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Expand Your Focus Beyond Millennials for Sharing Economy Success Money-starved millennials are the star consumers of the sharing economy today. But what happens once they have money of their own?

By Tx Zhuo

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Millennials factor heavily into the success of the sharing economy -- and for good reason. Many young adults carry a considerable amount of student loan debt. They've also found themselves waiting longer to land higher-paying jobs, so money can get tight. Collaborative consumption just makes economical sense.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Join the Sharing Economy Revolution

Why buy a car when you can just as easily share one? The same goes for homes, bikes, clothes and even everyday tasks.

But millennials' participation in the sharing economy may not last forever. In fact, millennials' annual spending rate is expected to reach a collective $200 billion a year by 2017. With this newfound financial stability comes greater buying potential, and that brings into question the future of the sharing economy.

After all, if you can afford to buy a car, doesn't the expense become worth the convenience? What happens to those platforms out there when they stop being necessities?

A Nielsen survey has estimated that 35 percent of millennials currently participate in the sharing economy, so their collaborative consumption doesn't necessarily make or break this movement. The same study noted that 17 percent of gen-Xers and 7 percent of baby boomers also made a habit of sharing.

That means you could be missing out on opportunities by not marketing to and connecting with these other age groups. Of course, how you choose to improve their awareness of your product/service will vary by industry, but the following strategies can help:

1. Phone a friend.

Baby Boomers aren't hesitant to adopt new technology. That said, phones and other traditional communication tools could benefit many businesses in the sharing economy. This generation is often more comfortable talking with a live person, so why not offer that option?

Karlin Ventures' portfolio company HelloTech is an in-home tech support service, and the majority of its primary customer base is over the age of 40. Most boomers are more comfortable speaking to a live operator, so HelloTech provides a number for customers to set up appointments by phone. Make sure you provide that option and an easy way to find the number on your site.

Related: Why a Phone Call Is Better Than an Email (Usually)

2. Use old-school advertising.

HelloTech, which recently gained $12.5 million in funding for expansion, has successfully reached boomers through traditional forms of advertising, such as radio and print. If its technicians have down-time between jobs, they'll print ads and hang them on doors around targeted neighborhoods. The company also ran an ad on AM radio that was specifically designed to attract baby boomer customers.

If it makes sense for your business, do something similar to get the word out for your company. Research all the possible touchpoints for potential users in this age group, and develop a campaign that resonates with them.

3. Think of the children.

Recent surveys show that many boomers utilize technology as a means of keeping in touch with their kids and grandchildren -- often as much as the kids themselves. While communication may be the main reason boomers engage in this technology use, having the support of their extended families when they do that may be the same thing that attracts them to your business.

Market your services toward younger generations to establish a gateway for older customers. The social validation they'll get from family will may help convert someone who's on the fence.

4. Make the user experience easy.

Boomers want simple, memorable products or services, and they're often less trusting or patient with technology. You must cater to their need for intuitive platforms if you want them to become customers.

Take Grace, for example. That funeral service platform recently ran a UX test, and one participant explained, "When my daughter doesn't see what she's looking for, she clicks a million times to try and find it. I leave."

Be as straightforward as possible with your platform. If you want it to be successful, it must make sense for the demographic you're targeting.

Related: If You Don't Know "UX' You're Overdue to Learn About It

Participation from Gen-Xers and baby boomers shows that collaborative consumption isn't just for millennials. If the sharing economy's popularity among young adults eventually wanes, wouldn't it be wise to develop some level of loyalty from other generations?

You'd better believe your competition is planning to do just that.

Tx Zhuo

Managing partner at Karlin Ventures

 TX Zhuo is a managing partner of Karlin Ventures, an L.A.-based venture capital firm that focuses on early-stage enterprise software, e-commerce, and marketplaces. Follow the company on Twitter.

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