Magazine article CRM Magazine

Elder Effect: Consumers in Their Mid-60s and Older Are Marketing's Underserved Age Bracket, and Campaigns Usually Miss the Mark with This Generation. Read on for Tips on How to Fix These Efforts' Misfires

Magazine article CRM Magazine

Elder Effect: Consumers in Their Mid-60s and Older Are Marketing's Underserved Age Bracket, and Campaigns Usually Miss the Mark with This Generation. Read on for Tips on How to Fix These Efforts' Misfires

Article excerpt

It's been 40 years since then-24-year-old Paul McCartney released "When I'm 64." Every generation has trouble seeing itself at the age of 64: What youth quake--era flower child, for example, wanted to accept a future of shuffleboard and early bird specials, no matter how far off the prospect? But the realities of today's retirees' lives have turned out to be quite different from the stereotypes we as kids condescended to (and feared turning into). Older folks are challenging the notion that they are frail, inactive, or unhappy. Take Macca himself, who turned 64 this past summer: He's still releasing music, playing sold-out shows, and supporting charities, and has even entered new creative realms, such as writing children's books. The aging music icon's spirit and attitude parallel those of many mature Americans, defying the geezer stereotype associated with people born in 1945 or earlier.

This population comprises the War Generation (ages 61 to 66), the Depression Generation (ages 67 to 76), and the G.I. Generation (age 77 and up). Interestingly, the 85-and-older age group is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. But in many marketers' eyes the elder generation's consumer value, quite frankly, stinks. As a youth-obsessed culture, conventional wisdom-regardless of how inaccurate it is--tells us that marketing to this older demographic is a waste of time, as these penny pinchers are too stuck in their ways to, say, invest in high-ticket items or to switch brands. It's time that sales and marketing organizations trash these outdated (hence, false) perceptions.

Just as not every 42-year-old consumer behaves identically, the same is certainly true for elder consumers. Age shouldn't be the only factor used to predict consumer behavior. Others, such as lifestyle, race, gender, and geographic location, must also be considered to form more accurate customer segmentation. Companies have a much better chance of appealing to this audience by understanding it and by crafting personalized marketing and service initiatives just as they would for other generational segments.

IF IT'S NOT TOO DEAR

The War Generation holds a different view of retirement compared with earlier generations. For those who reached their 60s in the 1980s, retirement typically meant a relatively passive period of life. Many of today's older consumers, however, see their retirement as a time of exploration and reinvention: They're traveling, volunteering, spending more time with family and friends, and taking up new hobbies. Some even enjoy their work so much that in part, they view it as another form of recreation; others remain active in the workforce for intellectual stimulation. Without doubt, this generation is doing more than choking down a steak dinner at four in the afternoon and haunting shuffleboard courts.

Pat Conroy, vice chairman of Deloitte & Touche's Consumer Business industry practice, says, "When you market to them, you really need to market to their lifestyle, because that is fundamentally how they're thinking about what they're doing." Leisure activities like traveling do require funding, so some older consumers are staying longer at their full-time jobs or picking up part-time jobs to fund their interests, or, in some cases, just to cover living expenses. Still, most elder consumers live on fixed incomes. Many also have a savings mentality since a significant portion of these consumers grew up during times of economic turmoil and hardship like the Great Depression and World War II.

So, when targeting this group of consumers, marketers should "convey a sense of value to what they're bringing to the market that's really going to help individuals make specific product choices," says Mike Irwin, president of AARP Services and The Kan tar Group's joint venture Focalyst, a research and consultancy firm focused on older consumers. (Focalyst refers to the elder generation as the Golden Generation. …

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