Geezers got it going on, Part 3.

Part three: Persuading and motivating boomers-and-olders.

The first part of this series focused on boomers-and-olders' enormous financial clout. So you know why it's critically important to sell to them.

Last week's post examined the techniques of communicating effectively with boomer-and-older prospects.

But now that you know why you want to communicate with them, and you've got an idea of how to communicate with them, what, exactly, is it that you want to communicate?

This is where it gets tricky.

Persuading and motivating boomers-and-olders is complicated because, as with most demographic groups, there is no all-encompassing "them." Aside from the fact that they were born before 1965 and have many experiences and attitudes of their generation in common, there are few universal factors shared by all boomers-and-olders. They are diverse in their gender, ethnicity, income, life-style choices, interests, attitudes and a wide range of other variables.

While the born-in-the-sixties boomer roaring down the road in a middle-age-crazy Porsche is part of the group, so is the septuagenarian embarking on a inner journey of discovery. Different people, different journeys. Susceptible to very different forms of persuasion and motivation.

Three years before the first boomer was born, Abraham Maslow systematized people's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs in his paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation." He defined successive categories of human needs and presented the concept that people strive to fulfill the more basic needs first. They only move on to other needs when those more basic needs have been satisfied. His hierarchy of needs, starting with the most basic, is:

Physiological: Air, water, food, sleep, warmth, elimination.

Safety: Physical safety, safety of family and loved ones, health, protection of property, job security.

Love/belonging: friends, family, sexual intimacy, community.

Esteem: Self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, recognition, admiration.

Cognitive: Learn, explore, discover, understand.

Aesthetic: Beauty in imagery, harmony, poetry, nature.

Self actualization: Make the most of one's abilities and potential and be the most that one can be.

Spiritual: Experiences which transcend the self, a sense of purpose, a feeling of integration with society.

The boomer with the Porsche might be fulfilling the "self esteem" need in the "esteem" level. And the inner voyager could be up at the "self-actualization" or "spirituality" level. These are important things for a marketer selling sports cars or yoga mats to know. In fact, the success of any product or service which has emotional significance will depend on positioning it at the appropriate level in the prospects' hierarchies.

Of course, not all purchase decisions are tightly linked to the Maslow hierarchy. Both of the boomers in the preceding paragraph almost certainly need laundry detergent, but the brand choice might not carry too much emotional weight. "Whiter than white" or "27¢ off!" might take up all the RAM they're willing to devote to the product category. Last July's guest posting by new-media maven David Harris, "They're just not that into you." explores some aspects of the fact that there are product and service categories that simply don't matter all that much to their users.

But when the choice does matter – healthcare, financial services, significant experiences, major purchase items or items with which the purchaser identifies strongly – it's critically important to understand where prospects are on the Maslow hierarchy for the products or services within the specific category.

For example, in picking a financial institution, a prospect might be at "safety" level if the concern is financial security. On the other hand, the need could be "esteem" if the prospect wants to acquire wealth in the hope that she or he would be admired by others.

Trickier still, most consumers are at very different points on the Maslow pyramid for products and services in different categories. Paying the rent or mortgage might be at the "physiological " level for a person, while treating her- or himself to a mocha dopio half-caf at Starbucks after mailing the check might be stroking self esteem at the "esteem" level.

Even individual products or services may fit in several different levels. A gym membership may have elements of "safety" (the health benefit), "love/belonging" (sexual intimacy – the ability to attract a partner), "esteem" (self esteem for getting buff) or even "self actualization" (make the most of one's ability and potential). Throw in a yoga class at the gym and the need the membership is filling could go all the way up to "spiritual," as in "an experience which transcends self."

So, since individual boomers-and-olders have very different characteristics, circumstances, and relationships to product and service categories, does that mean there's no "right" way to persuade and motivate them?

Not exactly.

At BrainPosse we have discovered five keys to motivating boomers-and-olders:

First: Begin by getting inside the target audience's heads and understanding where they are, where you want them to go and the path most likely to get them there. You need to understand how they perceive the product category and brand, how the product and brand fit into their lives, the target audience's degree of emotional and/or rational involvement in brand selection, and factors that contribute to persuasion and motivation. In short: what's in it for them to do what you want them to do?

Of course that's exactly what you do to persuade and motivate any target audience.

But what's special about motivating boomer-and-older targets?

Second: As noted in the first of our three "Geezers Got It Going On" postings, boomers-and-olders have more money than the members of any other age cohorts. And that's across all socio-economic strata. The richest 10% of boomers-and-olders are way richer than the richest 10% of Gen Y, Gen Next Millennials or any other cohort. And the poorest 10% of boomers-and-olders have more money that the poorest 10% of any other cohort. So most physiological needs are covered.

Most are settled into their careers or are collecting Social Security and Medicare. They have families and social networks. Their "esteem" levels have also been pretty well established for better or worse. So they can look upward toward the "cognitive," "aesthetic," "self-actualization" and "spiritual" levels. Which makes higher-level appeals especially persuasive and motivating among these boomers-and-olders.

Third: Some boomers-and-olders have had their expectations – and their need levels – drastically reduced in the recent past.

Not too long ago, factors at the "safety" level weren't concerns for most boomer-and-olders. White-collar workers had progressed into middle-level or higher jobs relatively shielded from marketplace vicissitudes, and blue collar workers had seniority that protected their jobs. So their incomes and health care (through employer health plans) were secure. The upheaval in the American workplace has changed that, as outsourcing, off-shore manufacturing and new technology have shattered the old assumptions about job security. The older group of boomers-and-olders have lost the certainty of employer retirement plans as company pension plans have gone belly-up.

This may well be the biggest change – and the biggest opportunity – in targeting the boomers-and-olders. The security that this subset felt they had attained has disappeared, and some of their most basic needs are no longer assured. Appeals at the "safety" and even "physiological" level may now be powerfully effective

Fourth: A shared experience resonates powerfully with boomers-and-olders. Just as the experiences of World War II gave coherence and identity to a previous generation, the common experiences boomers-and-olders share, the advent and eventual primacy of TV, Vietnam, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll (more than half of younger boomers used marijuana), the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy, the beginning of the space age and more create a strong bond of understanding and empathy.

According to William Strauss' and Neil Howe's Generations, the key characteristic of the boomers was idealism. That spirit has stayed at the forefront of their self-identity from the civil rights movement to the beginnings of environmental awareness.

Effective allusions to those common bonds and attitudes create internal resonances that transcend communications technique and become persuasive and motivational factors in and of themselves. It's tricky to get it right, but when it's done correctly, it can be tremendously effective.

Fifth: Affirmation. Messages which recognizes boomers'-and-olders' worth, vitality, accomplishments, strengths and contributions are powerful persuaders and motivators. There is a very fine line between pandering and recognition. Most members of the target audience will spot insincerity and be turned off by a message (and turned against a brand) which they feel patronizes them. But done deftly and sincerely, this can be the most powerful persuasion and motivation technique of all. Ogilvy's brilliant "Real Beauty" campaign for Dove, which featured – and celebrated – women of all shapes and all ages, was one of the most successful personal care campaigns ever.

The big kahuna of target audiences – at least until the millennials make some real money. Boomers-and-olders are going to be America's most important market for a long, long time to come. They're here, there are way more of them than Gen-Xers, they have most of the money, and with advances in healthcare (and their tendency to take care of themselves) they're going to be around for quite a while. Selling to them will be critically important to marketers across a broad spectrum of product and service categories for the next twenty or thirty years.