Marketing to older consumers

Happy middle class women with bags of shopping leaving a posh retail store

The phrase "mature market" can quickly conjure up clichéd images of retired couples strolling on the beach, or a frail elderly person in an armchair. And yet this huge and lucrative market is no niche - it encompasses consumers from all walks of life who just happen to be over a certain age. Rachel Miller investigates

There are now more than 15.5 million people aged 60 or over (23% of the UK population), 3.2 million aged 80 or over and 600,000 aged 90 and above according to the MHA.

This number is increasing every year as the population ages: the number of people aged over 85 is expected to reach 3 million by 2041.

Ironically, however, age and generation are becoming increasingly ineffective as a means of targeting. Businesses need to make sure that they are targeting their products and services at all ages, including the over-50s, rather than targeting by age alone.

Targeting the baby-boomer generation

Some businesses - especially financial services firms - are interested in the so-called 'baby-boomer' generation, currently aged 55-75. This generation has profited from social mobility, rising property values and decent pensions, ending up relatively well off, but don't fit a stereotype.

However, many mainstream businesses continue to ignore this age group, on the basis that they want to catch their customers young and try to keep them for life. The perceived wisdom is that older people are unlikely to switch their current brand allegiance.

But this is quite wrong, argues Mark Beasley, chairman of the Mature Marketing Association and director of RHC Advantage, a marketing consultancy that specialises in older audiences. "First, it ignores the commercial potential of older age groups, and second, it makes the blanket assumption that 'advertising does not work' for older consumers."

Ageing customers - the size of the market

Most importantly, Beasley states, over the next 20 years, consumption growth in most mainstream markets will be driven by the over-60s.

There's no doubt that older people form a massive customer base. Given that there are currently more adults in the UK over 45 than under, the over-50s represent a huge market for businesses.

"Anyone who is foolish enough to run a marketing campaign which ignores almost half the adult population is likely to have an ill-conceived campaign on their hands," stresses Beasley.

But what's needed is not more advertising, but the right sort of advertising. Studies in recent years have found that many over-50s believe that advertising either ignores them altogether, or treats them in a patronising or stereotypical way.

Tapping into the over-50 market

When it comes to addressing the needs of this market, businesses often fall back on clichés. "Older people are not a single segment," Beasley points out. "This group is too complex to be stereotyped and too diverse to be second-guessed. Yet that’s exactly what some businesses are doing."

The other mistake that businesses make is in believing that there is something different about older consumers.

"Older people don't behave any differently from anyone else," he adds. "Most of us just carry on as before, with the same attitudes and behaviours."

For example, it's a mistake, he says, to think that older people are more set in their ways. They are just as likely as anyone to switch brands and suppliers if their needs aren't being met.

How to reach older customers

With age comes the increased likelihood of physiological changes: for example, changes in eyesight, hearing and dexterity. It is important that marketing initiatives address these issues, without making a big deal of it.

Removing barriers can be as important as creating new marketing campaigns, says Beasley.

As this is a group of experienced consumers, how do you market to older customers? It's all about inclusivity - and not stereotyping. "Inclusivity means not excluding older people, rather than actively targeting them," concludes Beasley.

"For instance, some brands seem to go out of their way to only appeal to younger people, even though many older people are also potential customers."

Learn more: Older clients - how to market your firm to them, a more detailed look at this market from the perspective of a law firm.

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