Aging Population Is Golden Opportunity for Business

Article excerpt

EDITOR'S NOTE: Joel Seigel is a partner specializing in bank and financial consulting with the national accounting firm of Laventhol & Horwath.

Americans over 50 already control more than 75 percent of the nation's wealth and half the discretionary income - a huge market that many of us either ignore or totally misunderstand.

By the year 2000, almost 15 percent of Americans will be over 65 - one third higher than the 1970s - increasing to 25 percent by the year 2050.

For American business, this is both a challenge and opportunity. Knowledgeable companies recognizing this are changing the way they do business - from product development and design to marketing and advertising.

John Barrymore once said, "A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams." In this philosophical observation lies the gold in the silver market. If you want to develop the senior market, you must understand that a larger, healthier, wiser and wealthier "new senior" population is now emerging.

The full impact of the new senior market won't be felt for several years, when the first baby boomers will be reaching 50. Even now, 55 to 64 year olds account for the highest net worth - a median of $73,664 - of any age group.

"Our overriding philosophy is that a certain segment of the seniors market represents a tremendous opportunity for those marketers who understand how to approach them," says Art Gramer, senior vice president of TBWA Advertising Inc. in St. Louis. "Not all persons over 55 represent the same potential for marketers; that is too broad a slice of the population. Rather, we've identified the college educated segment of seniors that represents far more buying power; calling them ACES, Active College Educated Seniors."

Gramer points out that these seniors consume five times more durable goods and three times more package goods than their non-ACES coherts.

But these statistics can be hypnotic. They contain treasures of business, but also much fool's gold. Statistics don't buy - people do. The real gold lies behind an understanding of senior consumer behavior.

Commenting in Marketing Communications, Hal Norvell, manager of travel programs for the 30 million member American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), says that senior citizens really aren't "that difficult to figure out," citing three fundamental prerequisites for success in senior markets:

- Be honest in promotional messages.

- State values very clearly, recognizing that value to seniors means more than price.

- Present benefits in realistic terms.

To better understand this market, Dr. Robert J. Forbes, a gerontologist and director of the AARP's special services department points out the "four faces" (characteristics) of the new senior:

- Creativity and intellectual involvement. …