Marketing to older people - the very phrase can quickly conjure up clichéd images of retired couples strolling on the beach or a frail elderly person slumped 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 23 million people aged over 50 in the UK" says Mark Beasley, chairman of the Mature Marketing Association and director of RHC Advantage, a marketing consultancy that specialises in mature audiences. "This number is increasing every year as the population ages: the number of people aged over 65 will increase by 50% over the next 20 years."
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, says Beasley.
Marketing to older customers: the savvy baby-boomers
Some businesses - especially financial services businesses - are interested in the so-called 'baby-boomer' generation, currently aged 52-70. This generation has grown up with marketing and advertising and profited from social mobility, rising property values and decent employment pensions. Many of them are 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 brand allegiance.
But this is quite wrong, argues Beasley. "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."
Most importantly, he states, it is important to understand that over the next 20 years, consumption growth in most mainstream markets will be driven by the over-60s.
Older customers represent huge potential
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 devise and operate a campaign which ignores almost half of the adult population is likely to have an ill-conceived campaign on their hands," stresses Beasley.
But what's needed is the right sort of advertising. Several 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 manner.
Marketing to older audiences
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 large to be ignored, 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 people.
"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.
However, with age comes the increased likelihood of physiological changes: for example, changes in eyesight, hearing and dexterity. It is important that all aspects of the marketing mix address these issues, without necessarily 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 appeal to younger people, even though many older people are also potential customers."