Selling to the over-50sAug 19, 2010 // Anthony Isabel
With someone in the UK turning 50 every 40 seconds, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the over-50s are a rapidly expanding socio-economic group. Emma Allen finds out how small firms can sell to older consumers.
Longer life expectancy has resulted in an ageing population and made the so-called “baby boomers” a powerful consumer force. However, according to research from Age Concern, many older people feel patronised by marketing campaigns — or worse, invisible — as businesses often fail to cater to their needs.
But firms cannot afford to overlook this age group. According to the ONS, 40 per cent of the UK population will be 50 or older by 2035, while research from Friends Provident found that the over-50s hold about 80 per cent of the nation’s wealth.
Recognise diversity in the over-50s
“Businesses need to recognise that the over-50s are a highly diverse group and that defining customers by age alone can be misleading,” advises Mark Beasley, partner at marketing agency RHC Advantage, which specialises in older audiences.
“In general you, shouldn’t lump everybody together — after all, a 50-year-old will have very different attitudes and needs from an 80-year-old,” he points out. “Equally, Mick Jagger is the same age as John Major, but you wouldn’t necessarily group them together.”
Instead, Beasley says that businesses need to take into account lifestyle, income, education and occupation. Market research will give you some insight into the information your customers want to receive and the best way to target them.
Don’t stereotype older customers
Stereotyping older people also paints a false picture. “Not every person over 50 is driven by price, or is into gardening or sensible shoes,” emphasises Beasley. “The biggest spenders on fashion are actually women aged 50 to 64, while men over 45 are heavy buyers of music.
“Most well-known brands simply don’t cater to these markets, though, so there are real opportunities for forward-thinking firms,” he adds.
Taking into account the physical changes that come with age is one way to connect with an older audience. “Think about things like brochure design — is it easy to read?” asks Beasley. “Or if you have a retail outlet, do you offer parking near to the entrance?”
When it comes to marketing techniques, Beasley says that over-50s tend to prefer print media, such as monthly magazines, to television advertising or radio. “Direct mail, unless highly targeted, is usually the least influential method,” he warns.
Explain the facts
“Older people tend to be motivated by facts, rather than lifestyle promises,” explains Beasley. “Messages should include clear information on why the product would benefit them and how it works, not rely solely on glossy images.”
You should also not assume that the over-50s are less technologically savvy. In a recent poll by Millennium, email and web advertising came second to word-of-mouth as the most important factor for older people when making a purchasing decision.
Even social media sites are being adopted by the so-called “silver-surfers”. Saga has launched its own Sagazone online community and Facebook users aged 55-plus are among the fastest growing group. But again, segmenting your customers is key as the over-70s may be much less likely to use the internet, for example.
By making small changes to your website, you can ensure it is inclusive to older audiences. “Avoid technical jargon, use a clear font, a reasonable size type and clean and simple designs,” concludes Beasley.
For more information about marketing to older audiences, visit the RHC Advantage website.