Women 50+ in age constitute a market force to be reckoned with.

I refer to them as "PrimeTime Women" for a couple of reasons. They are in their prime—this is the healthiest, wealthiest, most influential generation of women in history, and terms like mature (overripe), middle-aged (frumpy) and senior (out to pasture) fail to convey their vitality and potential.

These women should be the primary marketing target for a host of industries, including travel, autos, real estate, finance services, technology and home improvement. Yet they are all too often ignored by marketers, who retain an outdated obsession with youth. This group has money and the time to spend it, and those who recognize its potential will prosper.

Why are they so powerful?

Today, women over 50 account for 19% of the adult population and 15% of the total population. These figures should be enough to give marketers pause. But they're only part of the story. Women will make up an ever-larger share of the surviving (and thriving) Baby Boom generation. It's a demographic truism that as any population ages it becomes more female. The reason is simple: On average, women live longer; their life expectancy is seven years more than that of men. So as Boomers grow older, women—PrimeTime Women—will be more prominent in this historically influential generation.

PrimeTime Women will represent the center of the marketing universe for the next two decades. Consider this: In 2000, 37% of the adult US population was 50 or older; by 2010 that figure will rise to 43%. (New York Times, 25 July 2001) In 2001, the 50+ group held $29.1 trillion in net worth, or 69% of the US total—up from 56% in 1983. (AARP State of 50+ in America Report, 2004.)

Changes in society, culture and the economy are resulting in huge demographic shifts. Marketers who ignore these trends and continue to focus on younger, male targets will see sales and share decrease as a result, since adults 50+ buy $2 trillion worth of goods and services each year (Gary Onks, SoldOnSeniors, Inc. ) and spend 2.5 times as much as younger consumers on a per capita basis (Ken Dychtwald, Age Power).

Fifty—Not What It Used to Be

How do you capture the magnitude of the Baby Boom generation moving into midlife? No single fact or figure does the matter justice.

Boomer women are a different breed of older women. Compared with previous generations, they have more often been wage earners and have had a far-greater-than-equal share in household consumer decision-making. As confident breadwinners and "chief purchasing officers" both in the home and in the workplace, they enter their prime years with a degree of market clout that previously belonged almost exclusively to older men.

Boomer women are the first female cohort in history to have these characteristics. But they won't be the last. To capitalize on the opportunity that PrimeTime Women represent, marketers must follow the Boomers—they must follow the money.

Getting to Know Her

As we've seen, PrimeTime Women are large in number and they are confident consumers with plenty to spend. They are entering a stage of life in which they are free from old responsibilities and eager to embrace new adventures. It's a perfect storm—several factors converging to create an incredibly exciting climate of opportunity for savvy marketers.

Some things to keep in mind as you begin to court PrimeTime Women:

  • She's looking forward. She is not pining for the good old days of her lost youth. When she thinks of her life, she doesn't think in terms of loss. She thinks in terms of experience gained. And she thinks enthusiastically about experiences yet to be enjoyed.

  • She's economically vital. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of women age 55 and older in the workforce will increase a whopping 52% between 2000 and 2010—from 6.4 million to 10.1 million. PrimeTime Women possess both self-reliance and purchasing power.

  • She's physically fit. According to Diane Holman of Woman-Trends, if a woman reaches her 50th birthday without cancer or heart disease, she can expect to reach the age of 92. This generation of women will stay healthy and active for many years to come.

How to Woo and Win Her

Understanding the size and the financial circumstances of the Boomer generation is essential. But in order to leverage the PrimeTime women opportunity, you'll want to communicate in her language:

  • Get real. Realize that beauty comes before, during and after age. Women don't want to be super models. Older women don't want to deny their age they want to value their "real selves" and seek authenticity. Feature "real" not "ideal" people that women 50+ can relate in your materials. Attractive, yet average, women rather than Botox Beauties will be a hit. Dove's "campaign for real beauty" has rejuvenating the brand image practically overnight.

  • Recognize she's on the go. Portray her as independent—couples can be cliché. Not all women 50+ have partners. Show her with a vibrant set of peers. Girlfriends will become increasingly important if she's widowed, divorced or single. Women tend to outlive their husbands and remarry less frequently than men; friendships are key.

    The Red Hat Society (www.redhatsociety.org) offers great insight into how PrimeTime Women view themselves and their friendships. This network of 50-plus women gathers to celebrate, share stories and promote their ideal of "greeting middle age with verve, humor and élan." One sign of their clout—they are publishing a magazine and sponsoring events coast to coast.

  • Incorporate stories into your messages. Like their younger peers, PrimeTime Women value connections with others above all else. These are forged through storytelling—women's social currency. These women have lived a story; use their life experiences offer them guidance and information. Mass Mutual's online financial planning seminars are a great example of effective and meaningful storytelling. The stories are narrated by women in different life stages; each conveys solid financial advice pertaining to the particular needs of women and from a female perspective.

It All Adds up

The numbers tell the story: Women 50+ represent the consumer growth engine for almost every big-ticket market for the next two decades. Follow them, and your business will remain healthy and vital.

Those who continue to do business as usual may find themselves described as mature and past their prime. The choice is yours. PrimeTime Women are going to lead someone to increased sales and success. Will it be you?

Note: Marti Barletta is leading a MarketingProfs seminar on Thursday, December 1, at noon (EST), on how to reach Boomer women. For more information on "Reach the Big Spenders: How to Market to Women from 50 to 75," go here.

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image of Marti Barletta

Marti Barletta is the founder and CEO of consulting think-tank The TrendSight Group  (www.trendsight.com) and the author of PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders (Jan. 2007) and Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market Segment (Dec. 2002). Reach her at marti.barletta@trendsight.com.

Are you a Premium Plus member of MarketingProfs?  You can replay our 90-minute virtual seminar with Marti, Reach the Big Spenders:  How to Market wo Women from 50 to 75.