Many marketing people seem to think that once a consumer reaches 50, their attitudes and behaviour somehow homogenise. They lose all the individuality that shaped their brand choices throughout their long consumer lives. Now, they are considered simply to be ‘older folks’. Clearly this is nonsense.
Older people remain as heterogeneous in their attitudes and behaviours as they were in their early lives. These behavioural differences continue to be influenced by gender, race, income, culture, education and so on. The numerous research projects that I have undertaken regularly show that age is a poor proxy for behaviour.
However, there is one aspect of marketing to older consumers that requires unique consideration. All of us will experience physical decline in later life even though the onset will affect different people with different intensity and at different stages. These changes are universal, relentless and have a profound impact on the access and enjoyment older consumers will derive from their purchase experience.
As most marketing practitioners have yet to experience the physical effects of ageing, it is understandable that little has been done to respond to the immediate and accelerating need for age-friendly customer experiences.
Age-Friendly: Accommodating the unique physical needs of older
customers in a way that is natural and beneficial to customers of all ages.
Some believe that the effects of ageing only manifest towards the end of life. This is not true.
Consider these examples of age-related impairments that could impact the enjoyment and accessibility of older customers:
- In the USA, 50 per cent of adults 65 years or older reported an arthritis diagnosis. Research from the UK revealed that nearly half of people over 65 struggle to remove lids or caps from products such as plastic milk bottles and jars.
- Over half of all people over 60 reported they cannot read labels properly, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Impaired vision may also affect the use of certain products or devices that have small or poorly contrasted activation buttons and labels.
- A third of all Americans over 65 have some degree of hearing loss. This has implications for ambient noise levels in retail service environments as well as in devices that use any form of audio signal to notify users, such as mobile phones.
- Cognitive skills change, some for the better but others make it harder to filter out audio and visual distractions such as the use of flash animation on websites or background music fighting with the voice-over of an AV spot.
Research has proven that physical, sensory and cognitive effects of ageing have the potential to sabotage the customer experience. By understanding the physical changes that affect people in their later years, companies will be better placed to ensure that their products and services remain relevant, accessible and enjoyable for their customers as they age.
This is immediately relevant and crucial for business strategy because many companies will already have a sizeable (and growing) share of their business with customers over 50. Brands would be well advised to understand the value and volume contribution of these customers and to take steps to ensure their ongoing loyalty.
Kim Walker, the founder and chairman of Aprais and the founder and CEO of Silver Group, is the co-author of Marketing to the Ageing Consumer: The Secrets to Building an Age-Friendly Business.