NEW YORK-No matter what kind of gloom-and-doom statistics financial companies compile about unprepared Baby Boomers' retirement, those that want to sell product should ditch the fire-and-brimstone talk. What Boomers really want to hear is that the best is yet to come.
"One of the major reasons people don't plan is that they're not sure what they're planning for," said Lee Eisenberg, Boomer and author of "The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life."
"People are blind to the idea they have to get active, deaf to the idea that half of the population will spend time in a nursing home, and speechless," Eisenberg told attendees at Million Dollar Round Table's "Boomertirement Industry Summit" last week. "Comfort, security and guidance are what they are looking for."
Overall, Boomers are optimistic, energetic and want advisers who will help them achieve their dreams, speakers at the conference emphasized. They are also distrusting of authority and establishment, which means that even if they have partnered with one fund company to help save for retirement, when it comes to rolling those assets out of a plan and into the marketplace, they have few qualms about switching brands. The companies that will retain the biggest share of these 77 million Boomers' business will be those that recognize that retirement planning is only partly financial. The rest is all gut.
Tapping into that emotional aspect is critical in marketing products and building relationships with these former Flower Children.
It's not just that Boomers don't want to hear about the downside of old age; they're hard-wired not to, said Matt Thornhill, president of The Boomer Project. Thornhill displayed two brain scans showing a 20-something reacting to negative images and a Boomer. Whereas the younger subject's scan shows blotches of green, indicating negative, and yellow, indicating neutral, the Boomer brain shows only yellow.
"This is brain triage," said Thornhill. "They just don't pay attention."
Another thing about Boomers is that most don't consider themselves old, or even close to it. Thornhill pointed out that Amazon.com rankings suggest that before Boomers get around to reading Eisenberg's "Number," they're likely to pick up another book: "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."
That doesn't mean that Boomers are carefree, though. This so-called "sandwich generation" is often financially tugged between saving for their children's college and caring for ailing parents. But successful companies don't stoke Boomers' fears and anxieties about such issues. They take an end-of-the-rainbow approach. "Boomers say, I don't care about the facts, give me the reasons," Thornhill said. Eisenberg calls it "inspiration."
Boomers realize that money is good for only one thing: freedom, Eisenberg said. And many suffer from an affliction he calls I.D.D, or "Inspiration Deficit Disorder."
Successful ads give Boomers the inspiration they need. Thornhill pointed to an ad for Genworth Financial that features a Centarian. The ad simply follows this woman about her day, walking down the street, shopping and waving. "I am very happy," she tells viewers in an unmistakably older, but nonetheless strong voice. The ad works because it taps into the sense of independence, Thornhill argued.
"If you want to have a successful conversation with a Boomer, we actually think you have to start with control," he said.
Control will drive change not only in the financial services industry, but in Boomers' careers, said Ken Dychtwald, author, speaker and self-described futurist. Living past 47, let alone 18, is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of man, he said. And it's one people are just learning to grapple with.
Often, improvements in healthcare that help people live 30 or more years past retirement are seen as some type of "bonus" at the end of life. Future workers are likely going to want to spread that "bonus" across their lifespans, perhaps taking a few years out from work to start a family, going back, but dropping out later to care for an ailing parent, only to return and stop again to travel for a bit, or even go back to school themselves to prepare for a new career post-60. This trend starts with Boomers.
More and more people over 65 are likely to work in some capacity, he said, and not always out of necessity. Dychtwald referred to a comment astronaut John Glenn made when asked if 77 was not a little too old to be going back to space-especially on the taxpayer's dime. "He turned around and said, Just because I'm 77 doesn't mean I don't have dreams,'" Dychtwald relayed.
"If you have people on the street who think they're selling product," Dychtwald said, "they are not doing their job."
(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.