Boomers, What’s Your Data Worth?

Courtesy of MediaPost’s “Engage:Boomers”

By Nick Lucente

It’s apparent that Boomers represent a significant segment of Web and social media consumers. The elephant in the room here is data. In a world where Boomers basically feel ignored by advertisers, online behavioral data may hold the key to successfully — and accurately — communicating with them.

An important caveat: navigating the precarious gray area that is online privacy. Currently, our data lives on the networks where we create it, from emails to simple web browsing, and in categories that include basic shopping data to financial or medical information. Our activities are tracked, and data is stored (and sold) so that marketers may better target their advertising and messaging.

While identity theft is still the greatest threat to online privacy, concerns over behavioral data are on the rise, due in part, no doubt, to the growth of social networks. A recent Ad Agearticle reveals that nearly 50% of those 55-64 years old are concerned about the collection of their behavioral data, compared with 33% of Millennials.

So far, the flawed approach to this growing practice is raising red flags regarding privacy, particularly for Boomers, most of whom look askance at online tracking. The reason? Most marketers miss some of the contextual data surrounding users’ online behavior. Ever seen those Facebook ads that are either frighteningly accurate or completely off the mark? Here’s an example: a male consumer, aged 55, is looking online to purchase a birthday present for his significant other (let’s say it’s the shoes she’s been talking about nonstop since she saw them in a magazine). Most likely, he’s considering a one-time search with this type of retailer. Because his data is tracked, the next time he logs on, he’s bombarded by ads for women’s shoes. Not exactly what you’d call a pleasant online experience.

Research shows that most Boomers are dissatisfied with marketing messages, feeling that companies are disconnected from their everyday realities. Getting everyone on the same page may be the key to successfully marketing to this demographic. So how can companies collect Boomer data and address privacy concerns?

Start with trust. Companies should openly communicate the trustworthiness of their site and what they intend to do with any collected data. Let the customer know what you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it, what you’ll do with it, and the security measures in place. The online financial industry enjoys the highest rates of consumers’ trust for this very reason.

Allow control. Put your Boomer customers in control of their online data, both in the ability to opt out and in choosing what to share. Today’s tracking opt-out process can be complicated and frustrating for customers, and may negatively impact your company if you’re caught using personal data in a way that’s perceived unfavorably.

Understand roles. Each digital platform can perform a specific role in a Boomer’s online experience. Understand the parts they play, the data created on them, and how you can utilize it in a way that makes the experience more meaningful without compromising privacy. Social networking, for example, has brought a renewed sense of connection for Boomers. Understand how the data they create can enhance their experiences on these networks.

Provide value. Create a better online experience or provide actual compensation. Amazon, for example, uses personal data to provide shopping suggestions, and executes this function very well. As new companies begin to define the data industry, it’s possible that monetary rewards and incentives will be offered in exchange for permission to track and collect information (along with guaranteed privacy). This model will allow companies to purchase data in the segment of their choice, creating accountability for the collector, a much easier access process, and a secure online experience for the consumer.

Both marketers and Boomers stand to gain from a mutually agreed-upon exchange of data, and some even believe that the solution may lie within the makeup of this nascent industry. Marketers must address the privacy concerns of their Boomer customers with clarity and consistency, while at the same time, avoid triggering more anxiety around it. Whatever the collection method, more data on these potential customers means a higher likelihood of “getting it right” when it comes to the message.

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Nicholas Lucente is Mature Marketing Consultant at Varsity, a mature marketing communications agency based in Harrisburg, Pa.

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