Posted October 11, 2010 10:19 am by with 7 comments

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When you read reports about Internet usage, smartphone adoption and technology use in general you are often led to believe that this is a young person’s game. As a recent study covered in an article from AdAge points out, how you define an older Internet user is probably the most important part of understanding just how much they are online and accessible.

Marilynn Mobley has a desktop at work, a laptop at home, a netbook for travel, an Android smartphone and just last week she bought an iPad. She time shifts all her TV viewing using DVRs and enjoys watching Blu-ray movies at home. She’s also 63 years old.

Ms. Mobley is a strategic counselor for Edelman in its Boomer Insights Generation Group.

“It’s actually a myth that baby boomers aren’t into technology. They represent 25% of the population, but they consume 40% [in total dollars spent] of it,” said Patricia McDonough, senior VP-analysis at Nielsen Co.

Those are some heady numbers if you are a marketer. I often find that the way the Boomer Generation is parsed is ridiculously off the mark. The supposed range of birth years for boomers are those that were born from 1946-1964. There is such an incredible gap in that 18 year range with regard to technology interaction and more that this entire demographic area should be redone and defined appropriately.

Here is some evidence for that argument from Forrester

As part of the Young Boomer generation myself I would argue that my Internet ‘savviness” is on par with many people much younger than I am (although Andy would argue that point). As a result, for me to be clumped in with older people and included in their ways and uses of the Internet is a huge mistake for marketers.

Let’s take a look at where the rubber meets the road. Who spends more on tech? “Boomers” do. Maybe it’s because they have more money but whatever the reason the reality is that they spend for tech.

In fact, spending on technology is one area where boomers are ahead of their younger counterparts. The 46 to 64 year-old group now spends more money on technology than any other demographic, according to Forrester Research’s annual benchmark tech study. That includes monthly telecom fees, gadget and device spending, and overall online purchases. They averaged around $650 spent in online shopping vs. Gen X ($581) and Gen Y ($429) over a three-month period.

Honestly, there is a lot of data from the article in AdAge that you s a marketers should take a look at. If you don’t have the time, I’ll sum it up for you. Not all Baby Boomers are even close to being alike in their consumption and use of technology and they need to be broken down into more realistic groups.

Lets just say, if you are stupid enough to consider baby boomers as the current 46-64 year-olds and think that you can categorize people in that age range the same from top to bottom then you are just that: stupid. The variations are just as vast when we, as marketers, like to say that 18-34 year-olds belong in the same demographic category. Maybe when marketing and advertising were in the age of the Mad Men show but today we have to be smarter than that and get much more granular with our determination of what age may represent what behavior.

So be very careful how you treat the older folks in the world of the Internet. If you dismiss them due to a completely inaccurate stereotype you do so at the risk of your bottom line.

How would you break out demographic age groups to more accurately determine how technology is used? Are you OK with 16-18 year groupings that can take a member of that group through several different life changes? How should age be used as a demographic yardstick in the Internet space?

Give us your thoughts.

  • David Geist

    I wonder what difference in standard deviation is of time/money spend when comparing the younger and older generations. I would think (and this may just be going along with the stereotype) that younger people spend roughly equal amounts of time/money on the internet, while older generations have a big gap in their populations. Some spend a lot of time/money while others spend very little.

    • That actually goes along with the concept of breaking the Boomer group down into more realistic groups. My suspicion (no science here, just gut) that the approximately 46- early 50-ish group spends a considerable amount of money AND the also help to subsidize much of the spending of their kids tech use in the lower demos. That is a very powerful group that is a subset of the larger Boomer group which, at the upper limits, would look extremely different.

      Does that make sense or am I blowing smoke here?

  • Internet marketer should keep in mind this agegroup ,while making their strategies.

  • continuing the more realistic breakdown theme, while I read this story I wondered what it would look like if you cross-sectioned the data to account for class/income – I’d be willing to bet that the cited 40% of tech consumption by boomers is composed of boomers in who are comfortable financial circumstances.

  • I like your ideas and I hope in the future there can be more bright articles like this from you.

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