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Targeting the "true" boomers

Oct. 1, 2001
In part two of their series, the authors discuss marketing efforts for those boomers born between 1946 and 1955 — the "true" ones.

In part two of their series, the authors discuss marketing efforts for those boomers born between 1946 and 1955 — the "true" ones.

by Cindy Hearn & Doug Hammond

Click here to enlarge image

Dental practices that want to perform more cosmetic dentistry in the next 10 to 20 years must begin shifting their focus, marketing dollars, and products and services toward aging baby boomers. The members of this famous generation are ideal candidates for higher-level elective dentistry, including cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Practices must position themselves to capitalize on the opportunity this population segment represents. Dr. Ken Dychtwald, founder of Age Wave, explains, "Companies whose products and services are aligned with the age-related needs of maturing customers are on the threshold of a tremendous opportunity."

Let's briefly re-examine the statistics. Approximately 77 million baby boomers live in America today, ranging in age from 37 to 55. According to Mature Marketing & Research, they account for more than 25 percent of America's aggregate income and spend more than one trillion dollars on goods and services each year. The sheer size of this generation means it has a significant impact on marketing trends, including product demand. Many members of this group are turning 50, and they are redefining the aging process in terms of lifestyle, activities, and physical appearance.

For dentistry, the baby-boom generation represents both a unique opportunity and a challenge. Fondly known as the "Me Generation," experts predict that boomers will seek out and utilize the latest technology and medicine to maintain a youthful appearance and lifestyle. And trends are supporting this prediction. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the number of cosmetic procedures has grown phenomenally — more than 200 percent over the past few years, depending upon the type of procedure. The majority of patients seeking these types of procedures are between the ages of 40 and 49. The American Society for Plastic Surgery (ASPS) also reports that 35-to-50 year-olds are the largest market for their services.

Baby boomers represent approximately 41 percent of the total population. In addition to size, there are several other reasons this generation offers dentists the opportunity for growth, and more than likely will be dentistry's primary focus for the next few decades:

  • Boomers are aging and so are their teeth.
  • Boomers did not have the advantage of the cavity prevention techniques that later generations enjoyed.
  • Boomers are highly focused on their appearance and on maintaining their youth.
  • Boomers are becoming comfortable with dentistry as a whole, as they become familiar with new technologies and pain-assistance options.
DiversityHow can practices most effectively take advantage of this booming opportunity? It helps if we understand that the one thing baby boomers all have in common is their diversity. This may seem like an oxymoron, but according to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), "There is little doubt that the impact of the baby boom's generation has been underestimated. Although commonly viewed as a monolith, the idea of the baby boomers as a homogeneous group is more a myth than reality."

The baby-boom generation spans 20 years. Understanding where they are in life, their values, and experiences will help you communicate and market to this population group more effectively. According to writer Don Taylor, "To market to the boomer generation, you'll need to understand their motivations and buying habits. The demographics of this group are interesting, but it is the psychographics (the study of lifestyles and behavior) that may help you grow your business."

Let's first look at life stages. For the baby boomers, life stage varies greatly. Today, a boomer could be "retired," an "empty nester," a "second career," or even a "new family." Each life stage has unique characteristics that determine demand for products, services, and financial responsibilities. Just picture the differing needs of a 56-year-old empty nester and a 38-year-old boomer just starting a family. Their time, product, and financial needs vary dramatically; the way we communicate and market to them should also vary.

In addition to life stages, businesses need to consider the life experiences and life values of their target market. "An individual's life experiences — what was going on when that person was growing up — define a person's life values, which are relatively permanent. The events of society that occur during a person's 'formative years' — ages seven to 20 — directly impact attitudes and values," explains Frank Conaway, president of Primelife and a mature-market expert. Most experts segment this demographic into "early boomers" and "late boomers."

The early boomers were in their 20s by 1970. This was the generation that vowed never to trust anyone over the age of 30. They experienced major social upheaval, including the deaths of President Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They lived through the Vietnam War and were on the streets in protest. Their trust was further eroded by the Watergate scandal.

Today, the older boomers are more like the generation that preceded them. The "late" boomers don't directly remember the assassinations. There was no war, no military draft. And the Beatles broke up long before this segment began listening to rock-and-roll. They are more like the generation that follows them, Generation X.

For practices wanting to increase their cosmetic production, segmenting the boomers even further can provide insight into the exact target for marketing messages. Consumer Trends Report suggests segmenting the boomers into three groups: "On the Fringe of Generation X Boomers," the "True Boomers," and "On the Fringe of Boomers and Matures." For dentistry, the "True Boomers" — those between the ages of 40 and 50 — are ideal cosmetic candidates. They are entering "middlescence," a new adult life stage, and are just beginning to think about retirement. They have come to the realization that they will not live forever and are taking steps to improve their diets and increase their exercise. "They are looking toward a new lifestyle; they are spending more on health and beauty aids as they age and on food products with extra nutritional value," confirms Mature Marketing & Research. And, according to Consumer Trends Report, "Being wellness-focused means they are great candidates for exercise equipment and clothing, nutritional products, anti-aging creams, and the like. Many are in their peak earning years. So, premium products and services also do well with this crowd."

"Now that my children are grown, I have more time and money to spend on myself, finally. I feel like I'm only 35, so I definitely don't want to look like I'm 50. So, this year, I'm making what I call 'personal improvements,' " explains Debbie Tom, age 48.

In addition to life stage and life values, there are general characteristics that baby boomers share that separate them from other generations of consumers. Yankelovich Partners and Consumer Trends Report have verified some of these characteristics:

  • In their desire to attain the American dream, many have run up high debts.
  • Nostalgia is important; past images remind them of when their dreams and ideas were celebrated and when the future was a great thing to conquer.
  • Boomers are competitive and goal-oriented.
  • The quest for self is a primary one, focusing on self-improvement and individual accomplishment.
  • Boomers value convenience in their lifestyle and quality in their products.
  • This group has always had a preoccupation with physical appearance and health, so they most likely will stay "young at heart" as they age. Their participation in fitness activities will continue to increase.
Marketing to "true" boomersMarketing encompasses all the ways a practice communicates with or "touches" patients. Some of the more obvious methods are advertising and direct marketing. Marketing also includes other less obvious but equally important forms of communication, such as the practice environment and patient/staff interaction. Here are some practical tips that will help dentists increase their cosmetic production by targeting true boomers.
  • True boomers do not consider themselves "old," so do not market to them as if they are aging. They will be offended.
  • Though baby boomers want to maintain a youth-ful appearance and lifestyle, avoid using youthful images in your advertising. Instead, consider images that feature vitality, grace, and spirit.
  • Make sure any visuals you use are not 20-somethings. Boomers will not believe you are interested in them or their buying power. Instead, use active adults in your marketing.
  • Use nostalgia both in your visuals and the practice environment, such as the type of music played in the reception area. Many hugely successful campaigns, including Burger King and Mercedes Benz, have used music from their generation to target this demographic.
  • Remember that as we age, certain physical changes occur. The font size on brochures, applications, information sheets, and other printed pieces should be at least 12 point.
  • Always remember to maintain the perspective that the boomers are merely halfway through their expected lifespan. Boomers feel they have a lot of life left and have the income to live it fully — looking and feeling as good as they can afford!
  • Boomers are busy and value convenience; therefore, make your practice accessible by offering after work and weekend hours.
  • Boomers love information and seek it out. When discussing treatment, don't hesitate to provide them with the technical aspects of the treatment plan.
  • Boomers are comfortable with technology; most are Web-savvy. Consider launching a Web site that details, in both text and visuals, the potential appearance improvements boomers can attain through cosmetic dentistry.
  • Boomers are more comfortable with paying for high-dollar services with credit. Interest-free financing is especially attractive to this population segment. Make sure your practice offers third-party financing, such as CareCredit. This type of program provides Boomers with the payment flexibility many need to get the dentistry they want.
  • The visual aspect of communication is critical to effective marketing. Use visuals in the reception rooms, halls, and operatories that illustrate the benefits of cosmetic surgery, such as before-and-after photos. But be sure you use people who are in the ideal age range from 40 to 50.
  • Actively promote cosmetic dentistry to your current patients in this target age group. Don't assume they know all about the procedures, cost, or ways to pay for treatment comfortably. Use the photo displays to open up a dialogue between your patients and staff. Be excited about the possibilities and advancements in technology, and be sure you communicate this excitement to all of your patients.

Above all, remember that this market is diverse, and they love personal attention. Spend a few extra moments discussing their treatment plan, addressing their concerns, and providing them with financial solutions. You'll see an immediate boom in your cosmetic production!

Early Boomers ...
  • Born between 1946 and 1955
  • Influenced by significant social events such as the assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King, Vietnam, and Watergate
  • Grew up in the 1960s
  • Protested against the "establishment"
  • Relate more to the generation that preceded them
Late Boomers
  • Born between 1956 and 1964
  • Have followed the early boomers, taking advantage of their successes and learning from their mistakes
  • Grew up in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Relate more to the generation that followed them, Generation X

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