Beyond ‘Silver Surfers’ – Tackling over 50’s

Adam Fulford largeSuddenly, everyone wants a slice of the over 50s; considering they are one of the richest[1] segments of the population, this isn’t surprising. But this isn’t a mutual love. In a recent survey 39% of over 65s[2] stated they believe businesses have little interest in their needs.

For some reason, as an industry, we fail to view the over 50s as the diverse group it is. We breakdown the younger generations into many arguably arbitrary categories – Tweens, for example – that mid-point between kids and teens, but when it comes to the over 50s we fall back into the one stereotype. We ignore the facts, such as that nearly a million people aged 65+ provide unpaid care for someone[2], and that one and a half million grandparents are under 50[3], and we pay the price.

The key to turning this around lies in breaking through the old stereotype that older people ‘are not digital’, and targeting them through these vital channels.  One look at graphs of smart-phone, social and broadband penetration by age group shows the next five years will see a tidal-wave of digitisation for this audience.

Time to stop talking and start acting

We’re not leveraging the opportunity it offers to apply the principles of classic direct response marketing in a far more dynamic way.  We’re not taking the time to get to know users, capture their data, and then use that data intuitively to add value to their experience. If we did, there would be a lot more love coming our way.  Only by doing this will we get beyond a single cover-all persona, that of the ‘silver surfer’.

Not everyone is in the same boat and it would be wise for companies to take a leaf out of the books of those select few who have made an effort to engage this audience; Saga’s foray into the over 50s social community, for example, was undoubtedly an effort to listen to and understand the needs of this audience. It’s a shame a few people spoiled it for them.  But more need to follow suit.

Going back to basics will pay dividends

Our starting point should be as it always was, ‘put yourself in the customer’s shoes’.  It’s about designing products and services around the needs of specific segments of this audience (not the whole 22 million).  Whatever the product/service, one thing’s for sure: no one likes to be called ‘old’ or be referred to as over a certain age.  Signposting a product in this way will never work.

Brands need to:

  1. Understand their audience, what it is they like about the product or, perhaps more importantly, what it is that’s stopping them from buying it.
  1. Clearly define the target audience with more precision than simply ‘older people’.  Design the product or service specifically for this audience and ensure it is based on a clear need.
  1. Design communications to sell the product, not as a plea to appeal to the audience. For example, we’ve found that ‘Insurance that rewards your driving experience’ is far more effective than saying ‘Insurance for the over 50’s’.
  1. Be open to engaging through new and less used channels.  Projections for penetration of Facebook usage forecast growth to 37% of over 65’s by 2017, and growth in digital video viewer penetration to 46%. This means there’s a prime opportunity to target through less saturated channels; daytime TV is not the only way!

Reclaiming the love of the over 50s shouldn’t be too tricky if we can alter the way that we all too often approach the problem. The industry has a tendency of looking at how it can sell more to the consumer, rather than looking at what it can do for them: a subtle but important difference. Perhaps then the 3.9 million people that think we have little interest in their needs will think again.

by Adam Fulford, Strategy and Planning Director at creative engagement agency, Rufus Leonard.

[1] 80% of the UK’s net personal wealth – Telegraph December 2011

[2] ICM Research Agenda for Life Survey (November 2010)

[3] Social Services Activity Report

[4] EHRC 2009


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