Monday, August 30, 2010
Marketing to the Midlife Crisis
For those who were not convinced of my commitment to get a little more personal by my December 2008 article, Keeping it Personal at Work, this one’s for you. I don't blame you. In hindsight, that post was still pretty general. Having been told by several people that I am a private person and by many exes that I tend to take on the role of the man in those relationships (which I'm sure was not meant as a compliment), I’m going to follow my go-big-or-go-home approach and warm things up on public domain. Ready? Here goes: My name is Sarah and I’m having a midlife crisis. Personal enough for you? No? Read on.
Once I did the fast math and realized that I was closer to 40 than 30 and closer to 50 than 20, Bam! It came on like a Mack truck. Or perhaps, if you agree with Cornell sociologist, Elaine Wethington, along with more than 25% of Americans over the age of 35, I may just think I am having a midlife crisis. Regardless, we are all prime candidates for marketing.
The points that follow summarize my own experiences along with the qualitative information I’ve gathered from friends and colleagues when researching this article, however it does not purport to represent the population at large. The discussions I had with these folks were enlightening, and at times, heart-wrenching.
I’ll preface this with the acknowledgment that everyone’s situation is different. Some are depressed while others see tremendous opportunity. For most of us, it's a combination of the two. Responses to this could be as subtle as flirting with the bartender at the local watering hole or getting a piercing or new hair color, or as intense as moving to another country or offering one's friend a night with his/her spouse (true story). Translation to marketing- we’re not all looking to be bombarded with ads for dating websites and body part enlargements. 20-something marketers beware- the midlife crisis customer is not as predictable as you may think.
During this time, we’re not just seeking fast cars, younger arm candy, and a return to our glory days. We’re identifying who our real friends are (and aren’t), contemplating how we can make a difference in the world, relinquishing our fear of making changes for ourselves, watching our children become adolescents, and thinking about the legacy we want to leave on the planet. We’re seeking to act on all those things we said we’d try “someday.” Many of us are getting married, remarried, or divorced. We’re experiencing challenges we’ve never seen before and healing hurts caused by people we thought we could trust. We’re questioning our own intuition and judgment. We may be changing careers or zip codes. And if a fast car or young rocker stud accompany those changes, well so be it.
In my case, the most profound of these include: recognition of my own strength and potential; a new definition of friendship that entails fewer, closer relationships and the knowledge that I can choose my family -- that close friends can act in as familial a capacity as blood relatives, sometimes more so; personal discovery through prayer and meditation; an understanding of what I want out of life and a commitment to show up for it; a newfound ability to clearly express to others how I feel and what I need; confirmation that asking for help and support on occasion is far more mature and evolved than my wildly unsuccessful former method of facing everything alone; a focused dedication to physical fitness; and my first tattoo, among others. Thanks to all who gave me consistent feedback that I needed to open up more and for your patience as I baby-stepped into it.
When marketing to the midlife crisis customer, consider a few things:
“Midlife Crisis” is not equivalent to “mental holiday.” It doesn’t relegate us to devil-may-care spendaholics. We’re thinking differently about our lives, which extends to the products and services we buy. While this deeper thought requires a higher-touch marketing model, you will reap the benefits of our loyalty once we do buy. We may associate value to different things than we did in our 20s and you’ll have to work harder to convert us. We are difficult to profile, even with the most sophisticated neural networks. Create compelling and authentic messaging to which we can relate during this time. Focus on engaging us directly, and less on our peer influencers, as this group has become more dynamic. Deploy tactics that support this messaging and forego the gimmicks. We see right through that. Remember, we’ve been marketing targets for decades now.
The older we get, the less we care what other people think. For evidence of this, check out the picture at the top of this article to see what I recently wore to a group fitness class. I didn't worry about what anyone thought about my channeling Madonna, and I got a better workout as a result. The midlife crisis prompts us to surface memories of happier times. My friends and I are children of the 1980s and we’re damn proud of that. We remember analog phones, pink gloves, fishnets, big hair, and rocking out to Poison and Def Leppard. We will pay attention to products and services that can reignite those feelings and emotions without recreating the experiences themselves or keeping us stuck in the past. And I’ll keep my cell phone.
I know someone who swears by a very specific and expensive skin care regimen that can only be done to her satisfaction in a doctor’s office, along with associated self-care products. She has nearly perfect skin that makes her look 25, but try telling her that. She will only commit to products that prove themselves worthy. She signed up for this particular set after a detailed small-group marketing pitch and a WOM referral from another customer. I, on the other hand, am very loyal to a couple fashion brands which I wouldn’t have even considered 5 years ago. Why? Because wearing them makes me feel young. And when I feel young, I feel more confident.
So do proceed with marketing to the midlife crisis customer. We’re a big, bold group of people seeking new opportunities and open to offer marketing. But understand that we’ll see you coming. Keep that in mind in 10-20 years when you enter our demographic. Oh, and I can speak for myself along with several of my friends- we’re open to test driving whatever speedster you’re selling.
Research credits- Jamie Barnett, Christine Perkett, Kelly Ferguson, Andrew Nielsen, Tobi Baillie, Marie Luppold, Scott Gleason, Tina Surpitski, Erin Presseau, Mike Presseau, Andrew Ferguson, Raleen Gagnon, George Gagnon, Mike Lewis, Donna Farrell, Margaret DeGraff, Brian Carvalho, Michelle Parker Dowdy, Lauren Krawczyk, Lynne Crimmins, Rich Baillie, Christine Major, Kerry Gorgone
Photo Credit: supercars.dk