couple walking with their dog

Why Millennials Shouldn’t Be Your Only Focus When Marketing Pet Products

Marketers in all industries have been obsessed with targeting millennial shoppers for several years now, and pet industry marketers are no different. It makes perfect sense for pet marketers to better understand and court millennial pet owners. After all, as of 2016, 35 percent of U.S. millennials own pets, making this age demographic the largest pet-owning consumer segment, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

But smart marketers also know they can’t throw out the baby (boomer) with the bath water, so to speak. The same APPA survey that shows millennials overtaking boomers in pet ownership also reveals that baby boomers still account for 32 percent of U.S. pet owners in 2016 (the most current data available). In addition, they’re also bucking the trend of declining pet ownership that has historically occurred when pet owners reach age 70. And given that boomers control nearly 70 percent of U.S. disposable income, baby boomers are still substantial drivers of pet-related spending — especially in the pet food category.

BABY BOOMERS AS A PET-OWNING GENERATION

Born between 1946 and 1964, members of the baby boomer generation were 52 to 70 years old in 2016. (Note: Stats from 2016 are often used throughout this piece to make comparisons easy. More recent data may or may not be available.) Boomers are living longer — and better — than their predecessors. As a group, baby boomers have typically been on the cutting edge socially, economically and professionally. They’re still driving trends, specifically in terms of what it means to age and retire. Not only are boomers financially stable, but they’re educated, active and energetic.

One phenomenon that has accompanied American baby boomers is the explosion in pet ownership. Did you know that boomers were the first generation of Americans to bring pets into their homes and make them part of the family? That’s right, baby boomers love their pets. This generation is often credited for creating the pet industry and for being the first to “humanize” pets. As their human children have left home, baby boomers have turned their attention to and spending on their “fur kids.” These empty-nesters channeled their love for their pets into fueling triple-digit growth in the pet industry. So at this time, pet-owning baby boomers are still looking to buy pet products.

In terms of total U.S. spending, baby boomers are still the largest group at 44.9 million consumer units (CU), a term often interchanged with households but not quite the same, and the biggest spenders overall at $2.8 trillion at mid-year 2017. With that much spending at stake, it makes economic sense to aggressively market to baby boomers. Yet only 5 to 10 percent of marketing dollars are targeted toward the 50-plus demographic.

REACHING BABY BOOMER PET OWNERS

With baby boomers making up such a large segment of the pet-owning population, it’s essential for animal health and pet care industry marketers to know how to speak to baby boomers’ wants and needs. What are the best ways to reach these pet owners? The answers may surprise you.

  1. Computers and online marketing are still the way to go.

It’s a myth that people over the age of 50 aren’t spending time online. A recent Pew Research Center survey found a whopping 87 percent of 50- to 64-year-old adults report using the internet regularly. Use doesn’t drop much with age: 82 percent of adults aged 65 to 69 and 75 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds are online. Although baby boomer pet owners don’t spend as much time on the internet as millennials (3.1 vs. 3.5 hours daily), the difference is not huge — an average of 24 minutes daily — according to APPA research.

The top three online activities of baby boomers? According to a study by DMN3, they are:

  • Using search engines
  • Using email
  • Shopping for products or services

When shopping online, baby boomers report that they prefer to use computers and laptops rather than smartphones and tablets. However, a Millward Brown digital study found that one in four boomers use their smartphone to shop online.

Shopping isn’t the only thing baby boomers do online. They also visit news sites, watch video clips and seek health information, preferring to use computers and laptops over mobile devices. So before you put all your pet product eggs in the mobile basket, keep in mind that baby boomers continue to use computers for most of their internet activities.

  1. Baby boomers take their time when making buying decisions.

Part of the reason why baby boomers prefer shopping online with their computers and laptops is that they do their due diligence when researching what to buy. They’re less likely to buy things on a whim and more likely to read the fine print and understand the nitty-gritty details before making a purchase. The reading that’s required as part of this due diligence is much easier to do on a large desktop monitor than on a small smartphone screen.

Because boomers take their time when making buying decisions — and because they’ve seen it all (or almost all) — it’s important that marketers be authentic, transparent and trustworthy. Gimmicky marketing tactics that rely on impulse are less effective for this generation. Instead, pet industry marketers need to provide convincing reasons why your product or service is worth baby boomers’ consideration.

  1. They’re not afraid to read. Don’t be afraid to let them.

With so many people having short attention spans, using large blocks of text has become taboo in many marketing circles. Many marketers are using more emotion-provoking videos and pictures in place of text, which is a great approach when marketing to younger generations. Baby boomers, however, grew up reading newspapers, magazines and books, not just for news but for fun. You can still use concise copy when marketing to pet-owning baby boomers, but they also appreciate having things spelled out. At the same time, give them the opportunity to dig into the details if they choose. Just don’t bother with a lot of slang or short abbreviations.

  1. The best online marketing channel for boomers is search engines.

For online marketing to baby boomers, there’s no more effective channel than search engines. In a study done by DMN3, boomers were asked about actions taken as a result of watching videos online, using social media or using search engines. Search engine use prompted a greater percentage of baby boomers to take a variety of additional actions, including making a purchase, than social media or online videos. That makes search engine optimization (SEO), proper keyword targeting and content marketing important tools to have in your marketing mix.

  1. Don’t completely ignore social media when marketing to baby boomers.

Think baby boomers don’t “get” Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram? Think again.

Yes, search engines are effective at getting boomers to take action, but don’t overlook social media as another way to target pet-owning baby boomers. The vast majority of boomers have at least one social media account, with YouTube and Facebook being the most popular. Social media sites like Facebook allow marketers to narrow their target market and focus on specific segments of the population. This makes targeting baby boomers very convenient for marketers.

  1. The best offline marketing channels to reach baby boomers are traditional ones.

Baby boomers were the first U.S. generation to grow up with television, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they still engage with traditional media outlets like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. According to APPA research, boomers spend an average of 3.1 hours per day watching TV, the same amount of time that they spend online. In addition, the DMN3 study mentioned earlier found that TV was the most significant influence in getting boomers to search online for information and better than friends and spouse/significant other.

  1. Choose your words wisely when marketing to baby boomers.

Baby boomers may be aging, but they don’t consider themselves to be old. In fact, being called “old” is among the pet peeves of this generation. So when marketing to this segment, be very aware of how your messages are framed — just be sure to integrate age-appropriate visuals in marketing materials.

SEGMENTATION IS KEY

Like nearly every other consumer category, the pet care audience includes boomers. They’re a diverse group — not unlike millennials — who are educated, active and healthy. And at this time, many boomers are still working, frequently full time. Appropriate segmentation of pet owners — by life stage and other factors — will be key to getting the right message to the right audience at the right time.