Marc Middleton | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Marc Middleton

Background:  

Orlando, Fla.-based Growing Bolder, an active lifestyle brand company, creates content for television, radio, print and online. Broadcast on the RLTV cable network, PBS and local TV stations, "Growing Bolder" programs reach 50 million homes nationwide.

The Mistake:

I was in television sports and news broadcasting for almost 30 years and left in 2006. We launched Growing Bolder in 2007 as the world’s first active aging lifestyle brand. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, what the brand would become. It was designed to be the antithesis of any brand or content being produced for a population over the age of 50. We never used the word “senior.”

But early on we made the mistake of doing a couple of stories on active centenarians, who I liked very, very much. They were articulate, they were interesting, they were vibrant. And we put them on the front page of our website. And even though these were unique individuals who had something that we all could learn from, it was a big challenge. We also used the word “boomer” too much. We were in the early stages of trying to define the brand, and people totally misunderstood what we were doing.

I realized it’s critically important how you build your brand and how you present yourself. We did not want the marketplace to determine what our brand was, and I think that was the big problem.

So we stopped doing stories on really, really old people. We’ve now earned the right to do that because we’ve now defined our brand. And we never use the word “boomer” or “baby boomer” unless we’re talking to an advertiser because it brings with it a lot of baggage.

And we never use the word 'boomer' or 'baby boomer' ... because it brings with it a lot of baggage.

The Lesson:

Today, the average age of our consumers across all platforms is 45 to 65, which is exactly where we wanted to be. We’re not creating content for any demographic cohort. We’re creating content for a brand new life stage that has never existed before.

I’ve learned that, whenever you say “baby boomer,” whenever you say “millennial,” whenever you say “senior,” you automatically are cutting your message off to a very large audience that, in fact, it might relate to. The mistake we made was not clearly defining who we were, how we wanted to be defined. We didn’t do too much damage. But now, before we do anything, we consider very carefully and closely: Does it reflect the brand we’re trying to build?

We wanted a brand that appealed to the most influential, aggressive consumers in the cohort, so we decided we had to do content that appealed to those kinds of people. Our message is that it’s never too late for anybody to reinvent themselves and find significance in their lives.

We’re producing content for a life stage and not a demographic cohort. This life stage is never going to go away, and the opportunities that exist in this life stage will be here forever. Long after the last baby boomer is dead and buried, Growing Bolder will be a brand that resonates and has relevance.

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