Boomers & Older Consumers are Online –Reduce the Frustration Quotient

When designing your marketing communications/advertising to entice boomers and older consumers to your website, remember they rely more on emotional reactions than younger adults to determine if they should think about a matter. Emotional triggers in the brain activate memories. Experiences arm many of these triggers. Stronger original emotional responses to a type of situation generate a stronger memory.

When we experience something in the present, the brain scans its memory to see if what we are currently experiencing are like anything we have experienced before. A positive finding may mean the matter does not need to be thought through because the recipe for coping with the matter was written in the past. So instead of a rational response we might simply react reflexively. When asked why we acted as we did, we might respond “Just intuition” or “Just a gut feeling.” Boomers and older consumers generally can safely rely more on their emotions than younger adults can because they have a richer database of emotionally coded knowledge on how to manage situations.

Understanding How Older Minds Process Information

Older minds have less reliance on reason and more reliance on intuition. Therefore, any communications images should promote strong positive emotional responses. The online marketer’s objective should to begin the process of developing a relationship with the consumer and relationship building should precede presentation of products and services. Remember, relationship potential is emotionally inferred not rationally deduced. First impressions (emotionally based) are more durable and difficult to reverse in older minds so evaluate your message content to remove potential to stimulate a negative first impression. The strongest sources of negative impressions are those that conflict with a person’s idealized image of self, especially with respect to autonomy and sense of personal validity.

After a matter qualifies for interest and more attention, maturing consumers often want more information than younger consumers, so create opportunities in product messages to get further information. Manage the information flow so that emotional cues are present when most advantageous (early in process) then shift to objective information. Older minds are quicker in emotionally processing information but slower in generating rationally derived perceptions and are also more resistant to absolute propositions. Older minds tend to want to pull information to them not have it pushed at them. They also tend to resist efforts of others to press unasked for advice on them and that’s what advertising and many sales pitches are – unasked for advice.

Conditional Positioning

The young mind tends to see reality in simpler terms than older minds do, and they tend to see things in terms of absolute states or conditions: something either is or it is not. Nuance and subtlety often create more confusion in the younger mind about a matter than understanding of it. In contrast, boomers and older consumers tend to have greater appreciation for the finer definition that nuance and subtlety give a matter. This bias results from a combination of experience and age-related changes in how the brain processes information.

The predisposition of boomers and older consumers to reject absolutism means that marketing communications intended for them should generally reflect a conditional tone. Strongly worded and delivered claims about a product’s features and benefits usually work better with younger, more literal-minded adults. A softer, more deferential, conditional approach is better suited to the older adult mind that sees reality in shades of gray.

The Holy Grail of Online Web Marketers

One-to-one marketing and real time personalization is the Holy Grail of Internet marketers. Their objective is to create an experience where cross selling and up selling becomes a reality. The goal is to increases product sales, and the customer is led to additional services suited to their interest. However, everyone defines personalization differently and personalization is primarily defined from the company’s perspective. What’s wrong with this picture?

Increasing the Satisfaction Quotient and Decreasing the Frustration Quotient

Why do we have so many different views about anything? It’s because each of us is not quite like anyone else. Should the definition of personalization reflect the collective subjectivity of the company or the consumer? Does the consumer have the final word on what constitutes personalization? We think not. The objective of designing your website in looks and functionality is increasing the Satisfaction Quotient and decreasing the Frustration Quotient. Consumers will use and reuse a site that provides them a positive experience. Once you get them to visit your site (following the suggestions above) you need tools and tactics to assure a successful and satisfying experience.

What Constitutes Personalized Attention?

It’s not about being technological with customers; it’s about being more humanistic. Progress in ecommerce marketing is retarded by efforts to dress up old marketing ideas. Personalization rests upon “attitudinal” foundations. We are not seats, wallets, eyeballs, end-users, or other euphemisms. We are human beings – our reach exceeds the typical marketers grasp

Databases represent an ability to manipulate simulated reality much like a flight simulator. Don’t confuse simulated reality with the “real” reality – may stumble in the market. Don’t forget to reconvert consumers as abstract reality back into human beings. Most Internet visitors want to see greatest improvement in the quality of the Internet experience. Want responsiveness to their individual needs along with simplicity of interaction, efficiency, economy and convenience. And, they want it delivered with respect! These points demand that websites be authentic in dealing with consumers. People with power usually have a low tolerance for BS!

How Users Read the Web

They don’t! They scan the page picking out individual words and sentences. So to make your site more user friendly we suggest the following:

  • Highlight keywords
  • Create meaningful subheadings (not clever ones)
  • Bulleted lists
  • One idea per paragraph
  • Start with the conclusion
  • Half the word count (write the copy, review it and then reduce it by half!)

Credibility Is Important

Make it clear who is behind information on the Web site. You can increase credibility with:

  • High quality graphics
  • Good writing
  • Use of outbound hypertext links (projects that authors have done their homework and not afraid to refer readers to other sites
  • Give ‘em the facts – detest hyperbole

Designing Sites for Maximum Usability. Sites are typically designed for:

  • Graphic design
  • Technical functionality
  • Features or content

Many marketers (webmasters) do not respond to the realities of aging and often champion innovative design over clarity. The consumer is more likely to be frustrated than impressed. Some may not have intuitive sense to navigate such a site. Frustrated users typically don’t return – so keep the design:

  • Clear
  • Legible
  • Informative

Your reward will be loyal users. Remember, computer usage by those 55+ is soaring. And, 55+ consumers spend more time online than any other age group (twice that of 12-17 year olds). They are also big users of email because it increases independent living and provides new job skills to re-enter the work force. Typically, the design and content of many sites reflect personality of the designer/webmaster (often 1/3 the age of the user).

Design for Maximum Usability – Physical Changes

It’s estimated that 10 million American have low vision or functional vision loss and 60% are over the age of 55. Eyestrain and fatigue is a reality. By age 65:

  • Some can’t focus, have reduced field of vision
  • Difficulty in resolving images, distinguish colors, adapting to changes in light and sensitive to glare

In addition, the need for contrast increases. Clouding, cataracts or yellowing reduces the amount of light passing through the eye, and yellowing reduces violet light registered by the eye. It’s easier to see reds, oranges and yellows and harder to see blues, greens and violets.

Balance of Type and Open Space

Large areas of open space and small blocks of text increase readability (reduces scrolling). Include hyperlinks with longer pages to allow “jumping” from section to section with one click. Use a wide margin (1 1/2” or more) on right side to allow for different monitors. Design and apply consistent “style sheets”. This allows for presetting of all formatting options:

  • Fonts
  • Colors
  • Spacing
  • Paragraph justification

Helps avoid confusion, reinforces brand image and identity, and is a time saver for updating and editing site.

Hard Coding and Breaking Down Topics

Allow user to change font, size and color for content and navigation elements. Include logos, banners and buttons. If user can’t read the navigation elements, they won’t find the content. Remember, much access to the Internet is through public access sites and visitors prefer to print and read later. Also, large documents cause excessive amount of print out material.

Users are accessing the Internet through televisions. This brings new challenges:

  • TV safe colors
  • Lower resolutions
  • Different screen proportions

Layout and Style – Avoid Distracting Background Elements and Other Considerations

Watermarks and embossed logos can be detracting. Use a light, complimentary background color; you can reduce eyestrain using faint grid pattern for background. Study showed 68% of a test group felt glare reduced and readability improved. Also consider:

  • Flashing, scrolling, blinking elements distracting
Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Double clicking mouse or scrolling can be difficult for those with diminished motor capabilities
  • Increased size of area around link enhances use
Paragraph Justification
  • Left-hand = highest level of readability
  • Full = adds irregular spacing
  • Center for other than title should be avoided

Use It Effectively. Better understand color/hue, lightness and saturation. Hue = specific colors e.g., blue, green, yellow, red and purple; Lightness corresponds to how much light appears to be reflected from a surface in relation to nearby surfaces; Saturation = measure of a color’s intensity. Consider colors that have differences in all three areas for maximum legibility.

A color wheel is often used by designers to choose colors from opposite sides of the color wheel – complimentary colors will enhance your site, e.g., primary = blue – complimentary = orange. Avoid colors that are exceptionally bright, fluorescence, or vibrant. They blur and create after images:

  • Avoid light color on dark background
  • Avoid combinations of blue and yellow or red and green

There is also a need for increasing contrast, i.e., dark on light background.


Keep it legible. Drop shadows can be difficult to decipher and use 16 to 18 point type. Titles should be at least two points larger. There are two types of typefaces – Serif and San Serif. Serif is usually better and don’t mix them. Choose the type based upon legibility requirements. Use bold only to emphasize a title or key word(s) and additional space between paragraphs and sections is good. An extra point or two of leading between lines can improve readability and the use of capital letters generally reduces readability.

Top Mistakes in Web Design

  1. Don’t split pages into frames – Frames break the fundamental model of the web page
  2. Don’t over-design the page – Using the latest and greatest technology can discourage users
  3. Don’t include page elements that move incessantly – Give the user some peace and quiet
  4. Don’t make the URL complex – Make the directory human-readable and file names that reflect the nature of the page
  5. Don’t have orphan pages – Every page should have a link to your home page
  6. Don’t have excessively long pages – Small % of users scroll beyond information that’s visible
  7. Don’t assume users know as much about your site as you do – Provide a site map – a good search feature is also attractive
  8. Don’t use non-standard link colors – Links not already seen are blue – links seen are purple or red
  9. Don’t have outdated information – Hire a web gardener – weed and plant
  10. Don’t have overly long download times – Guidelines indicate a maximum of 10 seconds before users lose interest
  11. Don’t slow down the BACK button – Second-most used navigation feature
  12. Don’t arbitrarily open new browser windows – Disables BACK button and confuses users. Standard = the destination page replaces the origination page in the same browser
  13. Don’t be inconsistent – Deviations from user interface standards make the web harder to use
  14. Don’t omit biographies – Users want to know the people behind information on the web – increases trust and credibility
  15. Don’t eliminate archives – There is almost always some value in old stuff – and it’s cheap to keep it available
  16. Don’t arbitrarily move pages to new URL’s – Moving breaks incoming links from other sites
  17. Don’t use headlines that make no sense out of context
    • Tell users what’s at other end of link
    • Protect users from following links if they would not be interested
  18. Don’t jump at the latest Internet buzzword
    • Push, community, chat, free email, 3D sitemaps, etc.
    • Focus on improving usability vs. fads
  19. Don’t have a slow server response time
    • Bloated graphics do not minimize download times
    • Often translates into lack of trust
    • Always cause a loss of traffic as users go elsewhere
    • Don’t mimic web advertising
    • Design elements that look like web advertising may be ignored by users
    • Be aware of user: banner blindness, animation avoidance and pop-up purges

Putting It Together

There is no doubt that boomers, older consumers and online marketers are at the early stages of what promises to be a long-term and lucrative love affair. Just as boomers have transformed every other stage of their lives, they will do the same in this new phase. However, the key to the boomer and older consumers business is in a better understanding of their minds.

Online marketing to consumers is simply another distribution channel for your company’s services and products and an extension of your brand/image. Design your marketing communications to attract the consumer to your web site and your site design should be user friendly. Remember, the worst thing that can happen to a company that provides poor services and products is a great marketing communications campaign. Design your website to reduce frustration and increase satisfaction.

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