Franchises are constantly being urged to splash their marketing budgets on targeting millennials instead of the more affluent baby boomers. However, this may not be money well spent
When Gaby Lixton and Caroline Sparks co-founded and launched Turtle Tots, the baby swimming franchise, they quickly realised that parents weren’t the only ones interested in bringing kids to the classes. While plenty of mothers and fathers signed up for weekend waterpaloozas, they were rarely able to take time off from work during the week. Instead, the toddlers who attended classes between Mondays and Fridays were often accompanied by their grandparents. Not only that but the seniors often paid for their grandchildren’s swimming lessons even if they themselves didn’t join them. “So that’s how, even in the early days, it became apparent that we needed to market ourselves to grandparents too,” says Sparks.
And the Turtle Tots co-founders aren’t the only ones to notice how reaching out to people born in the 1950s and the 1960s – the so-called baby boomers – can provide a healthy influx of money. In fact, Brits who were born in the post-war era accounted for 47% of all UK consumer spending in 2015, according to research from Saga, the insurance company, and the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the economics consultancy.
So why do businesses seem determined to keep marketing their products to millennials when there’s a more affluent age group out there? “It’s because marketing has historically been very youth-focused,“ says Tash Walker, founder of The Mix, the human-behaviour research agency. A reason for this is that businesses tend to associate being young with being switched on to what’s new, whilst being close to the age of retirement is equated with being old and frail. “The stereotype was that within two or three years after you retired, you wouldn’t matter,” says Walker. “That’s a very misplaced belief.”
She believes franchisors must erase that idea from their minds as an increasing number of people are working beyond the age of 65, resulting in baby boomers rapidly accumulating more wealth. More importantly, they’re not afraid of spending that money, with baby boomers splashing out £10.6bn each year on travel, according to research from the Institute of Customer Service. In comparison, the people born between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, so-called millennials, annually spend £8.4bn. “Baby boomers have much bigger disposable incomes, own houses and are interested in going abroad – all luxuries younger generations cannot afford right now,” says Walker.
However, that fact is one companies are seemingly struggle to get their heads around, the consequence of which is that UK businesses waste £27bn each year by targeting millennials over the more affluent baby boomers, according to the Institute of Customer Service. “In other words, millennials are getting too much marketing attention,” says Amy Shaw, digital PR executive at Curated Digital, the online marketing agency.
Given that baby boomers are more affluent and willing to spend money, it makes sense that franchises should change their focus and aim their marketing efforts towards this generation. But saying you want to target British seniors is easier said than done. For instance, a common mistake is addressing them as if they’re old people, especially considering that they spearheaded the concept of teenage rebellion as we know it. “They may look older on the outside but they were rebels, radicals and innovators on an unprecedented scale,” says Lynne Rawlinson, brand manager at Business Doctors, the SME consultancy franchise. “In their heads they may well still feel 15. Patronise them at your peril.”
Seeing how easily that mistake is made, it makes sense that franchisors need to draw a map to guide them on their journey. “Begin by doing in-depth audience research,” says Shaw. “Dig deep and figure out who you’re actually targeting.”
Additionally, franchisors should look for variations in their desired target audience in order to help franchisees to get the marketing right in their area and engage with local baby boomers. “It’s important to acknowledge that they are individuals with different attitudes and opinions,” says Walker. “They may be from the same generation but they all have varied interests, states of minds and personal commitments worth considering.”
But while baby boomers in Cardiff, Chelmsford and Cambridge may all have different hobbies, there are some similarities as to how they engage with each other. For instance, they’re more technologically savvy than they’re often given credit for, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee are both baby boomers, as was Steve Jobs. This is reinforced by the number of older people now hanging out on social-media platforms.
However, it’s still important for franchises to target the right networks: according to research from DMN3, the marketing agency, only 9% of baby boomers hang out on Instagram. Businesses may find more success trying to reach them on Twitter, which counts 30.6% of baby boomers as users, or on Facebook, where 82.3% have accounts.
In fact, baby boomers are engaging more with the content on social-media platforms than Generation Z, the people born around the turn of the millennium. According to research from The Mix, while Gen Z is considered the first truly digitally native generation, it’s also the most cautious. “They are profoundly conscious of the potential pitfalls online,” says Walker. “They may have five or six different accounts on a selection of platforms but they also monitor their behaviour more closely because they know how publicly they may mess up.”
But while Gen Z may tiptoe around the interweb, their parents are embracing a more extroverted and less cautious approach online. If you doubt it, just remember the one person who’s determined to drop a comment on your every status update. “My mum likes everything that I put up on Facebook,” says Shaw. “I mean everything.” That tendency to like status updates, share material and engage with others is something that franchises are advised to incorporate in their marketing strategy in order to attract baby boomers. And the way to do it is to create material they can engage with.
That’s a strategy Turtle Tots is fully embracing. “We have regular photoshoots in our classes because we’ve found that grandparents are very likely to share the pictures online,” says Sparks. Those shares have the added benefit of working as implicit recommendations for the company’s services, which is important because baby boomers are more likely to engage with recommendations from their friends than with clean-cut corporate commercials. Drawing upon the success of these photoshoots has prompted Turtle Tots to develop a YouTube channel. “Whenever we post a video, we get huge engagement online because people like to show their friends what their little girls and boys do during their classes,” says Sparks.
And as people share away, it means more potential customers will take notice and engage with the brand online. “I don’t know how often grandparents have told me that they’ve heard about us online,” says Lixton.
Given that 90% of Turtle Tots’ customers discover the brand through word of mouth, it’s hardly surprising that the franchise has found more ways to ensure they get the conversations going. Not only is the business providing its clients with material to share online, they also sell branded merchandise to boost their profits and get people talking. The idea is that whenever their customers take their babies swimming elsewhere, their friends may notice the Turtle Tots logo on their nappies and ask what it is. “That way it becomes a discreet talking point,” says Sparks.
Ultimately, considering that baby boomers are switched on to what’s trending, are active online, have time on their hands and money to spend, it should be a no-brainer whether or not franchises should swap their marketing focus from millennials to their parents.