If he lives to be 100, Jim Cone
will never be a senior. At 53, he is, and believes he
shall always be, a baby boomer. And I will love Led Zeppelin until
the day I die, he says.
When the current 55
million seniors -those 75 years or older -- leave this earth, Cone
believes that the senior market will no longer exist. And its a
generation leaving the earth by the thousands every day. When
boomers reach 75, they will not be seniors -- they will 75-year-old
Ah, my generation.
In the 60s boomer anthem My Generation, the rock group the Who
stuttered for all of us when they sang, Hope I d-d-d-d-die before I
But we apparently
concluded theres a third, happy alternative to growing old or
dying: We will simply age without growing old.
Old, that is, as we
currently think of old.
Cone is president
of Matrix Media of Hawaii, a marketing firm specializing in
genergraphics -- generational demographics (www.genergraphics.com). He says there is no faster way
to turn off 77 million boomers than try to appeal to them by
showing people with gray hair having fun.
One of my clients,
a bank in Hawaii, wanted to target the 50-plus market to sell them
Individual Retirement Accounts. Their campaign showed a
grandmotherly lady with a big smile. I asked them why, and they
said it showed how an IRA could bring security when youre older. I
told them their target wouldnt even bother reading the copy below
the photo. They were turning off the people they were trying to
Both the banking
and travel industries had better get smart about generational
marketing, Cone believes, because they are competing for the same
pot of money, and its a very big pot: $5 trillion.
Over the next five
years, he said, boomers stand to inherit $1 trillion a year. Their
parents, people who lived during the Great Depression, are
suspicious of the stock market. Many simply keep their money in
Mother has money in
the bank, Cone said. That money goes to the kids, who take it out
of the bank. Its money in motion. And that money in motion may well
move quite far afield. When boomers inherit money, travel is one of
the two things they tend to spend it on. (The other is real
previously worked at Amex and Jetset Tours, has travel clients (two
Starwood properties in Texas and Arizona), and he sees tremendous
need for generational-marketing knowledge among travel
agents need know how to market travel products to different
generations appropriately, Cone said. But they also need, in a
broader sense, to promote the benefits of travel agents to Gen-Xers
(born 1965-1976). They need to get Gen-Xers sitting in the agents
seats and the clients seats. And its not happening.
I almost forgot --
theres yet another generation wedged between the boomers and
seniors: The Forgotten Generation, born between 1936 and 1945. They
are forgotten because their numbers, 28 million, seem uninteresting
compared with the 55 million seniors and 77 million
But if attendees at
ASTA conferences are any indication, the forgotten may be
disproportionately represented among travel agents, which may
itself present challenges: A lot of agents are marketing primarily
to people younger or older than themselves.
Cone points out
that the Forgotten Generation were the original hipsters. Think
James Dean and Elvis Presley. That should be a comforting thought.
Surely the generation that invented hot rods, Beat poetry and rock
n roll will be able to get up to speed quickly on generational
If theyre in doubt
about where to focus, Cone recommends selling to boomers. Fish
where the fish are biting. Boomers are the largest generation,
travel more and have more discretionary money than any generation
in history, he said.
But he also
cautions against offending Gen-Xers. Whether boomers want to or
not, they will age, grow old and die, and its not beyond belief
that the travel agency channel could die with it.
The clock, as
always, is ticking.