But this taps into a bigger point around lifestage and Boomers. Our research shows that between the ages of 50 and 59 is when we people negotiate the greatest number of new lifestage transitions simultaneously, be it caregiving, becoming a grandparent, second careers, remarrying, divorce, dealing with aging or health issues, emptynesting, etc… and this is good news for marketers, because every new lifestage they have to negotiate is our opportunity to create solutions for them.
On a side note around emptynesting, we’re also seeing this boomerang phenomenon of kids who are never actually really ever leaving, which is going to be an interesting phenomenon that we see as the boomers kids graduate from college.
Susan Bratton: And those are the millennials primarily, right? The boomerangs are the millenials?
Mary Brown: Exactly.
Susan Bratton: Our boomer children?
Mary Brown: Yes. So we’re seeing, there’s just a whole lot of pressure on boomers at during critical stage of their lives. Once the kids leave there can be a lot of psychological and financial changes that happen at this point both positive and negative. Often, it opens up the space for boomers to finally focus back on themselves a bit more. And with kids going out of the house there tends to be a bump in discretionary spending, of having a little bit more in your wallet. So, and they start focusing more on what they’re going to with the second half life, because they have more time, relative to before.
Susan Bratton: And they live longer.
Mary Brown: And we live longer. In fact, at the turn of the century, 1900, the average lifespan was about 50 years old. And today the average lifespan is at least 80 years old, 30 years longer…
Susan Bratton: 50 is the new 30.
Mary Brown: Yes. So back in 1900, when you were 40 or 50, you were old. Today, when you’re 50 the reality is that your life’s just barely half over and you’ve got this whole second half to live. It’s very much a different mind space, and it’s fascinating though that a lot of stereotypes are still in place thinking that 50 is over the hill. Again, I think that since I wrote the book we’ve seen a huge proliferation in the media on the topic of boomers redefining aging -- articles on the cover of Time and the cover of Newsweek. You see publications, television programs, websites, that have specific 40plus relevant content now. You saw less of that two or three or four years ago. So I think that for me it’s an indication, when media finally starts latching onto a bigger cultural trend story, it’s finally getting some traction. It amazes me that it’s taken this long and we still see resistance, from marketers in general out there with acknowledging when it’s really obvious that the trend setter for a particular brand or product is someone over 50.
Susan Bratton: Yeah. I like that you bust the stereotype, that you talk about how innovative the boomer market is and how willing they are to try new things. In your book, one of my favorite things about the way you formatted the book is how you actually go contributing paragraphs, contributing stories from so many brand marketers, everyone from Palm to Liz Claiborne to the California Avocado Commission, Ford Motor, Citigroup, Logitech, Athleta, Sea Born Cruises, Cuddle Down, Marriott, Best Western, Garnett Hill, L.L. Bean, you had a huge variety of marketers who are savvy to the power of the boomer. The question I have, in working with all these brands and all the brands that you represent for JWT Boom, what advice can you give to someone listening to this show today about how to speak to a boomer? What is the position that we need to think about when we’re messaging to that target audience?
Mary Brown: The biggest mistake that people make is thinking you can do it with a broad stroke kind of sweeping generality. You can’t. And this isn’t just because this is a huge generation of 78 million people – the largest generation in U.S. history so far. It’s because today, regardless of generation, there’s so much out there that we are bombarded with. You have to really break it down and segment it and drill down to clarify and define your particular market that you’re going to go after to be affective. It is also a mistake to rely on past stereotypes of aging. They’ll turn boomers off. And as I just mentioned about the size of this generation, it’s a bit of a challenge because not all “boomers” are the same -- the generation spans 18 years, there’s not a generation that’s spanned that length of time. And very often a younger boomer is experiencing different things than an older boomer, or two boomers the same age are at very different lifestages.
A lot of what we do at JWT Boom, is research around segments and subsegments to surface the different values and go beyond age and demographics. This has allowed me to really expand on the archetypes I talked about in my book, and get more granular around values and motivations. The more honed these are, the better you can create strategy and messaging that’s going to really connect with that particular target. And, you know, as much as we wish we could have one message that would connect with everyone, it is hard to do. Some brands have succeeded at this… the Apple’s, the one’s that are really talking to everybody. But you still have to understand the segments so that they can pull what’s relevant to them out of the brand.
Susan Bratton: I recently had an opportunity to do some market research for a company that I’m associated with, with an agency called Real Branding, you know, in San Francisco where we both are, and one of the things we looked at were online usage patterns of trailing edge versus leading edge boomers, and it was fascinating, just as an example, to look at the difference between trailing versus leading edge boomers in their interest and how often they were downloading content. You know, the leading edge boomers were not downloading content at all. The trailing edge were downloading all the time. So that 15 year difference was huge. And also, Instant Messenger. The trailing edge weren’t IMing, the leading edge were. The older ones were IMing, they were IMing their kids…
Mary Brown: Right.
Susan Bratton: Their kids were getting them into that stuff. So that was pretty interesting, but what I liked about your book was that you created these archetypes, these three archetypes. To get our hands around that, you know, that 78 million people, you came up with three general types, and I would say these were kind of like psychographic orientation. So you said there was conventional, transitional and aspirational. Describe those three for us.
Mary Brown: Sure. We wanted to explore an easy to grasp way of understanding motivation, going beyond demographics, that could help marketers. To help them avoid thinking that all boomer women come at the world in the same way from a psychosocial developmental standpoint. For example, for the Conventional archetype, her motivational orientation is that of maintaining security, seeking to ground herself in stability and predictability. The Transitional archetype is at the stage during which she becomes disillusioned with what she had previously taken for granted and begins to assert her own individuality and is very much in a reactive change mode. The third archetype, the Aspirational Boomer woman, has reached a greater level of integration and acceptance with where she is at this stage of life, and embraces the fact that they are essentially pioneering new territory.
Sometimes I think we need to hang out not in New York, or on the coasts, where there tends to be so much more awareness around self actualization and driving for fulfillment on every level of life. But there’s also still some very traditional thinking rooted in different areas of the country, Boomer women who are not necessarily comfortable going out there and being a career woman. They may define their success through more traditional roles with the family or what not. You don’t want to ignore those. And you really have to make sure that you’re wrapping your messaging around those that are going to provide an opportunity. For example, we just did a study for a publication that really wanted to better embrace this huge opportunity of women 40 to 60 in the middle of country, the heart of America woman. It’s not going to be a More magazine audience. It might not be as edgy and as energetic as us folks that live on the coast would want, but there’s still a tremendous opportunity and marketing opportunity to speak to this particular group of women. So it’s about breaking it down, again, more by behavioral and…
Susan Bratton: Attitudinal.
Mary Brown: and attitudinal and psycho graphical, is really where research is heading.
Susan Bratton: I want to address a quote that I got out of your book. It says, “The baby boomer generation is not only open to new experiences, they’re becoming increasingly experimental with age.” And we’re going to tie that into some of the things you talked about with regard to seasoned sexuality, the search for meaning, and then I want to get some key take aways from the top speakers at your Live Wire Summit.
So tell us about this experimental group Mary. What’s happening in this seasoned sexuality piece, and is there an opportunity in the marketplace there?
Mary Brown: Definitely. I met Gale Sheehy when she came out with her book, "Sex and the Seasoned Woman," shortly after we released ours. It takes a deep dive into the Aspirational 50 plus women out there. Did you know that of women over 50 little over half are single, to me that was like wow when she shared that info. In her words, you hit the 50s, go through that empty nest stage and tend to come out the other side of that going, “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this guy?” There’s more women than men initiating these divorces that happen after 50. You’ve really got this group of women that have gotten to a certain point where they say, “You know what, it kind of doesn’t have to be status quo anyway, anymore.” I think it’s also a combination of as you age, from a self fulfilling as well as a developmental standpoint, you’ve got a lot more experience under your belt that tends to engender this confidence to say, “Hey, you know what, I don’t have to do things the way society has pressured me into doing them or the way I felt pressured. I can explore a little bit here.” And I think that’s what’s at the root of Gail’s Seasoned Woman… breaking through the stereotypes of what aging is right now, is you’ve got this boomer generation that’s bumping up against that 50 benchmark where traditionally it was thought that you were in a slow decline in all aspects of your life, wanting to try new things to starting new careers to just about anything, and the sheer numbers of boomers that are bumping up against this transition and busting it out I think is really what’s remaking the landscape out there right now very interesting.
Susan Bratton: Well, when you were doing your survey you were also talking to people about the search for meaning. One of the things you said is that for the majority of the people you surveyed the search for meaning centered around striving for and discovering a more satisfying experience of their lives. You know, I tie that back to what you said about the fact that once you turn 50 you potentially have another half of your life left. It could be that you’re only halfway through, and so people are starting to think about contribution and their significance and their legacy and how they can live and create the life that they want because they’ve potentially been in service to others rather than in service to themselves and the tables begin to turn. What are some of the insight that you’ve gained about that search for meaning?
Mary Brown: Well I think that you put it really well, it is also interesting to note that it is now shown to be connected to actual changes that are going on in the brain as we age. We invited Gene Cowen to speak on this topic at the LiveWire summit. He’s an expert on the brain and behavioral science. He’s identified that there’s a lot of positive changes that occur because of aging at this stage, not despite it as is commonly held. You know, there are a lot of new discoveries about how the brain actually has the capacity to continue to regenerate itself and thrive much differently than the perceptions were before. Our brains almost become wiser, what matters really flows to the surface, which helps explain the increased desire, as we become older, to leave a legacy. And take the whole green movement right now. Yes it’s more strongly associated with a young kind of energy and the younger generations, but it is really being driven and supported by boomers, who have the head space and the discretionary income to be able to make an impact on the green movement that we’re seeing right now, you know, what with green building, and other elements that influence our economy by how they spend their money on green, on organic, whatnot. You can’t underestimate the influence of grandkids on the boomers’ motivations in this regard as well. For our grandkids, we have a heightened sense of legacy and making a better world really gets that conversation raised.
Susan Bratton: That makes a lot of sense, and it’s interesting that Gene Cowen is a brain and behavioral scientist. I’ve had Joseph Carrabis, who is also a brain scientist, on DishyMix, and we did a really interesting show together where he talked about how you market and message to men versus women, the literal approach that you take and the way you structure your language to have a marketing message to a man versus a woman. He’s been guest blogging on my Dishy Mix blog and doing a really nice job answering more questions about that. (Note: Click on the Carrabis tag above to see all Joseph's posts.) That’s a fascinating area for me. So I’m going to check Gene Cowen out. Now he was one of probably 20 speakers you had at Live Wire, the summit, and you do this every year. Would give us the net/net of a couple of the best presentations? I have six or seven here that look the most interesting, one was keeping up with Generation Jones, and that was Jonathan Pontell. What point did he make that you thought was most interesting?
Mary Brown: Well I give Jonathan a lot of credit because he’s kind of a pioneer on saying, “Hey, wait a second.” We say that this is a generation of folks born between 1946 and 1964, but you can’t talk to the 45 year old boomer and the 62 year old boomer with messages that are going to resonate to both of them. He feels that there’s this particular succinct generation, Generation Jones, born between 1954 and 1965, which includes the most populace birth years in US. And he thinks that “Jonesers,” as he calls them, have been mistakenly lumped in with boomers at large. But he thinks that each cohort has very distinct consumer behavior, values and attitudes. After the summit he was on his way to New York to do an interview with Larry King about Generation Jones, so he’s really pushing this conversation to the forefront.
Susan Bratton: You are sharing key take aways from the speakers at your Live Wire Summit. On our last blog post and during the interview you mentioned the 54 to 65 year demographic group is a very unique segment within Boomers, very distinct. Richard Adler, Boomers, The Next 30 Years covered this subject. Tell us more.
Mary Brown: Richard, he’s a part of the Institute for the Future which explores the implications of this demographic shift…iftf.org. I recommend checking them out. He presented the findings from a large Boomer study with predictions of current trends and how they were going to play out over the next two decades as boomers move from midlife into later life. I believe you can download that study by going to iftf.org. Boomer Trends IFTF.org
Susan Bratton: What about the panel that you did, Boomers and Media? I’m really interested in that because so many of my listeners are people in media marketing and advertising, and I’d like to hear that piece of it with also your flavor about social media and where the opportunities are there.
Mary Brown: Well sure. The boomer media panel consisted of the moderator Kelly Green, from The Wall Street Journal and we also had David Cooperstein from Burst Media, Sharon Whiteley from Third Age, which is a Boomer focused social networking site, David Sellheart from National Public Broadcast, as well as Helen Platter Zeiberg from Portfolio Magazine and Susan Bidel from Money Magazine.
A lot of the discussion revolved around how with all the new technologies the media landscape has expanded and altered a lot over the last decade, really causing audience fragmentation and giving birth to more segmentation. Media these days has to be able to allow for the ability to drill down to really have any effectiveness because companies are so challenged with creatively breaking through the clutter. Where that relates to boomers is even though they are not necessarily the early adopters of the more digitally advanced media out there, they’re definitely partaking and dealing with as much fragmentation as the younger generations. And the social context is interesting.
Sharon Whiteley from Third Age partnered with us on a Boomer Pulse study around boomers and social networking. And her study revealed that, yes, they aren’t participating in social networking sites to the degree that younger co-hosts are…yet. I think there’s this struggle with nomenclature right now that skews research into social network participation with Boomers. You know, you ask a boomer, are you on social networking sites and they think, “Oh well, that must mean MySpace and FaceBook.” Well not particularly. But if you ask them do they want all of the things that a social networking site can offer, which is connecting with their peers, sharing and hearing opinions, they want all that but aren’t finding enough relevant communities to hang out on. I think what we’re going to see in the next four or five years is more and more people realize that it’s all in how you craft and position those communities for there to be something that boomers feel comfortable entering into.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely. Both getting information and sharing your experiences, because they are a wizened crew…
Mary Brown: Right.
Susan Bratton: seems to me to be a tremendous opportunity. I see the success that sites like Gather, Spire and TeeBeeDee are beginning to have because they are creating community not at all like FaceBook does, but in a very different way for information getting and sharing, and it strikes me that that’s the, that’s the first group of successful social networking sites that we’ll see against this demographic.
Susan Bratton: Okay, so we’re almost out of time, and I asked you a question that was a little bit more personal and I really liked your answer to this, and I think anyone who’s already listened to this whole show is going to enjoy the answer to the book you most recommend to your friends. You actually had three. Do you remember what they are or do you need me to remind you?
Mary Brown: No, I do…
Susan Bratton: Oh, good.
Mary Brown: I’m kind of ADHD, and always have two or three books going at the same time…
Susan Bratton: Oh, I wish I only had two or three going at the same time.
Mary Brown: Well it’s your job. I imagine with you it’s a book a day.
Susan Bratton: Oh, not that many, but I do enjoy them, and I really did enjoy reading Boom: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer, the Baby Boomer Woman, it was fun. Obviously I can identify with it. I wanted to also just take this moment, we’ll go back to your book recommendations, but beyond your own book you had some, but you have also made three autographed copies available to my Dishy Mix listeners and I really appreciate that. You also said that you’ll custom autograph them and send them to them. So if you would like to have a personalized autographed copy of Boom from Mary Brown all you need to do is tell me why you deserve to have it by posting that on the Dishy Mix fanclub. You just go to FaceBook and you type in DishyMix, all one word, it pops you into my fanclub, you just post a request, and if I love your ask you get the books. So please do that, Mary would love to send a copy to three of my Dishy Mix fanclub posters. So let’s go back to your most recommended books, Mary. One was a book that I just finished, Eat, Pray, Love, I really enjoyed it. Tell our listeners about it incase they haven’t read it yet.
Mary Brown: It is my ultimate fantasy to be able to travel like that. I’m fortunate that I’m not going through and don’t plan on going through a divorce as she was, which is how she enters the first phase of her book, which is eat, and she ate her way through Italy which sounds fantastic. But for me it’s just the ultimate fantasy to go and explore those areas of the world where you can just indulge and enjoy all the senses as well as reconnect with yourself. And she did it in a way that was laugh out loud. I mean, my husband kept looking over me at night when I’m reading in bed, going, “What are you reading? I haven’t heard you laugh like this in a long time.”
Susan Bratton: I really enjoyed it too. Eat, Pray, Love, one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, and I thought, oh, it’s a bestseller, it won’t be that interesting, it’ll kind of be dry, popular and general, you know…
Mary Brown: Me too. It was great.
Susan Bratton: and I kept hearing about it, I didn’t, I didn’t read it for the longest time and then I read it and I was like, “Why can’t there be more books like this?”
Mary Brown: I know. I was suspicious too. Like if it’s that successful it must be too trendy and popular, but it was really worth it.
Susan Bratton: It was. And I love your next recommendation because I haven’t read it and I’m going to order it. Tell us about that.
Mary Brown: My husband actually handed me this book called Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me, by Patti Boyd who was married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton. This is her story and it’s an incredible insiders view of rock and roll in the 60’s, the whole Beatles phenomenon, all the different musicians, a lot of drugs, the talent and the fact that these guys, they didn’t know what they were doing. They were incredibly talented people, but their managers literally would run their lives. You get this insiders view of this incredible time where we were breaking with the past and creating new forms of music, and it’s all through her viewpoint. It was just a fun ride.
Susan Bratton: I love vicarious sex, drugs and rock and roll. If I can’t have it myself directly…
Mary Brown: Exactly.
Susan Bratton: I’ll at least take it vicariously, right?
Mary Brown: You will completely get that with this book.
Susan Bratton: Yup, I’m ordering it today. So the last one, I’ll just finish it off ‘cause we’re out of time and I always try to be as respectful as possible to everyone who’s listening, but I want to mention it. It’s the Opening Brand: When Push Comes to Pull in a Web Made World with Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins. Now Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins are fabulous…
Mary Brown: They are.
Susan Bratton: They have one of the best and most attractive and beautifully designed email marketing newsletters that there is, and I didn’t know they’d written a book. Somehow that had escaped me. I’m going to have them on. I think they’re terrific…
Mary Brown: Yes, it’s a great, it’s a small little book, but it really nails how to open up to consumer involvement your brand, message and offering, and how push tactics are replaced by pull online. Very smart women.
Susan Bratton: I love smart women like you Mary Brown. Thank you for coming on the show. Now you are going to have your 9th Live Wire, is it next June?
Mary Brown: That’s correct, and we’re having it in San Francisco. Stay tuned.
Susan Bratton: And if somebody wants to get on a list to get updated about who’s going to be speaking and all those things, how do they do that?
Mary Brown: I’m going to put this out there, you can contact me directly…
Susan Bratton: Yup.
Mary Brown: It’s firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you on that list and we’ll let you get kind of a preview peek into what’s going to happen.
Susan Bratton: Perfect. That lineup that you had this year was unbelievable.
Mary Brown: It was the best ever.
Susan Bratton: Oh my god, so good. I’m interested in every single one of those people who spoke. I’m going to go check them all out.
Mary Brown: Great.
Susan Bratton: It was really good. Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and your resources and your connections and your ideas. It was great to talk to you today.
Mary Brown: Well thank you for doing what you do.
Susan Bratton: Yeah.Well you know I love that.
Mary Brown: I picked up on that.
Susan Bratton: It’s my passion to bring great people like you to all of my friends and listeners and all my listeners are my friends, Alright, well I hope you had a great day. Thanks for tuning in to hear Mary Brown, partner of insight and strategy at JWT Boom. I am your host, Susan Bratton. I hope I’ll be with you next week. Have a great day. Bye, bye.