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Ready or not, here they come: Preparing for the baby boomers

As you are aware, beginning next year, the nation’s 75 million “baby boomers,” the generation born between World War II and the Vietnam War, will begin turning 65 and will become Medicare-eligible at the rate of about 10,000 a day.Add that to the fact that, currently, the majority of healthcare workers are baby boomers themselves, and it becomes no secret that there is a looming health care conundrum before us. Your health care organization has likely begun to consider where and how to serve this influx of patients, no doubt developing plans to recruit new staff, expand facilities and refocus service lines.

It’s also time to begin considering the details that will give your health care organization a competitive edge and create marketing concepts that will appeal to these older audiences.

Susan Wnorowski, director of admissions at Barnegat Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 110-bed facility in Barnegat, New Jersey agrees. Once boomers reach their late 70s, she said, “The competition to accommodate them is going to be fierce, so you really need to update your amenities.”
Flat-screen television in every room, computer access, gourmet meal selections and other high-end, high-touch amenities are likely just what the baby boomer ordered. Even if your organization is poised to deliver on these amenities, one key barrier to success will still remain: Getting your message heard.

Many advertising researchers are pointing out another interesting challenge posed by the boomers to the health care industry: The same old marketing tactics won’t work on them.

“Seniors, particularly baby boomers, each believe they belong to a market segment made up of exactly one person,” said Blaine Branchik, an associate professor of marketing at Quinnipiac University who has studied the history of selling to the elderly. “Many believe the only thing they have in common is that they are all so unique that they have nothing in common.”

Don’t let your message go overlooked—prepare today for marketing tomorrow:

  • Leave age out of it
    Just like your mom always said, it’s rude to discuss a person’s age. The truth in this scenario is that no one wants to be called old, depicted as or enticed by images that show them in ways that they don’t see themselves. Joseph Coughlin, a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, agrees: “Companies that sell cars designed for old men find that no one wants to buy them, especially old men.”

Instead, play up the service lines and amenities that are most likely to appeal to them as people, not as an aging demographic.

  • Target the family
    As people age, it’s often family members who ultimately make care decisions on their behalf. All marketing efforts should be developed to appeal to both baby boomers and their adult children. A great way to do this is through community health fairs—an environment in which your organization can truly reach the whole family. Approach baby boomers with information while engaging their children. Don’t forget the grandchildren, either: Offer fun treats for the kid (or the kid in the adult), like Yo-Yos or balsam flyers.
  • Feature the numbers
    As the human brain ages, it becomes less capable of contextualizing and recalling numerical depictions in text. Phone numbers should be prominently displayed on materials and any numbers should be emphasized by a different text color or slightly larger size if important to the context of an ad or other marketing material. Use direct mail gifts, like oversized pens or extra-large pill containers, as a way to promote your organization with ample room to up the print size.
  • Be emotive
    Appeal to the warm-fuzzies when marketing to baby boomers—patient testimony for services, images of families and independent people living happily have already proven to be effective tools for appealing to audiences. Comforting giveaways, like a fleece blanket or a sweatshirt, evoke similar feelings and therefore a similar appeal. A study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003, exposed consumers to advertisements that were identical except for the text. One ad, promoting a camera, emphasized photography’s capacity to expand horizons. “Capture the unexplored world,” it read. The other emphasized the camera’s capacity to record memories. It read, “Capture those special moments.” While middle-age and young consumers recalled both ads, elderly consumers much more easily remembered the advertisement emphasizing precious memories.

Whether you’re ready or not, they are coming. Prepare both your facilities and your marketing today and you’re sure to be grateful you did tomorrow.

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Scott Campbell, Eric. “Health Systems Prepare as Boomers Start Retiring in Large Numbers – PressofAtlanticCity.com.” Press of Atlantic City. 25 July 2010. Web. 19 Aug. 2010.

“The Baby Boomer Healthcare Crisis.” Leaders in Healthcare. Web. 19 Aug. 2010.

Duhigg, Charles. “The New York Times.” The New York Times. Web. 02 Sept. 2010.

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