Memo To Smartphone Marketers: Don’t Put Boomers On Hold

One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was a Boomer TV favorite in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It debuted on NBC Television as the top-rated series of the 1968/69 season with an average rating of 31.8 (TV Facts, Cobbett Steinberg).

Eat your heart out, Big Bang Theory (9.8 rating, week of October 26, 2015, Nielsen).

Okay, it’s not fair to compare 1969 ratings with 2015; there’s so much more choice today. Well, that’s true in many other arenas too. For instance, when Laugh-In ruled, Americans had only one choice for telephone service: Ma Bell aka AT&T.

One ringy dingyWhat’s more, an AT&T subsidiary had a lock on making the handsets folks leased from “the phone company” – ownership was not an option for private individuals.

Laugh-In star Lily Tomlin nailed our frustration in her hilarious sketches as “one ringy dingy, two ringy dingy” Ernestine, the saccharine sweet phone company rep who cheerfully extorted customers to pay for erroneous charges … or else.

Supposedly, the phone company tried to drive Ernestine off the air. However, in the end it was AT&T that lost out and, today, legions of service providers and equipment suppliers compete for our business.

Well, compete for half the market, anyway. The over-fifty segment is so undervalued that occasional brief vignettes slipped into hip, youth-oriented ads are considered enough to claim the mantle of inclusiveness without scaring off the Millennials.

“One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy, we’re the (smart) phone company – we don’t care … “

Smartphone ownership update: fastest growth is in the fifty-plus demo

In July 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults owned a smartphone – 17.2% market growth from their January, 2014, reading (58%).

But this impressive performance was not evenly distributed; the 18-month increase among consumers aged 65-plus (57.9%) and 50-64 (18.4%) was far greater than among Gen Xers (12.2%) or Millennials (3.6%).

Smartphone ownership by age Jan '14 - Jul '15The bad news: the 18-49 demographic is becoming a saturated market for smartphones.

The good news: fifty-plus is a vibrant, fast-growing segment for smartphone services – one where smarter marketing, not just smarter phones will win out as competition from lower cost entries heats up.

Smartphone shipments worldwide 2015

Data miner Statista, reports Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi and others have already squeezed the Samsung and Apple worldwide market share down to 37% of 2015 smartphone shipments. And they are making inroads here in the U.S. too.

As the inevitable conversion of older Americans to smartphones continues, and competition intensifies, ignoring us is anything but smart.

New smartphone customers: what’s at stake

Just how many potential new smartphone customers are at stake as the market matures?

Well, projections are always tricky – you know, lies, damned lies and statistics, yada, yada – but we estimate almost two-thirds of converts from basic cellphones will come from the 50+ space.

Channeling our inner guru, we started with the conservative assumption that by 2015 everyone aged 18+ who wants a mobile phone already has one – i.e., 92% (Pew), split between smartphones (68%) and basic cellphones (24%). We also assumed:

  • Guru ChuckThe smartphone share of mobile phone ownership will continue to grow, maxing out at different levels by age:
    • … 95% among 18-49 year olds
    • … 80% among 50-64 year olds
    • … 65% among 65+ year olds

Applying a little simple math and U.S. Census Bureau data, we conclude Americans aged fifty-plus could provide 18+ million smartphone customers in the coming years versus only 10+ million from the 18-49 demographic.

Smartphone potential growth 2015 forward

SMS from the 50+ space: put us on hold at your peril

Smartphones are all about communication and conversations – two-way conversations.

But before they try speaking to the 50+ space – especially the 93 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation™ – marketers must first learn to listen. And they must learn to listen and speak very carefully if they want to go grab some other, less agile brand’s share.

We know this is tough for 18-49 demo diehards who – true to Laugh-In era thinking – put Americans over fifty on permanent hold. But learning to engage our 18+ million smartphone prospects is just one ringy dingy away.

Make that one clicky clicky. It’s never too late to learn.

Opportunity Chuck

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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