"We buy stuff too." That's the rallying cry I've heard from widely read female bloggers over age 49, who are frustrated that a well-established cadre of younger women with young children — known as "mommybloggers" — garner extensive promotional contracts with major brand advertisers, while Boomer-aged women online are often ignored.
What marketers seem to be missing is that Boomer women are actually outspending younger generations online — and not on the products that might come to mind when you picture the 50+ set. Boomers averaged $650 spent online vs. Gen X at $581 and Gen Y at $429, according to Forrester Research. They are buying beauty products, electronics, experiences, vacations, and health products.
To make sense of the confluence of disposable income and increasing online time among this generation and what it means for marketers, I've drawn on my own experience and the rise of the mommyblogger.
I began working in digital marketing to women when I was 22. Back then we had message boards to share the woes and joys of life, not Facebook or blogs. Along the way, I've marketed everything from makeup to presidential candidates, but the bulk of my work has concentrated on reaching mothers of young children, that sweet demographic of women 25-45 with kids at home and lots and lots of consumer goods to purchase. In 2008, Bryan McCleary, director of external relations for P&G, endorsed a mom-centric marketing worldview when he said, "It's official: Mom bloggers are the new influencers." In 2013, the world of "influencer marketing" is a crucial element of the marketing mix. Increasingly, we don't make purchasing decisions based on impersonal Consumer Reports or television commercials; we turn instead to our trusted web of friends and confidants online for their knowledge and experiences.
Marketers seem to have missed — or ignored — the arrival of Boomers online. Perhaps their entree into the digital world was quieter and more gradual than their younger counterparts. Perhaps this generation is different than any other generation we've seen come of age, in terms of their disposable income and longer life expectancy. They just don't fit into the traditional marketing bucket reserved for 50-65 year olds — they are more active, more vibrant, and healthier, than any generation that has come before. Perhaps there's just not a convenient way to talk about this demographic — "mommyblogger" is a convenient brand identity that immediately helps people understand what they do and who they are. While some bloggers in the older demographic use "Boomer" and some use "midlife," neither term is quite comfortable. Chloe Jeffreys of GenerationFabulous.com says that midlife bloggers don't particularly care for the term "midlife": "I fought until I was 51 and then I realized I'm probably not going to live past 102!" Though these women might not know quite sure how to label themselves and their experiences, their might online is not lessened, and marketers need to understand that.
"The ad model hasn't shifted from targeting 18-49 year olds, but the next time you walk into an Apple store, take a look at who's there," says Anne Marie Kovacs of the BoomBox Network. Chances are, it's men and women over 45. Apart from the fact that those between the ages of 50 and 65 spend twice the amount of money on healthcare than the 18 to 25 year-old set and three times as much money on housing, 50 to 65 year-olds also spend an amazing 78% more money on shopping. Simply put, marketers should follow the money.
What do these women want marketers to know? They want marketers to better help women age well; it's about looks, finance, dreams, work, parents, and kids.
I've heard from many of these bloggers that the elder caregiving explosion is a popular marketing message to boomers online, often as proxies for their elderly parents, who are not net savvy. Informal, unpaid caregivers contributed $450 billion in help to older adults — and two out of three say caregiving has impacted their work. There is obviously a huge market opportunity to provide a variety of services to these caregivers. AARP reports "42 percent of U.S. workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past five years. About half (49 percent) of the workforce expects to be providing eldercare in the coming five years." Most of these caregivers are midlife women.
Caregiving is a huge impact on midlife women, but it's just one element of a whole life. Just as mommybloggers write about everything on their blogs, midlife bloggers aren't beholden to only talking about the sandwich generation.
Think about beauty and fashion. One of my favorite new blogs, Une Femme De Certain Age, highlights great fashion and looks for the second half of your life: in her eyes, a footloose life spent traveling and exploring. Barbara Grufferman writes The Best of Everything After 50, talking to Boomer women about health, style, finance, sex, and design. Sound like other blogs you've read authored by women in their 20s and 30s?
Then there's food. On her blog, A Boomer's Life After 50, Judi Freedman covers everything from heart health to cooking, to dealing with raising adult children and the recent loss of her mom. Hers is an authoritative voice, one well worth the attention of a brand marketer.
Work, personal finance and entrepreneurship is a huge focus. Darryle Pollack, 63, a former TV journalist turned blogger is launching The WHOA network, a video network that helps women honor their age, says, "at this point in life it's almost shocking to realize how much energy and drive I have. All the women I know: even if they haven't worked before, they're working now, and they're using digital media to find that path. Traditionally, women who are past childbearing age sort of faded into the woodwork and that is SO not happening now."
All women who use social media to connect want the same thing: a community of friends where they can talk openly about their opinions, hopes, and dreams as those things apply to them. And they want to be recognized for the value they bring to these conversations.
From my vantage point as a Gen Xer, I'm thrilled at the increasing breadth of women's voices online. Even the original cadre of "mommybloggers" have reached an age where their kids are older, and their lives and blog content are expanding too. Gen Xers may just find themselves in a similar position as they approach 50.
The fullness of a woman's life demands a 360-degree view from marketers; her interests cannot be contained to a narrow lens or a defined age group.