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Never before in history has such a large demographic group as the Baby Boom generation experienced major life-stage transitions en masse. Now in their 40s and 50s, Boomer women are grappling with one of the most challenging stages they have faced to date: the empty nest.

This vulnerable phase is signaled by the exodus of sons and daughters from home as they transition to adulthood and assume increased independence. A critical juncture in a mother's lifecycle, the empty-nest phenomenon represents an opportunity for marketers sensitive to the evolving needs, challenges and aspirations of this demographic.

Not just a one-time marketing opportunity, the emptying of the family's nest is often a layered experience across the coming of age of several children, and their progressive separation from college to graduation and beyond.

As a generation, Boomers have embraced a more engaged approach to parenting than was the norm for their parents. Boomer moms, who have spent the past two decades involved in the predominant nurturing role of raising kids, are strongly affected when the responsibilities of that role shift. As revealed in our recent Empty Nest survey of more than 230 pre- and current-empty nester women, the act of a child leaving home can create a profound sense of loss, self-examination, freedom and change for Boomer moms.

Why should your company care? By deeply understanding the issues the Boomer mom faces, marketers can align their brand to provide her answers at a time of need. There is nothing more powerful and loyal than a grateful woman. And considering the size and spending clout of the Boomer woman demographic, your company will stand to benefit from her gratitude.

We've translated key insights from our Empty Nest survey into marketing opportunities targeted to helping her through the transition.

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."

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 experienced 18% growth from 2003 to 2004 (International Council of Cruise Lines 2004 Economic Study). With Boomer women influencing the purchase of the majority of cruise trips... you do the math.

Mixed Bag of Emotions

Having played a defining role in raising their children, seeing them go is rife with conflicting emotions for Baby Boomer moms. While proud of their children's accomplishments and enthusiastic about their future, these moms are also equally anxious about their kid'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.

Opportunity: Help ease 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 only younger folks? Boomer moms are wired and embrace technology that enhances their circle of relationships.

(Take note: those cool, tiny buttons and text are not popular with bifocaled-Boomers. And though she is tech-wise, you should humanize the experience of using your product to be simple and intuitive. She has no patience for geek-speak, complex user interfaces or confusing directions.)

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.

Opportunity: Create a supportive community by sponsoring a seminar series or retreat that helps her tackle transition. GlaxoSmithKline teams with consumer product companies, such as Stonyfield Farm, to provide the "Strong Women Summits" to help women step back and reflect on ways to realize their full potential.

Shift in Spending Habits

Though the struggle to manage college tuition costs was voiced, the majority of women surveyed reported an increase in disposable income as a result of the kids moving out. Saving for retirement also ranked high on the list.

Opportunity: Many Boomers are still flying by the seat of their pants when it comes to having made a financial plan for life after the kids are gone. Financial industry take note: Boomers are finally ready to break their denial and start dealing with this now. And as the primary manager of household finances, women are taking the reins.

Simplifying and Downsizing

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

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 that could include a home office for launching a new business, space for developing new hobbies, spontaneous travel, less maintenance, or easily converted spaces for visiting adult children.

A less predictable 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.

Pursue New Experiences

About 66% of respondents indicated that they want to pursue new experiences now that the nest is empty. On the top of their list is travel, with other interests including motorcycling, scuba diving, skydiving, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, painting, writing, volunteer work and a second career. Did I mention these are women over 40!

Opportunity: Boomer women are ready to get out there. And for the most part, they have the time and the means to do so. Entrepreneur and Baby Boomer Bev Sanders has built several businesses on the winning combo of offering women the chance to master a new skill, be adventurous and engage in self-discovery. After taking up surfing at the age of 44, she launched Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women, followed by Artista Creative Safaris for Women.

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The Boomer woman's nest may be empty, but her pocketbook has plenty of disposable income to invest in anything that will help her through this complex and emotional transition. With the right mix of product and messaging, you will not only feather her nest—but your company's as well.

Note: Imago Creative's Empty Nest survey was conducted in partnership with BoomerWomenSpeak.com. Imago Senior Partner Dr. Orsborn's qualitative study was presented October 6, 2005 with co-researcher Dr. Jimmy Smull at a Colloquium at UCLA.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Mary Brown

Mary Brown is president of Imago Creative. For more information, visit www.imagocreative.com.