When America's 77 million baby boomers begin retiring a year from now, few question the impact their retirements will have on virtually every aspect of American life.
The staggering influence of the baby boomer generation - people born between 1946 and 1964 - has been felt on American society and the economy for 60 years.
First they swamped our schools. Then they flooded the employment market. Then they redefined the housing market. Now, they're about to start turning the retirement market upside down.
With boomers comprising the wealthiest and most economically influential generation in our nation's history, it's no surprise their retirement will be a very big deal.
There never has been a more urgent time for communicators to lead their organizations in effective communications. Why? Because boomers will be on the minds of nearly every company, organization, and level of government for the foreseeable future. Simply put, how well companies and organizations communicate with boomers will speak volumes about how successful they are in attracting and retaining boomers as customers.
One of the biggest challenges facing communicators: Boomers are far from a homogeneous group.
In the financial services industry alone, consider just one difference: Some boomers have accumulated substantial savings and are prepared to finance their own retirements, while others are heavily in debt and have leveraged their real estate assets to the hilt by continuously refinancing their mortgages and living the good life by using equity lines of credit.
Communicating to a group this diverse requires communicators to intimately understand their industries, their audiences, and the intermediaries who influence their end customers' choices.
So how do communicators tackle this challenge? For starters, guesswork doesn't count. What's required is market research in which a company's boomer audience is properly segmented and understood. Then companies need to align products and services with boomers' desires and demands. Key messages need to be tested.
In addition, companies need to figure out how to communicate with boomers. Most market research indicates boomers would say: "Meet me where I am. Communicate with me on a personalized, individual basis."
Add to this the seismic shift that's occurring in communications today. Traditional, top-down communication is no longer blindly accepted. Today, peer-to-peer communication often is viewed as more trustworthy than communications by companies to consumers, or by government institutions to citizens.
Word of mouth - now propelled by everything from e-mail to blogs and podcasts - is being viewed as a very real way for people to learn about things, form opinions, and make decisions. As such, it's just as important to consider the messenger as the message. Certainly, the number of "trusted voices" has increased exponentially.
That means more noise. Potentially more confusion. Certainly a higher margin of misinformation.
But for the strategic, smart, brave, and determined, this brings increased opportunity. The greater extent that a communications effort can enlist, equip, and harness the power of trusted, informed, and credible messengers, the higher the probability of success.
Barb Iverson is president of Weber Shandwick's North American financial services practice.