Straight Talk: David B. Wolfe's Ageless Approach to Marketing
Development-relationship marketing expert David B. Wolfe has worked extensively with clients such as American Express, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Marriott and Prudential Securities, fostering the idea of "ageless marketing." He now draws on his robust career to offer a new book, "Ageless Marketing: Strategies for Reaching the Hearts & Minds of the New Customer Majority" (with Robert E. Snyder, Dearborn, $25). He paused briefly from consulting clients about the new customer majority to reflect on optimum copy and creative strategies, the disconnect between today's companies and the mature market, and how a Harry & David catalog arrived just in time.
PB: From your perspective, how responsive is the aging boomer market to direct-response media? What medium do you find to be the most effective?
DW: It's less a question of how responsive are aging boomers to direct-response media than what it takes to get them to respond in the first place. Messages must be relevant to their needs but also [to] their values. Most marketing is biased toward youthful values that don't ring many aging boomers' bells. But, at the same time, it's critical to not stigmatize a product by indicating it's for a particular age group. As to what the most direct-response medium is, I'd have to say the Internet because of how deeply its interactive nature can pull a customer into a site when the site is well-designed and managed.
PB: What are some basic copy and creative approaches that have proved effective when targeting the mature market?
DW: Great question. It's a great question because few marketers really understand the differences between how people in the second half of life40 and olderand people in the first half of life mentally process information; whether it's in an ad, a sales conversation, or wherever. Second-half minds use less reason and logic in making decisions. This is not a theory. It shows up in hard-core research. The older mind depends more on emotions or feelings. Storytelling is a great way to do this. [Stories] are usually more effective in older markets than didactic declarations of a product's features and benefits. People in second-half markets don't want to be directly told what's best for them. But they can be influenced by stories that project values they relate to.
PB: How have the aging boomer market's core values and beliefs affected the way marketers craft their appeals?
DW: I once read that infants teach their mothers how to tend to their needs. Consumers do the same thing for marketers. When youth ruled the marketplace, youth showed marketers the way to success. But that's changed now. The majority of adults consists of people 40 and older. This has resulted in a sea change in the lifestyle values that dominate consumer behavior. For instance, by now every consumer trends-spotter has reported that today's consumers don't seem to be as materialistic as they were in, say, the "Greedy 1980s" when yuppies dominated much of the marketplace. Consumers are reflecting a stronger bias toward experiential aspirations than toward materialistic aspirations. This has prompted marketers to put less focus on product features and functional benefits, and more focus on the customer experience.
PB: In your estimation, what is the most prevalent disconnect between marketers and the mature market?
DW: The most prevalent disconnect is the failure to recognize that a 57-year-old boomer is not simply a 30-year-older version of her 27-year-old self. Her 27-year-old self had heroic, romantic images of her future, was strongly focused on social networking in pursuit of career and personal objectives, keying much of her behavior to what her peers were doing, and into getting "things" on a major scale. At 57, she's more introspective (peers have less influence on her buying decisions), more individuated (she's less like her peers, which makes her behavior more difficult to predict), and she's more autonomous (more resistant to marketing approaches that she agreeably responded to when she was 27).
PB: What is the last piece of direct mail you responded to, and why?
DW: A Harry & David catalog, probably because it arrived on the very day I wanted to send out thank-you gifts to two wonderful people. Otherwise, I might have gone to Amazon.com, which I often use because it offers consumer reviewswhich often influence my buying decision.