Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Universal Design and Boomers

In a non-news news release from the folks at the Industrial Design Group of GE Consumer & Industrial (the appliance group), we see some good news.

Mainstream appliance makers like GE are finally realizing how the changing demographics of more older adults impacts their business. In the release, they talk about a research process they have been implementing with Carnegie Mellon School of Design to figure out how to apply "Universal Design" concepts into new product developments.

As they report: “The time has come for kitchens and homes that fit the real needs of real people—needs that will change over time.” It is their intention to be a leader in this effort. GE already has a Web site with examples of kitchens with universal design principles and appliances.

This is good news, and about time. We've talked about universal design as it relates to homes since 2004. The in-home "aging in place" business -- remodeling, retrofitting, upgrading -- is going to be a huge business over the next 20+ years as Boomers grow older and face diminishing physical capabilities.

We'll be watching for more major players to seize this opportunity.

Adventure Travel and Culture Cruises

Silversea Cruises, an ultra-luxury cruise line based out of Monaco, reports record growth in the number of passengers who have never before sailed with the line – a phenomenon the company attributes to its aggressive marketing to the “lucrative Baby Boomer market.”

While most marketers look upon baby boomers as a maturing market, the age cohort represents a “youth” market compared to the older demographic that traditionally has dominated the business. “We’re encouraging our travel agency partners to check their preconceptions at the door,” said David Morris, Silversea’s executive vice president of worldwide sales. “Younger people have the money and time to travel.”

(We like that. The last time anyone referred to us as a “young” person, we were talking to our 79-year-old step mother.)

As the Boomers displace the GI generation and the silent generation from the luxury liner suites, their tastes are driving tremendous changes. “According to many cruise line executives this one group of guests has probably created more changes in cruise ship programming than any other travelers since Noah's Ark,”writes Joseph Ewart, editor of www.cruisejungle.com.

Ewart quotes Dan Hanrahan, chairman of Cruise Lines International Association, as observing that Baby Boomers tend to collect experiences as they get older as opposed to physical possessions. Out goes Bingo, in come computer classes. Out go the bus tours, in come river-rafting expeditions and bicycle jaunts down the side of a volcano.

The industry also is tacking away from formal dining rooms with early and late seating times in favor of smaller restaurants in alternative settings that serve meals according to more flexible schedules. For entertainment, cruise lines are lining up more acts geared to Boomer tastes such as jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Spas are offering exotic amenities such as Thalassotherapy pools and hot stone massages. And an increasing square footage of prime, ocean-view space is being dedicated to weight machines and elipticals.

Silverseas’ HSH Prince Albert II, one of four vessels in the company’s fleet, appears to be built from the keel up with Baby Boomers and their cosmopolitan European counterparts in mind. Billing the vessel as geared to “adventure travel,” Silverseas has equipped the ship to take passengers to “some of the world’s most remote landscapes.”

“The interest in expedition travel is definitely on the rise, both among affluent baby boomers and seasoned travelers wanting to further enrich their already wide knowledge of more traditional and established destinations,” says Asiatraveltips.com.

The website quotes Silversea President Amerigo Perasso: "Adventure travel is also about having experiences that are intellectually enriching, so every voyage will feature a carefully selected expedition team of lecturers and leading experts who will share their insights on the natural, cultural and historical highlights of some of the most pristine and secluded regions on Earth."

As a sign of the times, Silversea has appointed a “director of expeditions” with responsibility, among other things, of recruiting expedition “lecturers” to cater the knowledge-thirsty Boomers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Exercise in a Pill

Now comes news that researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego have discovered a synthetic chemical that improves the physical stamina of laboratory mice on a treadmill by 44 percent over their non-doped buddies. The discovery immediately sparked speculation that scientists might one day create an “exercise pill” for humans that could put the most sluggish couch potato on a physiological par with the most avid of exercisers – with no additional effort.

The revelation is particularly pertinent to Boomers who have reached an age in which their physical fitness is experiencing a steady, seemingly inexorable slide. Although many Boomers have incorporated exercise into their lifestyles more passionately than previous generations have, that commitment requires a tremendous effort. Who wouldn’t like to spend less time on the treadmill and more time playing Sudoku or snoozing in the hammock?

The quest for youthful vigor is hardly unique to Boomers, of course. Human beings have been searching for an antidote to the aging process at least since Juan Ponce de Leon undertook his unsuccessful search for the fountain of youth (we wonder if he was friends with Luigi Cornaro). Assuming we can believe Wikipedia, ol’ Juan was seeking a remedy for sexual impotence. If the Spaniards had had Viagra back then, he might never have been motivated to discover Florida.

Speaking of Viagra, pills for sexual impotence already rank among the biggest selling pharmaceuticals in the world. Meanwhile, scientists are researching chemical compounds that can halt the effects of aging on memory and mental processing speeds. Although it’s a long journey from a chemical that works on mice in a lab to a drug safe for humans, it may be only a matter of time before “exercise pills” become a reality.

How long before there’s a pill to effortlessly perfect every human frailty? How will that impact the way we value effort and self discipline? And how will the demand of the huge and affluent Boomer generation skew research priorities toward lifestyle drugs, away from life-saving pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and orphan drugs that treat small but needy populations?

We don’t pretend to know. But stay tuned. We’ll follow the emerging debate.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Maybe Whining Boomers Have a Reason to Complain

We promised we'd weigh in on the recent Boomer-basing articles referencing various research studies about the unhappiness of Boomers.

We did so in our twice monthly Op/Ed column "Viva the Vital." You can read the piece here.

In it, you'll note, we reference "gen-ism," or bias and stereotyping based on one's generational cohort. That concept and term comes from Brent Green, author of Marketing to Leading Edge Boomers and a man on a mission to stamp out ageism and genism.

Brent has a blog worth a read.

Tell us your opinion about generational bias. Send in a comment.

A Boomer "Bucket List" for Ages 50-64

The folks at a newish Web site for Boomers ages 50 to 64, PreRetirementLife.com, have released a pretty good list of things Boomers should be doing now to get ready for life after work.

You can read the list here.

Not surprisingly, it starts with health related things to do. In our work with marketers and organizations trying to figure out what will drive Boomer behavior over the next 10, 20, even 30 years, we tell them it starts and stops with maintaining health. Because without it, Boomers won't be able to do all the other things they want to do -- travel, volunteer, spend time with family, etc.

The PreRetirement Web site is still officially in beta, so we haven't been compelled to comment on it publicly. However, since they are now issuing press releases, we'll offer up an assessment.

To be honest, we can't figure out the site's purpose. Sure, it says it is a "trusted resource for adults 50 plus" but that has no meaning without context. The first line of the site says

"You've found the premier guide to making your 50+ "PreRetirement" years the most rewarding stage of your life! You'll find advice, activities, and the most useful online resources to help you plan your future and maximize the present."
So it's a filter through which one can find things online relevant to them at age 50-64? A "guide?" It feels like that, especially when you select one of the 14 options, and then get a chance to "explore useful Web sites." But that promise of being a guide and trusted resource isn't explained well on the Home page, or even within the site itself. As outsiders clicking in for the first time, we were confused and unsure of the site's purpose.

We spoke with Andy Garvin, founder, and shared our observations. Garvin said the goal is to be a guide -- they have a staff reviewing sites and adding them to the resource lists daily. We think Boomers are pretty sophisticated Web surfers and will need to know exactly what the benefit is to them to use PreRetirementLife.com. Right now, it isn't clear enough, in our opinion.

What makes it confusing is that three of the six main navigation options appear to link to ads, product pitches or some sort of sponsored content -- in other words, PreRetirementLife.com exists to sell those 50-64 something. Not be a "trusted" guide. The site doesn't have any banner ads, and there has to be a revenue stream from somewhere, so this isn't surprising. But it is confusing.

We'll watch and see how it develops as it comes out of beta.

Valuable Insights into the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of Today's Baby Boomers

This blog is by the authors of Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America's Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group, on sale now.

Here is where you'll find information referenced in the book, as well as updates, news and perspectives from Matt Thornhill and John Martin, founders of the Boomer Project.