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 boomers.

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 get old.

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 appeal 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 banks.

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 estate.)

Cone, who 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.

Specifically, 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 boomers.

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 marketing issues.

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.


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