Speaking the Language of Boomers

Earn their trust and make a sale with these 8 communication tips.

If you want to market successfully to 50-plus clients, you have to speak their language—not just the language of words but the language of outlook and values.

David Wolfe of Wolfe Resources Group in Reston, Va., principal author of Ageless Marketing: Strategies for Reaching the Hearts and Minds of the New Customer Majority, says we progress through four phases of life focus: first, young, bold and playful; second, working to make our mark; third, seeking to balance play and work; and fourth, thinking about the meaning of life and of our lives in particular. The fourth phase is where baby boomers are, Wolfe says.

Taking it a step further, Dr. Laura Wilson, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Maryland, College Park, says baby boomers want to make a difference. "They're very interested in having meaningful roles in their community."

How can you put this information to work in your business? To stand out from the competition, it helps to walk the walk. Wilson says home buyers are more likely to choose your community or home site if you promote the community-service opportunities available nearby. And if you participate in community-service projects yourself, whether housing-related such as Christmas in April or more general community-support efforts, mention this in your advertising. Boomers are also very interested in the environment, Wilson says. If you use "green" products or systems, talk about it. Boomers may choose a builder or a remodeler who makes the effort to protect the environment, Wilson says.

Baby boomers are more seasoned buyers than their younger counterparts, and that experience factors into their attitudes as well. Wolfe offers these tips on translating insights about boomers into communication that wins business:

  1. Don't come at them with lots of facts and figures. Younger people approach decision-making in a more rational way, but older people base decisions more on "gut feelings honed by experience."
  2. Humanize your sales approach and your product. In your presentation book, include photos of people using their homes in a rewarding or meaningful way, especially involving multigenerational family members. Hire a photographer to snap pictures of your clients, showing "Mrs. Jones and her grandchild wearing aprons in the Joneses' new kitchen," for example, Wolfe advises. Or find existing photos to illustrate your point.
  3. Tell stories to bring your company to life. "Real stories arouse emotion in older markets," Wolfe says. Show a picture of a kitchen with a baking center, perhaps, and explain that you lowered the counter so Mrs. Smith could knead dough comfortably.
  4. Offer some choices, but not too many. Older people have a strong sense of autonomy and don't want to be told what product to use. Three options may be enough, but too many choices complicate and delay decision-making.
  5. Don't put older people under time pressure to make choices. Young people may go for the buy-now-and-save-$500 approach, but it makes boomers feel manipulated.
  6. Stress clean, simple designs. Younger people like to acquire things, but in midlife we begin wanting to simplify life. For boomers, life's satisfactions are tied in to what we experience, not what we own. Clean lines and light, airy spaces sell well to boomers.
  7. Help your clients solve some of their housing-related problems. If you can do so diplomatically, you might put them in touch with a "clutter doctor" to help them get rid of the accumulated stuff in their homes.
  8. Become their friend—honestly and sincerely. "They will do business with people they can depend on and trust," Wolfe says. "Companies have two contracts with every customer: legal and emotional. Satisfy the emotional contract and you'll be the company of choice."

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