Companies can gain a significant competitive advantage by creating marketing programs that target baby boomers’ expansive relationship networks, according to a new survey from Weber Shandwick Worldwide. The survey, conducted with KRC Research, found that boomer-to-friend communications are untapped in their potential to influence purchasing decisions for products and services.

According to the study of 502 U.S. boomers, titled B2F Connections, boomers serve as important information sources for fellow boomers when making purchasing decisions. Nearly six out of 10 boomers (57 percent) are asked for their recommendations on products and services almost twice a week (or 90 times per year). Of those boomers who were asked to make a recommendation in the past year, the large majority (89 percent) advised their friends, or fellow boomers.

The study also revealed that B2F communications are circular, with nearly all boomers (93 percent) identifying their friends, who are also boomers, as trusted sources of information.

“When it comes to word-of-mouth recommendations, boomers have both unrivaled influence and rich networks of peer advisors. Our new study found that companies can forge new relationships with prospective customers by capitalizing on the power of B2F communications,” says Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist Leslie Gaines-Ross. “Companies can discover new avenues for reaching boomers by approaching boomers’ networks of mutual advisors and creating marketing, advertising and other communications that portray boomers in realistic social settings to which they can relate.”

Boomer communications are personal in nature. Eighty-four percent of boomer recommendations are made face-to-face and 82 percent by phone, as opposed to 45 percent that are made online. With boomer recommendations so rich with personal opinions, companies can reap the full benefits of positive buzz by ensuring that their customers are completely informed of all key features, capabilities and benefits of the company’s products and services.

Boomers are eco-conscious. A sizable 42 percent of boomers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by a company’s social or environmental policies. Interestingly, boomers’ attention to social responsibility as a key factor in purchase decision-making is similar to that of Gen Xers (46 percent). Companies that engage in socially responsible activities should include this message in their communications with current and prospective customers to ensure their good deeds are heard.

Despite their extensive dialogue on other topics, boomers follow a “code of silence” when it comes to financial services. Only five percent of boomers who made a recommendation in the past year had been asked about financial services such as insurance, banking, investments and retirement. Boomers’ financial strength, independence and ongoing employment uniquely position them as highly coveted financial institution customers in need of creative marketing strategies that ignite positive interest, word-of-mouth and viral campaigns across B2F networks.