When You Assume . . .You Alienate Boomer Women

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, August 27, 2008

There are two demographics that healthcare marketers most pine for—two groups that have a huge impact on the financial health of healthcare organizations. The first is women, who have the biggest influence on their friends' and family members' healthcare choices and spread word of mouth (both positive and negative) like crazy. The second is the baby boomer generation, the largest and most lucrative healthcare market.

So what does that make women boomers? I'm not sure there's a superlative strong enough to describe their importance to healthcare marketers.

But healthcare marketers often misunderstand this important group, according to a recent study by BVK, a marketing communications firm in Milwaukee. The findings suggest that some of the conventional wisdom about women boomers is wrong. And—even worse—boomer women feel insulted when marketers act on these incorrect assumptions and misrepresent them in images or write copy that doesn't reflect their lifestyle and attitudes.

Here's an example of how marketers misunderstand boomer women. The statement I made at the beginning of this column—that women influence healthcare decisions and that they often spread their recommendations via word of mouth—is only half right, according to the study.

A full 72% of survey respondents said they either relied solely on independent information that they personally researched to drive their decision-making or turned to these information sources before they turned to others. Only 9% of women reported using stories and past experiences from family and friends and other associates as the principle driver of their decision-making, according to Joel English, BVK's executive vice president.

In other words, you can't rely solely on word of mouth to reach this audience. If you're not giving them the information they need—especially online—then you're not going to reach the demographic during that crucial evidence-gathering stage.

Another example of how marketers misunderstand older women—and how that misperception can sabotage marketing efforts: Marketers who haven't yet turned 50 might be looking toward that milestone with some trepidation. It's all downhill from there, right?

But women who have already turned 50 don't feel that way at all. A full 97% of survey respondents said that turning 50 is cause for celebration.

"There is a pervasive cultural attitude, which sometimes finds its way into marketing thinking, that age 50 is the tipping point from a fully-functional and enjoyable life to one of decreasing opportunity, functionality, and satisfaction," English writes in a chapter on marketing to women boomers in a forthcoming HealthLeaders Media book on niche marketing.

An ad showing an older woman lying in her hospital bed, looking frail and pale, with a kindly nurse patting her withered hand does much more harm than good. Women in this age group don't want to see themselves depicted as old and decrepit. In fact, they don't want to see themselves as sick at all, even if they are. Fear tactics just don't work on this group, English writes.

Here's the bottom line: Don't assume you know everything about any niche group.

Because you know what happens when you assume.

Want to learn more about what you don't know about boomers? Read five facts about them that might surprise you in this month's magazine [Boomer Truths, August, 2008].

The full results of the BVK study will be released in the forthcoming book, Case Studies in Niche Marketing: Real-world ways to reach key customer groups.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
Note: You can sign up to receive HealthLeaders Media Marketing, a free weekly e-newsletter that will guide you through the complex and constantly-changing field of healthcare marketing.
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