Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace

by Dr. Mary S. Furlong
Publisher: FT Press

Could silver be the next gold? The baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, have been considered by many demographers to be a pig inside the python. It is an enormous, yet neglected, market that has slipped below the radar of most businesses worldwide. 

It is curious because not only do the baby boomers have plenty of spending power, they also have better health and longer life, finely-honed tastes and a desire to give back to social and spiritual causes. As Brad Edmondson, previous editor-in-chief of American Demographics magazine, said, “Older boomers are the focus of market opportunity in the next decade.” 

All of the baby boomer qualities represent enormous businesses opportunities. Despite this, few businesses take the trouble to understand the dynamics of the silver market. The boomer generation is not homogenous – in fact, the silver generation represents hundreds of market segments. The key to reaching this market lies in understanding the demographic data, the trends, and boomer psyche, so as to develop relevant services and products and effectively communicate with them. 

Turning Silver into Gold drives home the significance of the silver market, reveals the opportunities available, and gives the reader key statistics and resources to capitalize on them. The book focuses on five basic ideas that help increase understanding of boomers. These recurring themes – global markets, longevity, technology, life-stage transitions, and spirituality/giving back – are woven through each chapter and are intended to spark creativity and help build a winning business strategy to reach this growing market. Each chapter includes statistical data, case studies, and commercially relevant insights, which are drawn from the experiences of corporate executives and venture capitalists. 

Of special interest was the discussion on product innovations that can enrich boomers’ lives and ways in which companies are using the Internet and other new media to reach their markets. 

Some businesses, both large and small, have leveraged these trends with great success. For example, eHarmony.com, Inc. provides online relationship services that draw 2.7 million visitors per month, of which 10% are over the age of 55. As boomers are now older, they desire more information about a potential love interest before a first meeting or date. Online services provide the perfect opportunity and eHarmony.com taps on this growing and lucrative boomer dating segment. 

Traditional companies are repositioning themselves and altering their product lines to suit the baby boomer consumers. Intel, for instance, is no longer just a chip company; it is a technology and health care company. Philips has added the home heart defibrillator as one of its keys products. 

The author, Dr. Mary Furlong, is a leading expert on the baby boomer generation. For over 20 years, she has immersed herself in academia, the Internet, and the real world of business. Besides having founded Mary Furlong & Associates in 2003 to help companies address the silver market, she is also the Executive Professor of Entrepreneurship and Women in Leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in California. She also founded the nonprofit organization SeniorNet in 1986, and Third Age Media in 1996, a media and marketing company that focuses on baby boomers. 

Turning Silver into Gold taps on Dr. Furlong’s vast knowledge as both an academic observer and consultant to create a book that is both insightful and practical. She successfully marries research with anecdote and inspiration, making the book highly readable. 

Perhaps as a function of Dr. Furlong’s being based in the US, the book primarily discussed the situation in the United States market. Treatment of Europe and Asia is limited. This is a pity since the countries of North-east Asia (particularly Japan, Korea and China) present not only critically important silver markets but also some of the most fascinating examples of successful business engagement with the segment. Japan has a world-leading silver industry while China will be perhaps the fastest aging large economy in the world over the next 20 years. In addition, it is of importance to practitioners to note that the needs of the silver segment would differ according to levels of economic development. The segment would require different products and services in the US as opposed to China, for example. There is little discussion of this in Turning Silver into Gold. 

Nevertheless, this book will be of special interest to entrepreneurs, investors and corporate strategists as well as the baby boomers, along with their children, for its insights into aging and the possibilities that a long life offers to all. Asian observers and practitioners in the silver industry will benefit from reading Turning Silver into Gold for a perspective on how the world’s largest economy has turned the issue of an aging society into the phenomenon of the silver market. As middle-income and emerging economies in Asia move towards the age distribution pattern seen in the US, EU and Japan, these countries will offer lessons to Asian silver industry companies as well as consumers alike.