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How to connect with digital's fastest growing demographic

How to connect with digital's fastest growing demographic Brent Wheeler

Marketing to seniors has always been a challenge. Fitting wildly divergent groups of seniors into one catch-all bucket is tricky, and today's wired seniors are an even faster-moving target. They're everywhere online...emailing, shopping, Facebooking. And, as you'll see, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to capturing this surprisingly varied group.

As marketers, we can't afford to ignore this critical  -- and growing  -- market segment (more than 10,000 people turn 65 every day, according to the US Census Bureau.) Seniors are living longer and leading much healthier, active lifestyles -- and they are not afraid to spend. Seniors currently account for more than 60 percent of healthcare spending, 41 percent of all new car purchases, and more than 80 percent of all luxury travel. The fact is, America as a whole is getting older and we as marketers need to understand more about this segment -- what they are doing, how they spend their time, and where they can be found. Not only do we need to know what they are doing, but we also need to master the art of communicating and connecting with this group in an increasingly digital age.

Connecting with seniors is not a one-size-fits-all approach

Most marketers get the big picture on seniors -- that not all seniors are alike. They know that Baby Boomers have disposable income. They know that internet usage by seniors has doubled over the last five years.

But I think that as marketers, we miss the fact that within the seniors demographic there are many, many sub-groups  -- each with their own distinct wants, needs, and preferred method of communication. Beyond the Baby Boomers, there lies the "mature senior" market or "silent generation" of 65 to 73-year-olds. Older yet is the so-called "GI generation" of seniors, aged 74 and up.

While the members of these three broad groups do share some similarities, they exhibit distinct differences in what they do online, how they like to be communicated with, and what technologies they are using.

Where are they?

Truth is, today's seniors are everywhere in the digital space, but that doesn't mean we always know the best ways to engage them. They utilize multiple forms of communication online, access the digital environment in different ways, and do many different things online  -- from buying products, to researching information about health and wellness just like the rest of us. The key to engaging the online senior lies in customizing your communication strategies and marketing channels to the particular sub-demographics you wish to target.

Seniors typically see themselves 10 to 20 years younger than their real age, so of course it makes sense to not make anyone in these groups feel "old" in your communications. Most seniors want to be marketed to in a manner that makes them feel understood, respected and vibrant  -- living life and loving it!

How to communicate

Be clear about your offer, and don't employ any trickery to get them to respond. Remember, this group is inherently skeptical  -- they have seen and heard it all. Give aging eyes a break with type that is at least 12 points and avoid the flashy typographical tricks  -- black type on a white background is foolproof for this group. When you want to motivate a senior to action, be upfront and commanding. Use the words "click here," "buy now," or "add to cart." For health-related or financial services sites, phrases such as "submit info," "see if I qualify," or "call me" on forms can increase conversion.

Breaking down the seniors demographic: The GI, silent, and Boomer generations

Members of the GI generation (currently aged 74 plus) typically are more conservative and utilize the more "basic" forms of technology to access information online (think desktop and laptop computers.) They also tend to utilize more traditional access channels (email and search.) This group prefers to do business with companies they are already familiar with and they are large consumers of news online. They value the human touch and a high level of customer service. So, train your customer care ambassadors to understand this critical point when connecting with the GI generation.

This group also is much more likely to have a caregiver or a trustworthy person serving as a gatekeeper when it comes to products and services. Although email and search are common and widely used in this group, you will occasionally find some seniors in this demographic who have become bloggers and tweeters like the one I recently ran across at An Octogenarian's Blog. This feisty senior writes about her life, politics, and views of the world, which can provide a fascinating look through the eyes of the market you are looking to tap.

The mature market (ages 65 to 73) is more comfortable performing a wider range of activities online than simply emailing the grandkids and searching for the best prices on prescription medication. In fact, more than half of this sub demographic has purchased products online according to a Google/Nielson Boomer Survey from August 2010. According to the study, they are not only conducting purchases online through ecommerce venues, but they are also making vacation plans and reserving travel online. More than 60 percent of these seniors are also consuming news in a digital environment.

Keep in mind when communicating to these mature seniors, they are looking for guidance from an "expert" (or at least a perceived expert.) With this group, consider testing a video expert on a landing page or website to provide enough credibility to push the consumer to take the next step. The "video guide" often connects with this group where text and imagery may not. Members of the silent generation have been conservative with their finances most of their adult life. Now, they are willing to spend more of their disposable income -- especially if it is on their grandkids or family. Imagery such as grandchildren or a family that includes happy grandparents may be an effective element to test for in your email or landing page marketing. As I have said already in this article, make sure that you utilize imagery that conveys a healthy and active lifestyle (e.g., riding bikes with their grandchildren, playing on the beach, etc.).

The Baby Boomer generation is noteworthy for being the group of seniors that spends substantial time and money online. According to the Advertising Age white paper "50 and Over: What's Next?" Baby Boomers account for more than a quarter of America's disposable income. That's an eye opening $3 trillion. Boomers are even more active in the digital space than the GI generation and the silent generation markets. In addition to reading the news and watching the weather, more than half of this sub demographic utilize social media and handle their finances online according to a Google/Nielson Boomer Survey from August 2010. Boomers are much more progressive in the ways they like to connect digitally. This is the group that is beginning to utilize smartphones, tablets, web cam video and chat, Facebook, and Twitter. Boomers still lead busy lives. As marketers, we need to provide all the information they need to make their online purchasing decisions, and no more. Here, simple, direct, and to-the-point is essential. Members of this demographic group most likely are still very involved in their children's lives, have elderly parents who require some type of care and maintain careers of their own. When they do have a quiet moment to sit on the sofa, they are probably still multi-tasking  -- watching TV while using a laptop to research online or download music.

Marketing to seniors in the future

By the year 2020, one in six Americans will be over the age of 65 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Success will go to the savvy marketers who are able to connect with this group in the digital environment. Consider these tips for making sure your marketing message connects with this potentially lucrative group:

  1. If you have not heard it enough -- don't make them feel old

  2. Make sure you have an effective search engine marketing campaign.

  3. Utilize email appropriately for this demographic

  4. Make sure that you utilize generous "expert" content

  5. Utilize trusted symbols such as security certificates, better business logos, and your brand

  6. Appeal to senior's families, caregivers or trusted network

  7. Be clear and concise in all communications (don't forget that this is a somewhat skeptical group)

  8. Utilize high contrast type (black text on white background or something equivalent)

  9. Utilize appropriate imagery (active, vibrant seniors interacting with their grandkids and family)

  10. Ask them for their business and clearly direct them to what you want them to do

Utilizing these tips should help you in your marketing to this demographic and lead to successful marketing campaigns. Oh, and one last thing for direct marketers: Test, test, test!

Brent Wheeler is senior VP of customer acquisition services at Response Mine Interactive.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Happy elder couple" image via Shutterstock.

Brent Wheeler is the senior vice president of customer acquisition services for Response Mine Interactive (RMI). He has a firm understanding of direct response principles and consumer trends to create strategies that drive strong contributions to...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Aditya Jaykumar

2014, June 04

Brilliant article. One of the most actionable and highly researched articles i have read in a while. I have a question on this topic.

As a marketer in his late 20s, how can one avoid the age bias that this demographic might have towards the younger generations. In other words, is there an inherent belief among this age group that only a person his/her age can truly understand his/her needs and pains?

Are there any strategies (apart from product quality and service standards) that can help win them over and build goodwill and trust?

Thanks once again for writing this article!