JOE GILL: Marketers are missing out on the true potential of older people

Age is an interesting dynamic in how economies and finances perform and develop.

Being able to understand and analyse the consequences of changing populations will be key to making and losing fortunes in years to come. 

It is estimated that in the US someone turns 50 years of age every seven seconds. 

That points to a huge surge in an age cohort that have very different priorities, spending patterns and consumer needs to those who are in younger categories.

Sometimes it feels like crossing the 50 year mark is a signal of passing your “best-by” date, judging by how mainstream advertising represents the supposed typical consumer. 

Most billboard and digital advertising, you might note, is focused on the 15-30 year-old cohort.

Culturally, you get the impression that in western societies, especially, the sweet spot for success and happiness is at the lower end of the mid-life rubicon.

Yet that narrative ignores what is arguably the most powerful spending section of society. 

Not only is ageing a structural fact, it is also associated with people who, by and large, have broken the backs of mortgages and rearing children. 

They tend to have more time on their hands and have much more discretionary income than those whose salaries are absorbed by mortgages and nappies.

Despite offering that rich pool of consumer business, no one seems to be able to crack the opportunity offered by those who are money and time rich. 

Whenever an attempt is made to service those over the age of 50 it is usually accompanied by patronising and hopeless labels including “Seniors” and “Over 55s”, accompanied by colour shots of grey hair perms and unbelievable sets of pearl white dentures.

Anyone in their right mind over 50 avoids those events like the plague. 

The promoters of senior citizen products and services seem to miss the point that a lot of people in that age category have no interest in being cornered into a mouldy box of special offers, based on the fact that you may not be around to collect the prize.

In fact, rapid advances in healthcare and the sharp decline in smoking over recent decades have created a group of consumers that are fit, energetic and armed with relatively large wallets. 

These are a set of consumers that offer rich pickings for businesses that can divine ways to connect effectively.

It is estimated in the US that over 75% of all wealth is now controlled by those over the age of 65. 

In Europe it is calculated that by 2030 the so-called Senior market will expand by over 80%, while those in the 20-60 year-old segment will rise by just 7%. 

That is a powerful set of grown-up consumers to address.

Studies also show that this age group can be tremendously loyal to brand and service providers that prove themselves worthy of providing goods and service at a reasonable price and with reliability.

How that happens is anyone’s guess. 

Technology will play a big role, I suspect, because people over 50 have the budgets and interest in tapping into mobile devices that offer everything from money management to health monitoring on the go.

Entrepreneurs who can design gateways to the mind of a grown-up consumer could have a field day. A 20-something-year-old IT executive told me last week that older people probably don’t use technology, so targeting them that way is a waste of time.

How old fashioned a thought is that ?

I see a growing number of consumers my age and older rapidly converting to mobile platforms for everyday use and I’m not referring to Zimmer frames.

It is clear that actuarial calculations show that people of a certain age are lower risk than those pumped with testosterone and discovering for the first time the opposite or same sex. 

That allows certain companies, including insurers, to lower prices. A plethora of services and products are available at lower prices if you are of a certain age.

That market is enormous and, due to demographic trends across the developed world, it is growing exponentially.

Once someone finds a way to make ageing a positive rather than a half-baked development in a consumer’s life they could tap into a deep well of demand.

On the other side of the table are consumers who understand quality and value, attributes that most sellers of a vast range of products covet. 

If that hurdle can be cleared it opens up a whole new world of spending and profits that are elusive when telling those of us over 50 about special offers in adult underpants.

  • Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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