February 03, 2009
How To

How to Market to Grandparents – Q&A on Tips, Tactics and Results

SUMMARY: More than 70 million American grandparents spend about $50 billion a year on their grandchildren. That’s quite a healthy market!

Find out how to get the attention of these well-to-do grandparents. Three marketers answer questions and share tips, tactics and results on creative, email marketing, and more.
Baby Boomers make an impact at every stage of their lives, says Jerry Shereshewsky, CEO, Grandparents.com. As they approach 60, more boomers than ever are also grandparents.

Yet, grandparents remain something of an untapped market because they are stereotyped as old, inactive, and frugal. The reality? Grandparents aren’t retiring to rocking chairs anymore – far from it.

The average age that a parent becomes a grandparent in the U.S. is 48. Many grandparents still work. They stay active. They travel. They have more wealth than the generations before them did.

5 questions marketers answered about the grandparent market:

Question #1. What defines the grandparent market?

Being a grandparent represents a new life stage for baby boomers. Age doesn’t matter. Whether they are 45 or 65, they experience the same emotions when they have a grandchild. “It’s a new stage in their family’s development, a new set of commitments,” says Robert DiLallo, President, Grandparent Marketing Group.

It’s a life stage that marketers can target with creative messaging. Instead of marketing to a range of baby boomers of different ages and varying interests and characteristics, marketers can focus on something these consumers have in common: grandchildren.

o 50% of the nation’s wealth is under their control
o 70% purchase products online
o 80% characterize their grandchildren as the top priority in their lives

“It’s a perfect storm in terms of consumers,” DiLallo says.

Question #2. Who is reaching the grandparent market and who should try?

Industries marketing to grandparents:
o Toys (Fisher-Price, KB Toys, etc.): Grandparents purchase one out of every four toys, four out of every 10 children’s books, and one out of every five video games.
o Travel (Disney, cruise lines, etc.): Grandparents accounted for 39% of all cruises taken in 2006.
o Consumer goods (Johnson & Johnson, Children’s TYLENOL, etc.)

Industries with great potential to reach grandparents:
o Financial services: Grandparents are interested in financial products, such as college savings plans for their grandchildren
o Automotive: Grandparents are 7% more likely to purchase a new car; they represented 35% of all new car sales in 2006.

Other potential industries:
Sports, apparel, entertainment, and one with products consumed by children, teens, and young adults. Grandparents are very likely to purchase a wide range of products for their grandchildren.

Question #3. What works in grandparent marketing?

Here are some strategies that get the attention of grandparents:

1. Email

Marketers tout email as a particularly successful tactic to reach grandparents. Here is what several websites do:

o Grandparents.com

The site entices first-time visitors to register for a free email newsletter. The newsletter contains five or six new articles on the site that week. It generates more repeat traffic than any other marketing tactic, Shereshewsky says.

o Right Start

The infant and baby products company entices grandparents to sign up for a “Grandparents Monday Club” – an email list that provides a 10% discount code for grandparents to redeem on Mondays, the slowest day of the week. The emails also provide content that’s relevant to grandparents, such as how to better baby-proof a home. The emails also provide information about specific products Right Start sells.

Right Start builds the email list by asking parents to tell their parents about the club, says Hope Neiman, COO, Right Start.

“A couple of emails say: ‘Hey, are you aware of our grandparents club?’” Neiman says. “When somebody signs up for a baby registry, one of the things we talk to them about is getting the respective grandparents or other caregivers involved in our grandparents club.”

Sign-up cards are available at Right Start’s 33 retail stores across the country. Employees ask customers that look like grandparents if they would like to join the club by filling out one of the cards.

o Grandparent Marketing Group

The agency asks parents to relay marketing messages to grandparents through email – much like Right Start. “Let’s say we have mom’s name and email address,” says DiLallo. “We say: ‘Don’t you want to get mom in the loop?’”

Email is inexpensive, and grandparents are hard to reach, so it has become a successful tactic for reaching them, DiLallo says. Toy companies in particular have such extensive email lists that almost any message they send is successful.

2. Messaging

Addressing grandparents as grandparents in messaging works because so few companies market to them, DiLallo says.

The best incentive for grandparents is an activity they can do with their grandchildren, says Shereshewsky. Grandparents.com tested a sweepstakes to win $5,000 for a grandchild’s education as an incentive to sign up for their free weekly email newsletter.
A free download titled “100 Free Things to do With Your Grandchildren” outperformed the sweepstakes, Shereshewsky says.

“People loved it,” he says. “It got picked up by all kinds of websites and blogs, including websites and blogs that really don’t focus on grandparents. They focus on parents.”

3. Traditional channels

o Television

Granparents.com uses a TV commercial to attract people to the site. The commercial doesn’t feature grandparents – it features grandchildren. “We thought, ‘If we show grandparents, if we show the audience; we’re going to be wrong more often than right,’” Shereshewsky says.

Grandparents could argue that the actress playing the grandparent part is too old or too young. But seeing children ages 5, 6, and 7 is something Shereshewsky’s team thought all grandparents could relate to.

The commercial airs mostly on cable channels, such as Fox, The History Channel, and The Food Network – basically any channel that indexes highly against the 50-plus age range.

o Video

Instead of using the TV spot to ask grandparents to sign up for the newsletter, Grandparents.com invites them to sign up when they first visit the site. A 37-second video pops up describing the content on the site. It then asks them to sign up for the free newsletter. “We are getting more than a 30% conversion rate from that video,” Shereshewsky says.

NOTE: Shereshewsky’s team reduced the video from 83 seconds to 37 seconds in length because they were losing too many people. “By making it shorter, it looks like the conversion rate is getting better,” he says.

o Magazines

Grandparents respond better to magazine ads than newspaper ads because they take magazines more seriously, DiLallo says. Many of them have stayed loyal to certain magazines for years.

o Radio

Grandparents trust National Public Radio more than other media sources. “If you really want to reach a well-to-do, well-educated group, you should try to sponsor something on NPR or even produce a program,” says DiLallo. “You’re looking for the media that delivers the biggest trust factor.”

4. Partnerships

Partnering toy companies with financial institutions has been successful for clients, DiLallo says. In one promotion, the financial institution offered toy products to entice consumers to open college savings plans. “They can sort of cross-pollinate one another’s lists,” he says. “Partnering is very key.”

Question #4. What are some challenges and solutions?

o Challenge #1. Grandparents lack loyalty

“Grandparents don’t maintain the same kind of loyalties [as parents do], either to the shopping experience or even to initially being as aware of what’s available,” Neiman says. “They’ll just go in and say: “Okay, I want to get something. This looks good. I’ll get this.”

Right Start wanted to build loyalty among grandparents. The company wanted grandparents to think of Right Start before any other store when purchasing an item for their grandchild.

o Solution #1. Give them a reason to be loyal

The company launched the “Grandparents Monday Club” about a year ago. Emails are sent on Sunday nights to remind opted-in grandparents that the next day is Monday – when they get to use the 10% discount for club members. “We’re training grandparents to look for the email,” Neiman says.

In addition, Right Start uses email to invite grandparents to participate in events at their retail stores that center on interacting with their grandchildren. Club members are invited to help their grandchildren create a Mother’s Day card, for example.

The events show club members that the company cares about getting them involved in their grandchildren’s lives, Neiman says. The events and emails also help keep the stores at the front of customers’ minds.

o Challenge #2. Advertisers aren’t speaking to grandparents directly

Because most marketers weren’t thinking in terms of speaking directly to grandparents visiting Grandparents.com, Shereshewsky’s team offers suggestions to companies advertising on the site.

o Solution #2. Be more direct

The team suggests that advertisers customize their ad messaging.

One advertiser changed a tagline from: “Having a baby changes everything” to “Having a baby changes everything, even for grandparents,” Shereshewsky says.

Another advertiser changed an ad to say: “Get free music for your grandchildren,” he says. “People went berserk.”

Question #5. What kind of results are marketers getting?

Right Start gets a 50% open rate for their “Grandparents Monday Club” emails, says Neiman. The size of the list is around 4,000. The unsubscribe rate is well under a tenth of 1%.

Grandparents.com gets a little more than 300,000 unique visits per month, says Shereshewsky. More than 260,000 grandparents have signed up for the weekly email newsletter since the site launched in 2007.

Other stats:
o 40% open rate
o 40% clickthrough rate to the site
o 53 is the average age of subscribers

Useful links related to this article

TAXI – ad agency that created the Grandparents.com commercial:

Grandparentopia – a Grandparents.com report responsible for compiling the stats mentioned in this article:

Grandparent Marketing Group:


Right Start:

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