By G. Richard Ambrosius –
It took the 70th birthday parties of a few thousand leading edge baby boomers for corporate America and the mainstream media to wake up to the fact that the median age of adults in the US increased by about a decade while they weren’t looking. Today, articles and conference topics on boomers proliferate, but understanding the underlying values and cognitive decision making processes of older adults remains a mystery to most …old paradigms die hard.
If you are among those that believe there are easy steps or simple typologies that will ensure success in the aging marketplace, you are on a fool’s errand. The typical boomer, like the typical senior, is as much like other older adults as a snowflake is typical. Consumers become more dissimilar as they age, not more alike, although they share common ‘gut level’ values.
Only a few have successfully targeted the mature consumer, so evidence on what works best is limited. In the last ten years, most targeted the mature market using traditional features and benefits methods, only to conclude there was little potential because consumers failed to respond. Those failing blamed neither the medium nor the message, but the intended recipient.
Likewise, millions of dollars have been spent on aging sensitivity without first developing an empathetic understanding of the consumer and their decision-making processes. In fact, sensitivity training often reinforces rather than correcting stereotypes. To increase the probability of future success, marketers must first abandon the approaches that worked so well in yesterday’s youth market; and adopt an ageless approach more likely to appeal to a maturing consumer base while not alienating younger segments.
The first step is to always project a positive, mindful image of aging. This image should underlie all communications and collateral material. Consumers tend to select products/services that reflect images of what they want to be, not what they are, and this applies to older adults as well. While physiology changes, older consumers “feel” anywhere from 10 to 15 years younger than their biological age, but this doesn’t mean they think they “look” 10 to 15 years younger. Therefore, when models are too young or engaged in extreme sports, the consumer simply dismisses the message. The key is realistic people in real world activities.
Advertising and communications should also focus on lifelong health and well-being, productivity, later life autonomy and empowerment, and connectedness to family, friends and community. Remember that a prospective customer’s mind will consider your initial message for from .2 to .8 of one second (your cognitive window of opportunity). Not much time to make a first impression – that is why every word and image is so important.
The brain does not process words; it processes pictures and sensory data in context with the circumstances. If the perception of “senior” is old, frail, dependent, or other traditional stereotypes, the mind may “exclude” whatever is associated with that word from conscious consideration if the consumer does not view themselves as fitting the stereotype.
By mindfully pursuing an ageless approach to marketing communications, perhaps the general public will come to view later life as something to look forward to and enjoy rather than a time of loss and decline. A time of life to celebrate the uniqueness and worth of each individual regardless of their age or infirmity. It is time to return to a time in which the wisdom and life experience of older adults is not just appreciated but revered.