I recently attended an Insurance Producers convention in Scottsdale. I was there to browse around and mingle with participants. I knew from past experience that this group was largely composed of baby boomers with a more conservative cut to their jib. I would say they sorted at about 80/20 male to female, ranging in age from early thirties to middle fifties, wearing business suits and even a smattering of neckties. I wanted to find out what they wanted from events. Enough about GenX, GenY, and millennials. After all, baby boomers still make up a large percentage of conference attendees. How about what they want. Have their tastes changed? What about their diet? How handy are they with technology?
Private Investigator – Me
I mingled during breaks, at happy-hour in the bar, and at hospitality suites in the late evening. I knew some of the attendees from past conferences I had a hand in organizing, so they were not surprised to see me hanging around asking questions. I tried to keep my queries informal so they would be unguarded in their responses.
The first thing I noticed was that they were all glued to their cell-phones. This surprised me, so I thought I might mention it.
“You know, Jake,” I began to an insurance executive I knew from past conventions, “it looks like you guys use your cell-phones even more than the young people. What’s up with that? They’re accused of being absent by technology, but it looks to me that you guys are just as attached to your devices.”
He glanced up from his iPhone and gave me a vacant look. Finally, after a pause longer than I was comfortable with, he said, “We invented these things – not the kids. They’re playing games or talking to their friends, half the time. We’re checking the market or staying in touch with customers. That’s the difference.”
I thought his response was a little defensive, but since I had him talking I thought I might press on. “How did you like Doctor Clark’s presentation? A little long,” I commented hoping to bait him into a response.
“Clark is a genius. I write down everything he says and go back to the office and try to figure out how it applies to my division. It’s rare you get the chance to sit and listen to a guy with his experience and brains.”
So, the “sage on the stage” is alive and well in the baby boomer community, I concluded.
Investigation – Day Two
The next morning in the Starbucks, I eaves dropped on three women I knew from the adjuster’s office of a large national insurer having coffee and discussing their day’s activities. During the break between the morning and afternoon sessions they were planning to get a massage at the hotel’s spa.
“That’s why I love coming to this hotel,” one of them offered. “The spa is terrific.”
“Have you ever had the herbal facial?” asked the second woman dressed in an impeccable business suit. “It’s a little pricey but worth it once a year, in my opinion.”
“Oh definitely,” chimed in the third. “That’s what I have scheduled for today. Thank god they arrange these meeting schedules with a little free time in the middle for rest and relaxation.” They then continued talking about arcane adjuster’s issues and I drifted away. It was clear, however, that they weren’t rushing out to go zip-lining over the nearest rain forest.
Finally, I attended the banquet that evening in the grand ballroom. It was a semi-formal affair decorated with elaborate floral centerpieces, soft mood lighting, background music provided by a twelve-piece orchestra, and a four-course meat and potatoes feast like your grandmother used to put on after Sunday church; fattening but delicious.
There’s still a place for old-fashioned event planning. It all depends on your audience. The boomers are still out there strong, and we forget them at our own peril. Study your intended audience carefully. Be sure to identify the demographic mix and cater to GenY and millennial tastes gradually, never forgetting your “still-going-strong” baby boomers.