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Five Common Misconceptions About Marketing to Seniors
With all the potential target markets out there, why would anyone want to market to seniors, anyway?
Considered by some to be a “lost cause”, they are labeled as too old, too disabled, too indifferent or too thrifty. While those monikers may apply in some cases, it’s amazing how wrong those perceptions are when you examine the reality of today’s buying public despite a sour economy, a real estate crisis and unemployment at its worst level in decades.
Suddenly, seniors look very attractive to some, if not all, marketers because of a few important facts:
Misconception #1: Seniors are in the minority
Fact: 76 million baby boomers in the United States are now turning 65, a fact that puts the elderly in the majority. As of February 6, 2011 New York Times article on the business of aging, these new seniors differ from previous generations, anticipating a longer lifespan than in the past – a period of at least another twenty years. Globally, the segment of the population 65 and older will more than double, from 523 million to 1.5 billion by the year 2050, according to United Nations estimates. The US Census Bureau reports that there are more females than males nationwide with the Northeast in the lead for that distinction, as well as having the largest percentage of people in the age group 65 and over. Although more people will delay their retirement in the interest of maintaining a sustainable income, those who choose to retire will have a lot of time on their hands for which the only salvation is to get busy. And extrapolating truth from reality, keeping busy means that seniors will comprise one of the country’s largest markets, too vast to ignore and certainly too available to dismiss.
Misconception #2: Seniors are too old, technologically challenged and computer phobic
Fact: With “senior citizen” defined as someone who has reached old age, (yet, to this writer’s amusement, still described as “ancient” in some dictionaries), the bulk of baby boomers will be a relatively young group (age 65-). 74) until the year 2034. That’s a good twenty years of time in which marketers can take advantage. Baby boomers are not some wallflowers intimidated by the prospect of going out dancing. Indeed, these are our device-savvy, forward-thinking, mature and experienced movers and shakers who have been major participants in, if not initiators of, today’s technologically advanced lifestyle for most of their existence. Hardly inclined to leave society, these are connected individuals aware of the ramifications of social media and Google rankings, alternately engaged and irritated by the entourage of political missteps and world events, and influenced by the fallout from job loss and home foreclosure. These are acutely aware consumers of the most formidable stature.
Misconception #3: Seniors are too “cheap” to spend any money
Fact: Seniors are today’s biggest spenders. According to estimates based on a consumer spending survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009 approximately $2.6 trillion was spent by baby boomer households in the United States. That’s up 45% year over year as measured by a Gallup poll cited on June 10, 2010. New York Times article by Catherine Rampell, entitled “Who’s Spending Again? The Rich and the Old.”
While it is true that the elderly tend to be more conservative in their tastes and thrifty in their choices, it is also true that their spending habits are greatly influenced by the wants and needs of those who matter to them: their children, grandchildren, and big grandchildren If, for example, an elderly person’s son has lost his job and can no longer support his family to the level of comfort they once enjoyed, far from grandma watching them suffer. Many older Americans have welcomed the younger generations back into their homes and are now spending liberally to keep them fat and happy, so to speak.
But there’s another reason why seniors have loosened the tight reins of their often extra-large nest eggs. Recent stock market gains have a psychological effect on the mindset of retirees with investments, even if those investments are bond- or annuity-based, leading them to conclude that they are richer. Add this sentiment to the rationale that seniors may feel that life is too short and now is the time to splurge before it’s too late. Bolstered by years of moderately successful finances now bolstered by the meager fruits of Social Security benefits, some of these seniors enjoy significant resources and plan to experience life’s luxuries before time runs out.
What does that mean? It means vacations, cruises, luxury vehicles and home entertainment purchases. It means shopping for clothes, jewelry and gifts for the kids. It means spending on hair and nails and plastic surgery and a new smile. It means having dinner and going out for a pleasant evening. All regularly. Once they start, it’s hard to stop.
Misconception #4: Seniors don’t have brand loyalty
Fact: Seniors demonstrate brand loyalty far more than members of today’s younger generations, who tend to be fickle, flying from one thing to another at the drop of a hat. While fads, trends, and social influences lure youth from one product to the next, seniors are considered more valuable as customers, according to September 26, 2007. New York Times article by Matt Richtel on “Sticky Old People”. A senior will take time to carefully evaluate a decision and stick with that commitment longer as a general rule.
Although seniors have a lifetime of experience to draw from, a wealth of knowledge on a range of subjects, and valuable skills representing a variety of careers, such wisdom is viewed with some reserve in today’s rapidly changing world. First, old age tends to bring forgetfulness and amnesia. Second, when it comes to knowledge availability, Google provides answers to everything and anything in a matter of milliseconds, hardly a level playing field for an old person (or anyone for that matter), regardless of how smart or accomplished they may be. Finally, the skills that the elderly have mastered tend to be for things that we no longer need or use, like yesterday’s engines or outdated entertainment hardware, for example, now replaced by state-of-the-art wireless computer technology. Even if seniors have kept up with every technological development over the years, their motivation to keep up with such changes after retirement is greatly reduced, as is their capacity for retention. A younger person has the advantage here.
Misconception #5: Seniors won’t buy anything unless there’s a discount
Fact: If there’s one thing seniors have complete control over, it’s the healthcare market, discount or no discount. No one buys more health-related products than seniors, making them easily the most valuable market for businesses in that industry, bar none. Old age, by nature, brings difficulties with balance, dexterity, autonomy and mobility, as well as sensory maintenance and retention. Some of these conditions encourage social withdrawal. The industries that serve to protect the elderly from physical and psychological demise can only hope to reap the rewards of their manufacturing and marketing. However, it is obvious that the prospect of investing heavily in the development of products that can serve such purposes evokes fear in companies ready to take advantage. The reason for this is that the senior market is still unproven territory, having not shown that it will buy new technologies that preserve health and well-being even if there is an urgent need for it. Rather, companies like Ford Motor, which has a hands-free, parallel parking system that eases the need to strain one’s neck (a common fault of aging), coupled with blind spot detection and a voice-activated sound system, take comfort. their ability to market to a broad market, not just targeting the mysterious seniors for product success.
While writing this article, I was accidentally contacted by a local non-profit organization “Aging in Place” who claimed they needed a marketing plan to facilitate an increase in paid membership. Aging in place is a concept used by national aging groups to describe efforts to help older adults stay in their own homes as long as possible, while receiving help from various outside services, if necessary, to find solutions for any inconvenience or. problem faced. This could include assistance with medical, social, financial or nutritional needs, to name a few.
At the same time, many of the real estate development companies nationwide have embraced the idea that building senior-friendly residential or retirement centers that incorporate new technologies to monitor the health and safety of its residents, as well as on-site social, dining, entertainment , fitness and physical therapy areas, is a safe bet for senior marketing.
Certainly both scenarios make sense, as long as all marketers address the age-old question: what’s the best way to reach seniors? Or, is the question instead, how to reach the grown children of the elderly? While the options remain the same as when trying to reach the entire market, all of which are expensive when an unknown response rate is always possible, there are ways to target seniors with some intuitive reasoning. Think old fashioned if you want an older demographic; think creatively to reach the newly introduced “younger” baby boomer or their grown children. Among a whole host of strategies, old-fashioned means advertising in the daily newspaper; on conservative talk radio programs; or sponsorship marketing and live performances with handouts at senior fairs and events at community or religious centers. Creative marketing can mean using the Internet to reach the tech-savvy seniors with an email campaign; or sponsored ads to accompany appropriate Google searches, to barely touch the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Probably the safest route to any age senior is through their mailing address, lists of which can be purchased by age selection plus a range of other parameters that may be appropriate.
And as with any marketing, one effort may not be enough. A diversified approach as well as multiple attempts is usually what means a more successful outcome, being vigilant in measuring response during each step of the process. But remember one thing. Seniors have become victims of scams more often than we care to admit. While some may still be helplessly vulnerable, others have become even more wary, distrustful of every marketing offer they come across!
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