Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Branding Lessons from a Master Marketer

For those looking to build a brand with a seemingly endless amount of cash to spend, the story of AARP’s transformation is one that can and should be duplicated. Most of us don’t have the wealth that this association has, but a lot can be learned from the steps AARP took to transform its brand into the powerhouse it is today.

Emilio Pardo, chief brand officer, AARP, spoke before the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) on November 20th in Washington DC. Pardo said AARP took the stigma of getting older that was glued to its brand for most of its life, turned it on its head, and created a cult (my word, not his) around doing and getting what you want at 50-plus.

With 40 million members ranging in age from 44-62 (the bulk are in their 50s) AARP has an enormous challenge. Most of you have seen the data, but I’m always impressed by how rich the baby boomers are (or were until recently?).

They account for:
• 83% of consumer spending
• 70% of the country’s wealth
• And 51% are still working.

Here are the lessons learned from Pardo’s talk and the Q&A that followed.

1. Create core, positive, universal messages – Aging is not something people like to talk about. Yet their lives and needs are changing. AARP decided to focus on the good part. Its core messages are wrapped around three words all with big plus signs in front of them.

Legacy – Independence – Personal Growth

A host of services and how-too information that make these possible became packaged underneath these core messages.

2. Acknowledge and address differences among your target customers. Not all 50-plus are created equal – or in a similar life stage. Pardo talked about the differences by referencing three different types of 50 year-old women – all AARP customers.

• The Grandmother – She had her kids young, is taking Pilates or water aerobics, among others, may or may not be working and with her spouse or without, is embracing her golden years.

• The 50-plus mother – She had her kids late, had or has a career or a job, is the one with the gray hair at the elementary or middle school picnic. She delayed motherhood as long as possible, and now embraces it.

• The “It’s time for me” woman. If she had kids they are gone, if she didn’t she works, has at least some disposable income, looks great and is into self-improvement (back-to-school, learn an instrument, travel).

Understanding the variations in AARP members of similar ages is particularly critical because most are living in multi-generational households. And how complicated it is when you’ve got kids, teens, early career professionals, parents and even grandparents sometimes living under the same roof.

Key lesson: AARP members wanted advice not just on how to manage their financial future but on setting up one for their kids, particularly 20-something mothers for their daughters.

3. Connect and engage with customers through a wide array of media. The AARP web site has hundreds of groups focused on interests of its members. It has created social networking paradise, all under the AARP brand which appears on every page and level of the groups and site.

And you don’t have to be a member to explore them – but of course once you do they have your contact information. Pardo also pointed out that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 50-plus. The former AARP magazine called Modern Maturity, a name 50-somethings didn’t like to see in their mailboxes anymore, is now simply AARP Magazine. It extends the brand and exudes the joys that come with maturity – without saying so.

Of course, the big unanswered question in the room while Pardo talked is WHAT NOW? And he really couldn’t answer that. He was honest about it. He said things will get worse before they get better. And then he went off to try and figure out what to do next.


  1. My association is currently involved in a 3 year grant dealing specifically with Plus 50 adult learners on community college campuses. These marketing tips will be helpful to our member colleges reaching out to this group.

  2. Sarah - We also have a grant ours is focused towards kids. Glad I could be of help. Aimee