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Why Mobile Marketers Must Include Boomers In The Mix

Topic: Mobile Marketing | Author: Jeff Hasen | Date: June 3, 2011

baby boomerThe so-called technology divide is a myth, and so is the belief that, when it comes to mobile, we should baby the Boomers.

I’ve written several times on this website and others about personal experiences that fly in the face of the idea that people over 40 are luddites, incapable and uninterested in using personal technology. My mother-in-law (definitely NOT a digital native) is a shining example. At age 80 she uses a Kindle. And she even mastered Windows 7 in an afternoon. And then there’s my older brother (by just a few years). He isn’t the earliest adopter in the family, but he is nipping at my heels when it comes to phones, tablets and routers.

At Mary Furlong’s recent Boomer Summit in San Francisco, we heard from several organizations that are moving their members (mostly Boomers) to mobile. Why? Because they know that their constituents’ continued success and happiness are linked to their ability to understand and use mobile.

One organization that stands out is AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), a U.S.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50 and over improve the quality of their lives. As a social welfare organization, as well as the largest membership organization for people 50+ in the U.S., AARP is leading a revolution in the way people view and live life. And now that mission includes enhancing the quality of life through mobile, a focus I applaud.

During the summit I was on a panel with Mike Lee, AARP Senior Advisor, Digital Strategy, who proudly walked us through the organization’s mobile application, which handily works on a $75 Android tablet on sale at drugstores. The first AARP app was available for Apple’s wireless devices (iPhone and iPad).

The expanded strategy has mass-market appeal and reach.

Like every organization, AARP’s motivation to go mobile involves more than an interest in serving its members. It also has to reduce massive print costs, a business objective it can best (and most effectively) achieve using mobile. AARP positions its app as a way to “save money, stay informed and share favorite content with your friends.” And what better way to share (and spread the word) than mobile?

How I See It: There are 80 million Boomers in the U.S. alone – and they represent a huge and untapped opportunity. eMarketer suggests that this digitally-savvy generation, who are between 47 and 65 years old, “spend more time and money online than any other demographic.” Full stop. eMarketer further estimates that more than 86 percent  of Boomers have a mobile phone. By 2012, more than 25 million Boomers will be accessing the Internet via their mobile device. Believing that your mobile programs should only cater to the 40-and-below crowd is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

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During the same Boomer Summit panel (an excellent event, I might add), I had the opportunity to learn about Intuit’s “smart” mobile wallet strategy.

Omar Green, Intuit’s director of strategic mobile initiatives, told the audience that his company is building a mobile wallet that guides people to the optimum purchase. Green shared a scenario where this intelligent electronic wallet would actually advise users on the credit card they should use to get maximum return. The wallet would even tell consumers the precise times they should cash in their loyalty points and save money.

Who wouldn’t want to have their own personal (and smart) financial advisor? It’s a compelling concept– assuming people (including myself) can get to the point that they are willing to hand over personal details to Intuit (or anyone else for that matter). After all, this is data and details on the credit card companies, banks and merchants we deal with on a regular basis.

Are we ready?

It’s a hard one to call. But a recent KPMG survey of consumers in the U.S. indicates that we have a way to go. Specifically, only 16 percent of respondents said they were comfortable using their mobile devices for financial transactions, a mere 6 percent increase over last year’s survey results. What’s more, respondents who said they are not comfortable doing financial transactions with their phones dropped 11 percent, to total 55 percent for the same period.

Why are many consumers uneasy? Among all the survey respondents who have not yet conducted banking through a mobile device, 52 percent cited security and privacy as the main issue. But this doesn’t mean the idea of a mobile wallet is dead in the water. Consistent with many technology advances, younger consumers (because they were born digital) are more likely to use their mobile phones to do financial transactions — at least in the early days.

How I See It: The concept is promising provided it delivers us value. So what would make a “smart” mobile wallet work? According to the Yankee Group, 73 percent of mobile subscribers want a discount. I’m in that category. Read between the lines, and Intuit (and the thousands of others chasing this lucrative opportunity) have a shot at success. (As I said,  I’m willing to consider it.) But the work of convincing a mass market has just begun.

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Another week, another handful of introductions of photo-sharing products. By far the biggest announcement came from Twitter, which is bringing a feature to market that allows users to attach a picture to their tweet.

Twitter’s latest enhancement is not really new. Those of us active on Twitter (@jeffhasen) have had photo-sharing opportunities for quite some time, including the popular Instagram which allows iPhone users to post pictures.

How I See It: Picture-taking is routine for mobile users of all ages. In fact, more people worldwide take photos via a phone than via a dedicated camera. Whether Twitter’s solution becomes the most used with the social network depends on its features and ease of use. These are the factors that distinguish any good service from the also-rans.

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