~ S P E C I A L ~ F E A T U R E ~

Five Marketing Opportunities
~ for ~
Connecting with Empty Nest Women

an excerpt from the new book

Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer --
the Baby Boomer Woman

by Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.


This article is about the needs of empty nesters. It's based on proprietary research conducted by Imago Creative, a firm that specializes in building brand relationships with Baby Boomers. The article is written by brand strategist Mary Brown and creative communications specialist Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.

With women directing 80% of consumer spending -- and with Baby Boomers combining peak earnings and inheritance with an empty nest -- the 45-60 age group has never been richer. How these women are likely to use that money will surprise you. Often portrayed as chasing youth, Boomer women are now looking for something deeper: respect, adventure, a second calling.

BOOM is a masterful mix of analysis and anecdote, weaving original research with heartfelt contributions from over 30 brand managers representing healthcare, fashion, travel, technology, media and finance, including Citigroup, AARP, Time Magazine, Logitech, Liz Claiborne, Key Bank and Marriott. These insights will help all marketers sharpen their pitch to the purse keepers: Boomer women.

More information about BOOM and authors Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., follows the article. Enjoy!

Five Marketing Opportunities
~ for ~
Connecting with Empty Nest Women

by Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.

The Baby Boomer woman is constantly searching for ways to make the most out of each newly experienced life stage. By relating products and services as solutions to her life stage needs, more so than relying upon age as the primary criterion, the smart marketer leverages the Baby Boomer's life-cycle transitions to forge a stronger brand connection at a time when the consumer is more likely to be receptive to new/additional products and services.

The opportunity for life stage marketing is enormous. Never before in history has such a large demographic experienced major life stage transitions en masse as the Baby Boomer generation. Take the empty nest as an example. A critical juncture in a mother's life-cycle, the empty nest phenomenon represents an opportunity for marketers sensitive to the evolving needs, challenges, and heightened emotional landscape of her life.

As a generation, Boomers have embraced a more engaged approach to parenting than was the norm of their parents. These Boomer moms, who have spent the past two decades involved in the predominantly nurturing role of raising kids, are strongly affected when the responsibilities of this role shift. Our research draws attention to what many Boomer women experience: that the act of a child leaving home can create a profound sense of loss, self-examination, freedom, and change. (Note: We are not referring to this life stage as the popularly-nicknamed empty nest "syndrome," given that not all women experience this new stage in life as a problem. While there is an admittedly complex emotional component, the "empty nest" is also experienced by many as an opportunity for new life experiences.)

Toyota gets it right with their "Moving Forward" print campaign. One ironically evocative ad shows a college freshman standing with his personal possessions piled in front of his new dorm building. In the background, his parents drive off in their Toyota Highlander. Amidst the rag-tag collection of suitcases, there are skateboards, musical instruments, weights, and a hand-me-down microwave oven and TV. The headline reads: "5:15 p.m. Dropping the kid off at college. 5:17 What kid?"

Consider, too, that the emptying nest is not just a one- time occurrence for her -- nor is it a one-time marketing opportunity for your company. The emptying of the family's nest is often a layered experience across the coming-of-age of several children, and their progressive separations from college to graduation and beyond. Each child's departure from home is a defining event with a flavor and intensity of its own. Compare the emotions and concerns the Baby Boomer mom is likely to be negotiating when her first child is leaving home, as opposed to the emotional and practical ramifications related to the departure of her last child.

Why should your company care? By deeply understanding the issues she faces, marketers can align their brand to provide her answers at a time of need. Considering the size and spending clout of the Boomer woman demographic (40 million women who direct roughly 80% of their family's consumer purchases), sensitive marketers stand to benefit from her gratitude.

In the next section, we've summarized our findings and translated key insights from our empty nest research into an example of marketing opportunities targeted to helping her through this complex life stage transition. Participants in the survey primarily represent the core female Baby Boomer consumer.

~ Feathering the Empty Nest ~

The following analysis is based on the Empty Nest Survey conducted by Imago Creative with BoomerWomenSpeak.com in 2005 and on the supporting Osborne/Smull Qualitative Study co-sponsored by Imago Creative.

1. Newfound Freedom

When asked which were the most significant changes anticipated or experienced once their nest emptied, the overwhelming response (out of 12 possibilities) was "more free time," followed by "loneliness/depression," "more time with significant other," and "focus on self."

Marketing Opportunity: Emphasize relational aspects, such as girlfriend getaways, renewed romance and self-nurturing experiences. Due in part to tailoring trips and amenities to these empty nester desires, the cruise industry has performed beyond expectations consistently over the past decade.

2. Mixed Bag of Emotions

While proud of their children's accomplishments and enthusiastic about their children's futures, these moms are also equally anxious about their offspring's increasing independence. Simultaneously, they feel conflicted about the changing nature of their relationships with their children and how they will define their own transitioning identity.

Marketing Opportunity: Help erase separation anxiety with products and services that keep her in touch with her child's life without seeming invasive. Who says the audience for interactive cell phones, instant messaging, and webcams is aged 18 to 34? Boomer moms are wired and eagerly embracing technology that enhances their circle of relationships.

(Take note: those cool, tiny buttons and electronic micro- text are not popular with bifocaled Boomers. And although they are tech-wise, it is critical that you humanize the experience of using your product to be simple and intuitive. They have no patience for complex user interfaces or confusing directions.)

3. Searching for Support

When asked what resources they wished they had to navigate the empty nest stage of life, more than half of the respondents said greater peer support, coach/advisor resources, retreat/workshop opportunities, and friendship networks.

Marketing Opportunity: Create a supportive community by sponsoring a seminar series or retreat that helps her tackle transition. GlaxoSmithKline teams with consumer products companies, such as Stonyfield Farm, to provide the "Strong Women Summits," helping women step back and reflect on ways to realize their full potential. (You will find more on the Strong Women Summits in chapter six of BOOM.)

4. Simplifying and Downsizing

Almost 30 percent of the soon-to-be empty nesters surveyed anticipate simplifying or downsizing their lifestyle once the kids leave.

Marketing Opportunity: This desire for downsizing has huge implications for the housing and home furnishings industries, as empty nesters adjust their living situation to suit their new lifestyle. They're looking for living options to accommodate this active, second-lease-on-life phase. Some are staying put, converting an empty bedroom into a home office for launching a new business, adding a room for developing new hobbies, or redecorating existing spaces for visiting adult children and grandchildren. Others are downsizing, moving from suburban homes back to small urban apartments within walking distance of cultural amenities, such as theatre and restaurants.

Another example of leveraging the downsizing trend is Pillsbury's "Cooking for Two" campaign. Aimed at helping Boomers adjust to cooking, buying, and organizing meals for a smaller household, this online resource is a groundbreaking effort to connect directly to this demographic. "We want to ease what can be a challenging transition, providing resources, products and meal planning advice for this new stage of life," says Mark Toth, Pillsbury marketing manager at General Mills.

5. Pursuing New Experiences

Sixty-six percent of respondents indicated that now that the nest is empty, they want to pursue new experiences. On the top of her list is travel, with other interests including motorcycling, scuba diving, skydiving, mountain climbing, white water rafting, painting, writing, volunteer work, and starting a second career.

Marketing Opportunity: Boomer women are more likely than younger demographics to have the means to satisfy their cravings. Entrepreneur and Baby Boomer Bev Sanders has built several businesses on the winning combination of offering women the chance to master new skills and feed their desire for adventure, while providing the opportunity to engage in both self-discovery and community. After taking up surfing at the age of 44, she launched Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women, followed by Artista Creative Safaris for Women. Who would guess that the majority of her surfer/students are Baby Boomer women?

Another company that has done their homework with this demographic is Principal Financial Group. In an advertisement offering solutions to help female consumers secure their dreams (pension plans, insurance and rollover IRAs, among others), the featured model is a woman aged 50+, trimly garbed head to toe in a high-tech wet suit, carrying a surfboard overhead.

New experiences, however, can be a double-edged sword. The Baby Boomer woman in her early fifties is likely to experience more life-changing events than at any other time period of her life. While women in this age group are more likely to try new products, services, and experiences, it is also in this same age range that women tend to be the most worried and stressed.

About the Authors

Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.

MARY BROWN is President and Founder of Imago Creative, the only marketing firm in the United States specializing exclusively in helping companies reach women of the Baby Boom generation. Over her 20-year career as a brand champion, she has distinguished herself as a leading voice on this powerful demographic. During her extensive agency experience, she produced award-winning work for Esprit, Reebok, Timex, and Van Heusen, among other noted names. Spanning a wide range of industries, from fashion to food to finances, her client list includes Celebrity Cruise, Clearblue Easy, Diversified Business Communications, Forum Financial Group, and University of Maine.

As a recognized expert on the attitudes and buying patterns of Boomer women, Mary is frequently quoted in trade publications, interviewed on National Public Radio, and invited to speak and host panels at industry conferences. Passionate about her work, Brown believes that creative brand development is all about human connections. She studied humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and received a BFA in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute.

CAROL ORSBORN, Ph.D., is Senior Partner and Vice President of Public Relations of Imago Creative. As a strategic and creative communications veteran, she has helped companies build strong relationships with Boomer women for more than 25 years. A recipient of The Silver Anvil, the public relations industry's highest award, she has designed and implemented campaigns for The Gap, Kimpton Hotels, Warner Bros. Records, and Bank of America, among many clients. She has also worked with Apple University, The Walt Disney Company, Wellpoint, and other enterprises on internal communication issues.

Known internationally for her pioneering work addressing the issues of her generation, Carol first came to public attention in the mid-eighties when she founded Superwoman's Anonymous, an organization devoted to helping women live simpler, less stressful, more balanced lives. Her then- revolutionary notions led to multiple appearances on The Today Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is the author of 15 books, including The Art of Resilience. Her idea of a midlife sabbatical was to earn a doctorate in ritual studies from Vanderbilt University and become a research associate with UCLA's Center for the Study of Religion. With the recent college graduation of the younger of her two children, she started running TheSilverPearl.com, a spiritual resource center for "women who are, at last, becoming wise."

About the Book

Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer --
the Baby Boomer Woman

by Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.
Published by Amacom Books
ISBN 0-8144-7390-3, 238 pages, hardcover, $24.00
Available through this site or directly from the publisher:

"This book's challenge to the marketing community is to wake up and rethink who it is that has control over the economic purse strings."
-- From the Foreword by Paco Underhill

With Baby Boomer women spending well over a trillion dollars a year on goods and services, the days of women 40+ being ignored by marketers are numbered. Overthrowing stereotypes of aging, the groundswell of awareness is no less than a marketing revolution.

BOOM is a comprehensive guide to identifying, reaching and influencing Baby Boomer women. The book features insights and case histories from 40 top marketers, including executives from Intel, Seabourn Cruises, Citigroup, Wellpoint, Mary Kay, and more. The authors, experts in marketing to this demographic, present insider intelligence that includes:

  • proprietary research that will give a competitive edge to companies seeking new, expanded consumer markets
  • the Imago Diagnostic ("ID") -- a motivational assessment tool to help identify what makes Baby Boomer women tick
  • easy-to-use charts correlating ages to life stages and generational influences
  • the "Seven Things You May Not Know About Boomer Women -- But Should"

BOOM's practical resources combine to reveal an essential truth about Baby Boomer women: they are more than a niche market. In many cases, they are the marketplace itself.

Copyright 2006 by Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file as long as the contents are not changed and this copyright notice is intact. Thank you.