In the latest of his consumer trends articles, Ben Cooper highlights the potential still on offer for drinks companies from the Baby Boomers out there.

A number of intersecting and mutually-supporting trends were observed in a report published by just-drinks in January, namely that online channels are becoming increasingly important, that premiumisation remains a key business imperative and, in trading consumers up to higher-priced offerings, having a story to tell is also ever more crucial.

In marketing premium wines and spirits, 'twas ever thus. Whether it is exclusive chateaux or estates, rare single malt whiskies or ultra-aged Cognacs, consumers have a thirst not only for the liquid in the bottle, but also for information about the products themselves, their ingredients, the production processes that set them apart, their provenance, history and heritage.

However, long gone are the days when such information would only be available via a monthly newsletter, or where entry to a consumer club could only be gained by cutting out a coupon in a newspaper or magazine. Thanks to the digital revolution, the information available is copious and immediate, as are the opportunities for consumers to engage with their brands of choice and, of course, to buy them.

While it is hardly breaking news that brands are communing with consumers via the Internet, the opportunities for engaging a critically-important target market for higher-priced spirits through digital media are significantly greater today than they may have been a few years ago.
Numerous studies have revealed that 50- to 65-year-olds today – the Baby Boomers - are technologically savvy and relatively enthusiastic adopters of social media.

A survey of online habits of consumers aged 60 to 69, conducted last year by US marketing consultancy DMN3, revealed that a staggering 82.3% of the adults surveyed belonged to at least one social networking site, with Facebook the most popular. Previous research from the Global WebIndex survey found that at least 70% of Baby Boomers who use online media also have a Facebook profile, while 31% use Twitter. The DMN3 survey also found that as many as 15.5% of the adults surveyed spend more than 11 hours per week on Facebook, while more than half of the adults who use social networking sites said they will visit a company website, or continue their search on a search engine, as a result of seeing something on social media.

A glance at branded websites for premium spirits suggest these opportunities are not being lost on major spirits manufacturers. Sites for brands such as Diageo's Johnnie Walker and Tanqueray No. Ten Gin not only feature the pre-requisite product information but also links to social media and, crucially, opportunities to buy online. The site for Bacardi's Last Great Malts range also features Facebook and Twitter feeds.

"The major drinks players have already recognised the significance of marketing and talking to high-end consumers online," the just-drinks Emerging Drinks Industry Trends report states. "They have been quietly setting up their own targeted online retail sites, like Diageo's Alexander & James site for single malts, limited editions and new releases." 

In short, misconceptions based on how previous generations of older consumers may have reacted to new media risk missing a significant opportunity. Perhaps the most vivid way to illustrate this would be to think of two extremely famous Baby Boomers, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee. Furthermore, to put it in social research speak, Gates and Berners-Lee belong to a large cohort.

As the name suggests, Baby Boomers – officially defined as those born between 1946 and 1964 – are many in number. In the US, for example, there are around 77m people who were born between those years, while the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS) puts the total number of people aged over 50 in Britain at 22m. So, there are volume as well as higher-value opportunities on offer.

There is yet more positive news from the social research arena. Older consumers often have more disposable income to splurge on premium offerings and have always been of interest to the marketers of premium drinks for that reason but a study by the Pew Research Center on the use of technology by older adults reveals that engagement with technology among older Boomers and seniors is pegged to affluence. The most promising consumers are also likely to be the most at ease with - and, hence, likely to use - digital media.

"Affluent and well-educated seniors adopt the Internet and broadband at substantially-higher rates than those with lower levels of income and educational attainment," the Pew research states.

The study, which defines seniors as adults aged 65 and over, found that among seniors with an annual household income of US$75,000 and above, some 90% use online media, but noted that the figure dropped to 39% for those with an annual household income of $30,000 or less. The research underlines, however, that there is progress still to be made in terms of boosting the use of new media among older consumers. "Seniors, like any other demographic group, are not monolithic, and there are important distinctions in their tech adoption patterns, beginning with age itself," the Pew study states. While the study is a couple of years old, it still gives a good indication of the disparity in online adoption between Baby Boomers and older seniors, suggesting that internet use falls off significantly from about the age of age 75. While Pew found that around 68% of Americans in their early 70s used online channels, internet adoption fell to around 47% among 75-79 year olds.

However, when the current generation of Boomers enters this bracket, adoption rates will of course be higher. People are living longer and generally have more active lives in their 70s, particularly those consumers with higher incomes and more disposable income.

The opportunities for engaging premium-orientated, older consumers via digital media are not only considerable right now, but will only increase as the target group expands.

Expert analysis

Emerging Drinks Industry Trends

Emerging Drinks Industry Trends

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