2011 might be an extraordinary year for any number of reasons, but none likely will be more definitive than one in particular: The post-World War II U.S. baby boom generation is just beginning to turn 65. From a marketing standpoint, this is highly significant in more ways than one.
Born between 1946 and 1964, the U.S. baby boom generation is estimated to have ushered in 77 million people. If you look at the birth rates of the generations immediately before and after, they are downright paltry by comparison.
In fact, there was a baby bust between 1921 and 1945; and then again between 1965 and 1980. During the latter, total births dropped to roughly 56 million, with 1975 registering the lowest birthrate in U.S. history.
weaned as consumers
But let’s get back to the baby boomers. Unlike their parents, whose formative years were shaped by the Great Depression, they arrived during a period in U.S. history when home ownership soared, jobs were plentiful, and consumer demand fueled vigorous economic growth. The American Dream was thriving, and they arguably became the first generation of Americans to be weaned as consumers.
Moreover, they never strayed from their consumer roots. As adults, they took it upon themselves to groom the next generation of consumers. They did it by changing the business focus from the mass production of goods and services to concentrating on satisfying customers’ wants and needs.
They conceived a new discipline called marketing and began to teach it in schools — thereby creating a powerful mechanism for cultivating future consumers.
They dedicated themselves to constantly refining what they had learned about sales and marketing; and to developing new concepts and innovative techniques. Examples abound, but none as stellar as the popular rock band The Grateful Dead. Many credit them with having sown the seeds for the way marketing – especially social media marketing — is practiced today.
And as consumer preferences evolved, the baby boomers adapted and changed right along with them — from mass marketing to mass customization. From “You can have it in any color you want as long as it’s black,” to “Have it your way,” and “There’s an app for that.”
Not to be forgotten, it’s also worth noting their children – the children of the baby boomers — contributed to the baby boom echo that occurred between 1982 through 1995. Estimated at 80 million strong, these individuals will no doubt do their level best to carry on the legacy handed down from the generations of consumers before them.
a new demographic spike
So here we stand poised at the cusp of 2011 with the 65+ consumer demographic (the term demographic, btw, originated with the baby boom generation) about to explode over the next twenty years. They have their own wants and needs to satisfy as consumers; and they have the accompanying wants and needs of their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren thrown into the mix.
By my calculations, that amounts to roughly 210 million people weaned as consumers in the U.S. alone.
But it’s the first group in that tandem, the first 77 million, that gives marketers a special cause to remember the year 2011.