Accord Marketing published an interview with Mark Beasley today. It gave him a dangerous thirst for publicity.
Read the interview here
Soon after we started rhc advantage, a marketing information website called Marketing DoNut contacted me for an interview about marketing to older consumers. The article that they ran has continued to generate a steady stream of traffic to our website. Thank you. It has also been plagiarised a number of times, which I suppose is flattering,
Now, they've updated the article, adding some more information and quotes, and deleting some rather embarrassing quotes about men wearing jeans. Here is the article.
Marketing to older consumers
Marketing to older people - the very phrase can quickly conjure up clichéd images of retired couples strolling on the beach or a frail elderly person slumped in an armchair. And yet this huge and lucrative market is no niche - it encompasses consumers from all walks of life who just happen to be over a certain age. Rachel Miller investigates
"There are now more than 23 million people aged over 50 in the UK" says Mark Beasley, chairman of the Mature Marketing Association and director of RHC Advantage, a marketing consultancy that specialises in older consumers. "This number is increasing every year as the population ages: the number of people aged over 65 will increase by 50% over the next 20 years."
Ironically, however, age and generation are becoming increasingly ineffective as a means of targeting. Businesses need to make sure that they are targeting their products and services at all ages, including the over 50s, rather than targeting by age alone, says Beasley.
Marketing to older customers: the savvy baby-boomers. Some businesses - especially financial services businesses - are interested in the so-called 'baby-boomer' generation, currently aged 52-70. This generation has grown up with marketing and advertising and profited from social mobility, rising property values and decent employment pensions. Many of them are relatively well off but don't fit a stereotype.
However, many mainstream businesses continue to ignore this age group on the basis that they want to catch their customers young and try to keep them for life. The perceived wisdom is that older people are unlikely to switch brand allegiance.
But this is quite wrong, argues Beasley. "First, it ignores the commercial potential of older age groups and second, it makes the blanket assumption that 'advertising does not work' for older consumers."
Most importantly, he states, it is important to understand that over the next 20 years, consumption growth in most mainstream markets will be driven by the over-60s.
Older customers represent huge potential
There's no doubt that older people form a massive customer base. Given that there are currently more adults in the UK over 45 than under, the over-50s represent a huge market for businesses.
"Anyone who is foolish enough to devise and operate a campaign which ignores almost half of the adult population is likely to have an ill-conceived campaign on their hands," stresses Beasley.
But what's needed is the right sort of advertising. Several studies in recent years have found that many over-50s believe that advertising either ignores them altogether, or treats them in a patronising or stereotypical way manner.
Marketing to older audiences
When it comes to addressing the needs of this market, businesses often fall back on clichés. "Older people are not a single segment," Beasley points out. "This group is too large to be ignored, too complex to be stereotyped and too diverse to be second-guessed. Yet that’s exactly what some businesses are doing."
The other mistake that businesses make is in believing that there is something different about older people.
"Older people don't behave any differently from anyone else," he adds. "Most of us just carry on as before, with the same attitudes and behaviours." For example, it's a mistake, he says, to think that older people are more set in their ways. They are just as likely as anyone to switch brands and suppliers if their needs aren't being met.
However, with age comes the increased likelihood of physiological changes: for example, changes in eyesight, hearing and dexterity. It is important that all aspects of the marketing mix address these issues, without necessarily making a big deal of it. Removing barriers can be as important as creating new marketing campaigns, says Beasley.
As this is a group of experienced consumers, how do you market to older customers? It's all about inclusivity - and not stereotyping. "Inclusivity means not excluding older people, rather than actively targeting them," concludes Beasley. "For instance, some brands seem to go out of their way to appeal to younger people, even though many older people are also potential customers."
Mark Beasley, director of rhc advantage and Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association, was invited to speak at the House of Lords today at a symposium on business and older consumers. Hosted by Lord Filkin, the event was organised by the South East England Forum on Ageing. A transcript of Mark's speech is below.
My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen)
The specific question I have been asked to address today is this: why does business neglect the older consumer?
I am happy to tackle this issue, as there is strong research evidence to suggest that this is likely to be the case in many – but not all – businesses.
This very question was asked by the marketing director of the insurance company Sun Life a week or so ago, when he launched their new £24 million ’50-plus’ advertising campaign.
He was quoted as saying: “Why do we discriminate against a group we all fervently hope we’ll join.”
By saying this, he inadvertently revealed the first of my four hypotheses as to why business is neglecting the needs of older consumers - an ‘Us and Them’ culture. It goes something like this.
We – the youthful movers and shakers of the business world – make the decisions for them - that large, amorphous, group of older consumers over there. And never the twain shall meet!
The culture underpinning this is rooted in the belief that creativity, energy, and innovation are youthful attributes. And that these things decline with age, to the extent that business decisions affecting older people must necessarily be made by the young.
As a result of this somewhat divisive culture, older people are seen as largely irrelevant to today’s technology-led, fast-moving, cool-grooving business world.
The culture of business generally – and marketing in particular - is predominantly one of coolness and youth.
The dress codes, language and office environments of any of the global corporations who dominate our economy – and those who service them - are designed to appeal to younger people. In the business world, age just isn’t sexy.
This leads to my second hypothesis, which is that employment practices in business lead to ageist business practices.
Most people working in marketing are aged under 50 and – as research demonstrates - are pre-disposed to see ‘age’ through a negative filter - if they see it all.
Apathy, disinterest, a lack of empathy and misperceptions about older people are almost inevitable.
In fact, the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) Agency Census tells us that in the UK, 50% of staff in advertising, media and marketing communications agencies are aged below 30.
Just 5% are aged above 50.
Compare this to the real world, where 32% of the UK workforce is aged over 50. These sort of employment practices just don’t make much sense in a society with an ageing workforce.
My third hypothesis is that the failure of marketing as it is practiced in many businesses has led to the failure of business to address our ageing population as effectively as it might.
For various reasons, marketing has lost its seat at the top table of business. Arguably, it has failed to demonstrate its value and in many businesses is now little more than a business support function, managing advertising and promotion, instead of directing long-term business strategy, as it should.
Marketing people are central to the change that is required and it is the aim of the Mature Marketing Association and my own consultancy to influence them accordingly. As you can imagine, it’s an uphill struggle. It is perhaps telling that there are few marketing people here today.
All this has meant that long-term marketing planning – which would involve identifying and responding to demographic change – is not always practiced, except in most global marketing-driven corporations .
When viewed year on year, demographic change is insignificant. Hence, short-term marketing planning will never identify it as a strategic priority - nor address it.
Only long-term strategic planning can do that and in the absence of that, there are perhaps other more compelling calls for investment – which leads me to my fourth hypothesis.
For business to change its culture, its planning processes and its employment practices require leadership from senior management. Without this, nothing much will change.
It is significant that few senior business leaders are here today - they must be part of the debate if there is to be any chance of significant change.
Because in the absence of a very strong business case to invest in marketing to older consumers, businesses are investing elsewhere, where they believe they can find a better return on investment.
In fact, the number one investment priority for CEOs, according to Accenture, is technology.
Developing markets – the BRIC countries and elsewhere – are also areas where corporates have been investing heavily, in the expectation of good returns in the relatively short-term. And of course, these are markets which do not have ageing populations.
A strong business case for a greater focus on older consumers is required - – and communicated to senior business leaders – if there is to be change.
So, to summarise. I have outlined four hypotheses as to why business neglects the older consumer. These are:
Mark Beasley reviews the latest - and, it is claimed, last - book by 'ageing business' guru, Dick Stroud. The full title is: ‘This I Know: the fantasies, fiction and fantastic potential of older consumers.' and it is billed as 'Dick Stroud’s ‘no bullshit’ story of the ageing business.’
Dick Stroud has been active in what he calls the ‘ageing business’ since 2003, which was when I first met him. I was involved in an age-related academic project, which went the way of all academic projects (filed and forgotten), while Dick went on to become one of the most active and respected advocates of the ‘ageing business’ – or ‘how to profit from demographic change’. As he says in the prologue, he has written two books, over 5,000 blog posts and hundreds of articles. Not to mention numerous conference presentations, consultancy projects and the development of ‘age friendly’ methodology and software.
That’s a lot of words – and Dick Stroud clearly feels that many of them have fallen on deaf ears. He has apparently said all that needs to be said - ‘for heaven’s sake, what more can be said? Why write another book?’. And if the world had paid more attention, it would surely have benefited greatly - as ‘mostly, my predictions and ideas have been right(ish).’ A tad arrogant perhaps, but Stroud does indeed know more than most about this subject.
The aims of the book are made clear. ‘This I Know’ is Dick Stroud’s ‘final word’ on the ageing business and he has chosen to state his case (of which he is certain) concisely (75 pages) and definitively. To do this, he has opted to manage without the support of tedious facts, charts, data and references, in the hope of producing something manageable and readable. Who has time to read another lengthy marketing textbook?
‘Much-repeated facts and fiction’
The book falls into three broad sections. The first of these summarises the background to our ageing society – ‘the social, demographic, financial and economic certainties’ that ‘drive the ageing business’. Emphasis is placed on economic and financial issues – which, it is made clear, are more complex than often assumed.
The ‘far-reaching effects’ of physiological ageing, a pet subject of Stroud’s, are mentioned as an important factor – which they are. However, psychological ageing – a subject that has received the most attention in this area for some years now - is not mentioned at all. Generational marketing - a serious academic and consultancy topic in the USA – is casually dismissed as the work of ‘amateur psychologists’, with as much value as a horoscope. Take that, Professor Schewe!
The second section of the book reviews why Government, business – and many others – have failed to act. An undercurrent of frustration and annoyance permeates this section. No-one is spared: the media (who find it difficult to cope with complex arguments), Government (who have failed to act), Business (‘companies always have something better to do’), marketers - ‘the failure of marketers’, not to mention the ‘shambolic mess’ that is the NHS and the financial services industry (with its wilfully complicated products).
The ‘ageing blob’ (a vast army of state and lottery funded organisations doing little of value) receives (and probably deserves) special mention, as do its associated pressure groups and their ‘skewed thinking’ and ‘simplistic understanding’. Even older people themselves - who ‘fail to exercise’ and are all too often ‘unprepared for getting old and hope for the best’ – must accept some responsibility.
However, Stroud reserves his best barbs for the ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ young marketers he imagines are reading his book, probably looking for soundbites for their next team presentation. These are addressed in a series of asides, mostly in the form of verbal slaps to the head, reminding them to pay attention and commenting on their stupidity. For example: ‘Younger readers will have disengaged from this section...much more interesting to focus on the latest innovation in social media or some other youth-centric activity than do anything about it.’ This goading of younger marketers seems particularly counter-productive and unnecessary.
Grudging acceptance and gerontophobia
In passing, we are reminded of two of Dick Stroud’s most important contributions to the ageing business – the concepts of ‘age neutrality’ and ‘age silos’. ‘Age neutrality’ recognises that a brand may well be consumed by people of all ages, not just younger people, and requires the avoidance or removal of all age-related references or implications. The ‘age silo’ brand – explicit in its targeting of older consumers, with products such as stair lifts and SOS alarms – should not assume that its solution will be welcomed, says Stroud, suggesting that ‘grudging acceptance’ is more likely.
The final section of the book draws some conclusions, in the form of two ‘lists’ - first, solutions and opportunities and then, ‘reasons you are likely to fail’. These are relatively short sections and the former in particular is quite limited, as the author admits. Among the reasons for failure is a new term to me – gerontophobia, defined as the fear of growing old, hatred or fear of the elderly. This, it seems to me, explains so much of the inaction mentioned in the book – ‘age just isn’t sexy in marketing terms’, as the academics Carrigan and Szmigin once said.
No light bulb moments
I will conclude this review with two comments. First, in my opinion, the book would be better if it were a little less bitter. As Stroud says: ‘perhaps I have been working in the ageing business too long and have become cynical, maybe defeatist.’ Like many, he had expected a ‘light bulb moment’ when business would come to its senses –and feels that this has not happened. It seems like he may taken this personally. But I do not entirely agree – there may not have been a light bulb moment, but I sense a lot of flickers.
Second, if you are going to say that the book is your final word – not mere opinion, but the summation of extensive experience and knowledge - then you have to be consistent. Statements like ‘I have little evidence to substantiate this statement’ and ‘I can’t offer you any hard evidence for this statement’ sow seeds of doubt, where none should be sown.
My own final word is this. Dick Stroud has made a great contribution to the 'ageing business' and deserves our thanks and praise – and what better way to show it than to buy this book? It is a little anecdotal, sometimes unstructured, definitely opinionated and often provocative – but that is what it was intended to be. However, it does have the great merit of brevity, for which we should be extremely grateful.
Here is a link to Dick Stroud’s page on Amazon.
The Mission £Billions - the economic cost of failing to adapt our high street to respond to demographic change.
This report was issued by the ILC (International Longevity Centre) in December 2016 and was presented to MMA members this week by the authors, Cesira Urzi Brancati and David Sinclair.
Older people are increasingly important consumers – a large and growing group of consumers, in absolute and relative terms. The report points out – as we at rhc advantage have been saying for some years – that the over 50s account for 35% of the population and 43% of total household spending on consumption. On this basis, the over 50s account for disproportionately high levels of expenditure, outspending other age groups.
However, the report also argues something rather significant. This is that households headed by someone aged over 50 account for 55% of the total number of households – presumably, because some of the households headed by people over 50 also include people aged below 50. On this basis, it is argued, older households spend less than their younger counterparts. In fact, the ILC state, household expenditure (on food, grocery, eating out, clothing and leisure) declines by approximately one per cent for each year beyond the age of 55.
Of course, the over 50s continue to be increasingly important in economic terms. With an ageing population, aggregate expenditure will continue to increase, even if individual household expenditure shows a slight decline with age. Furthermore, as we also know that the over 50s account for a disproportionately high amount of wealth, there is an apparent opportunity to increase their levels of expenditure.
Why does economic and social participation decline?
As we have known for some time, economic and social participation decline with age and this report confirms that we don’t 'go out' as much (eating out, cinema, cultural activities and so on) as we get older. If we go out less, we spend less. The question is: why?
The ILC report argues that financial constraints are not a barrier. In fact, decreased expenditure is not related to income levels. One can hypothesise about other factors in reduced expenditure – a less materialistic mindset, increased satisfaction with ones lot, or canny saving for an uncertain future, say – but this is just conjecture.
Two main barriers to social activity and consumer expenditure by older adults were identified. The first is that of poor health and in particular, walking difficulties – associated with 14.5% less spending on average, finds the report. The second barrier is accessibility, in the sense of living in a rural area, lack of access to a car and low levels of internet access.
The report identifies the importance of consumer spending to the economy and estimates the potential increases in spending if these barriers could be overcome. For example, the amount of lost spend due to walking difficulties is estimated at between £470million and £3.84billion. It is argued that this makes it worthwhile for businesses – and Government - to consider age friendly changes in the built environment, such as improved seating. Indeed, Anchor - England's largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people – who were involved in this research - have launched a campaign called ‘Standing up for sitting down’.
There is a well-established argument that the failure to address the physical limitations of older consumers – which may include sight, hearing, cognitive and strength issues, among others – is a significant barrier to consumption. This report adds further weight to that argument and is to be applauded for that reason.
Last week I visited two exhibitions in London. Both related to age: one looking forward with design-based solutions to the problems of ageing, the other looking back and celebrating the nostalgic iconography of popular music. I have to admit that I preferred the warm glow of vinyl and music from my youth to the cold grip of robots and technology offered as a solution to the problems of old age.
New / Old - how design can enhance later life
New Old is a free pop-up exhibition at the Design Museum, which runs until February 19th. It’s worth the trip to Kensington just to see what has been done with the old Commonwealth Institute (a staple of school trips back in the day). The exhibition itself sets out to ‘explore the potential for design and designers to enhance the experience of our later lives’ and is curated by the Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design at the Royal College of Art, and a man highly regarded by this writer.
The exhibition asked designers to consider how to meet the challenge of a rapidly ageing society, and in doing so, to rethink design approaches to ageing. The exhibition is organised into six sections - Ageing, Identity, Home, Community, Working and Mobility - each of which features a design commission by a leading designer or design team, creating new solutions for demographic change as well as addressing the challenges of ageing.
We are taken on a strange journey that includes robotic underwear based on military technology, driverless cars, sentient digital companions, smart furniture, and apartments with secret passages patrolled by technicians fixing things and stocking fridges. All thought-provoking, but ultimately a little depressing.
Thirty years ago, one of the first exhibitions at the Design Museum was New Design for Old, which showcased products designed to help older people stay independent in the home. Technology has changed, of course, but so has our view of age and ageing. Or has it? Staying independent still seems to depend almost entirely upon the intervention of smart tech-savvy young people, it seems – older people themselves are still viewed as having little contribution to make, other than passivity and dependence.
Cassettes Versus Vinyl
There was a time when the next cohort of older people, currently in their 50s, 60s and 70s, made a significant and lasting contribution to popular culture. This is celebrated by Cassettes Versus Vinyl, now on show at Gibson Guitars, Eastcastle Street, London W1.
Mark Beasley asks: is Jamie Oliver to blame for the failure of marketing to connect with many older consumers?
TV cook Jamie Oliver has attracted widespread derision for giving brexit as the reason for closing six of his restaurants. A conservative MP has suggested that he should look closer to home: perhaps his restaurants just haven’t met consumer expectations.
After all, it is unlikely that Jamie has much influence on the meal you eat at one of his restaurants. It is more likely that your dining experience will be in the hands of a number of low paid, unskilled young people, some of whom may have only recently learned how to eat with a knife and fork. Let us further assume that the restaurants are operated by a management focused on operational efficiency, supplier cost reduction and zero hours contracts.
Lured in by the promise of Jamie’s loveable mockney personality, cooking skills and love for food, you will inevitably be disappointed. After all, Jamie hasn’t been there since the opening – and he kept the engine of his car running then. It’s just another chain restaurant. In fact, it is possible that by building the whole brand around Jamie, the enterprise was doomed from the outset.
Too often, that’s the problem with marketing: the yawning gap between promise and delivery.
Remember cognitive dissonance?
If you have studied marketing, you will probably be familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance: that post-purchase state of mind when consumers realise that their product or service experience has not met the expectations generated by marketing communications. If you are an older consumer, you will almost certainly have experienced it. Probably on a daily basis.
I’m going to go one stage further and suggest that many older consumers experience cognitive dissonance before they purchase – as well as after. When exposed to marketing propositions and communications, they know – almost immediately – that this is a promise that cannot possibly be delivered.
Furthermore, they may also think that this is a promise which is quite ludicrous, completely at odds with reality and of no interest or relevance to them – even though they are likely to be potential customers for that product. The over-50s outspend the total population in most mainstream categories, remember?
Take the current TV advertising for MBNA, the biggest credit card provider in the world. In order to boast about their credit card prowess, they opt to use four nerdy twenty-something ‘payment ninjas’ who ponce about claiming to be ‘boringly good at credit card stuff’. Is it really credible that the expertise of such a large organisation (whose directors are all in their 40s, 50s and 60s) is vested in these people? I assume that the target audience for credit cards is quite broad – but is this likely to appeal to anyone of any intelligence or age? This sample of one says not, but I welcome your opinions.
Older consumers and marketing: please, get real
My hypothesis runs as follows. Older consumers are experienced consumers. And as experienced consumers, they are likely to be less responsive and more cynical to marketing. We’ve been there, seen it, done it and returned the Tshirt. We are sceptical about the marketing promise and quick to judge if the experience does not match the promise.
To appeal to us, marketing needs to be more realistic. It needs to support propositions with relevant information and facts and to deliver what it promises. It needs to stop patronising us with fatuous drivel (remember when TV advertising was good? But that’s for another day). Instead, we are given payment ninjas and an obsession with youth.
Research has told us this for many years now. Ten years ago, academics Smizgin and Carrigan concluded that ‘despite all the evidence, advertisers continue to pursue youth’. In 2015, JWT found that 73% of people 50-69 say they don’t pay attention to ads because they don’t seem relevant. I could go on about this subject at length – and in the Mature Market Report, I do.
So, to answer my own question: is Jamie Oliver to blame for the failure of marketing to connect with many older consumers? The answer is of course, no. Jamie is a decent bloke, good cook and no economist. However, the closure of six of his restaurants suggests that, with an ageing population, marketers should be ever more careful to make realistic and deliverable promises, not spout the meaningless guff that often passes for branding and communication.
Positive action for older consumers
We believe that older consumers deserve better. That’s why we formed rhc advantage – a marketing consultancy to help brands connect better with older consumers: from one-off professional copywriting or design, to educational seminars, to strategic planning, to brand communications. All with older consumers in mind and not a payment ninja in sight. For a friendly discussion, why not get in touch?
It’s also why a group of us formed the Mature Marketing Association in 2013. We felt that those of us interested in marketing needed to get together and promote the subject to the rest of the marketing world. We now run Europe’s largest conference on the subject and this year, launch the Mature Marketing Awards. We’d love you to join us!
With all good wishes for a successful year,
Director – rhc advantage
Chairman – Mature Marketing Association
Email Mark here
Merry Christmas from rhc advantage
As a marketing consultancy that specialises in older consumers, we believe that good marketing must benefit business and older consumer alike. That's why this Christmas we're offering a helping hand to your business and, more importantly, to older people themselves.
A helping hand for your business: free Mature Market Report
If you’d like a complimentary copy of our Mature Market Report, please contact us. This 200 page review of data and research relating to marketing and older people draws upon more than 300 sources and has just been updated. It is normally available only to our clients, so this offer must close at midnight, 22nd December 2016.
A helping hand for older people at Christmas: supporting Age UK
We’ve had a great year. However, many older people are not so lucky and will spend Christmas cold, hungry and alone. That's why we've made a donation to Age UK's campaign to help lonely older people have the Christmas they deserve.
New Year Resolution: let's talk!
If you need a helping hand next year, in the form of 'mature marketing' consultancy or creative, please get in touch. You’ll find information about us here.
With very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year, from all of us at rhc advantage.
Mark Beasley has a few public conference speaking engagements coming up. Details below.
If you'd like to book Mark for a public conference or in-house event, you'll find more details here.
The AIHHP Hearing Expo 2016
Date: Friday 18th November
Subject: Marketing and the UK’s ageing consumer
Food Matters Live
Date: November 23rd
Location: London Excel
Subject: Mature consumers and Digital Marketing
ABTA - The Over 50s Market
Date: November 28th
Subject: Marketing for the over-50s consumer
More information here
Our wealthy ageing population is using social media more than ever before. If your brand doesn’t have a social content strategy for the over-50s, it’s time to re-think, says Mark Beasley, marketing consultant and Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association.
Read on for five ways to improve social content for the over-50s and four effective and proven social solutions for brand growth – specially purposed for over-50 audiences.
Social media has a real problem with older people. Like a surly teenager, it doesn’t want to be seen with them, even though they pay most of the bills. Just when life couldn’t get any hipper, along comes your audience in its unfashionable leisure clothing, gate-crashing the party, talking to your friends and trying to dance to your music. What’s more, they’re not going anywhere, so social media is going to have to start talking to them, in a way that they understand, about things they’re interested in.
Older people are now more active on social media than ever before. All the growth in social media is driven by older people, while numbers remain static amongst younger people, some of whom are even undergoing ‘digital detoxes’. According to Ofcom, 64% of all adults aged 45-54 and 51% aged 55-64 now use social media. This compares with 64% of all adults and 99% of 16-24 year olds. The biggest change can be seen in people aged 65-plus, where usage has increased to 35%, from just 2% in 2010, according to PEW. However, we have found that social content seems to either ignore or patronise this increasingly important group.
A large, growing and wealthy group
Older people may be late arrivals at the social media party, but they’re here to stay. What’s more, the size of this audience will continue to increase exponentially. Not only will social media use continue to increase amongst older people, as the more digitally savvy get older, but there will also be more older people. People aged over 50 already account for 35% of the total population and 45% of the adult population. And over the next 20 years, the number of people over 65 will increase by 50%. Social media is fast becoming mainstream and it’s time for social content to reflect that.
The icing on the cake is that older consumers have most of the wealth – more than 70%, according to the ONS – and account for more than 40% of consumer expenditure. In fact, adults aged 55-64 outspend the average consumer in most mainstream product categories. More older people, using social media more, with money to spend - it just keeps getting better.
Social content has societal benefits
Best of all, it turns out that what’s good for social marketers is also good for the consumer. Social media is proven to have real benefits for older people, especially those aged over 65, by increasing social participation and addressing issues of loneliness and isolation. Studies have found that the use of social media improves cognitive capacity, increases feelings of self-competence and has a beneficial effect upon mental health and physical well-being. As Professor Thomas Morton, of Exeter University, who led the large-scale European ‘Ages 2.0’ project, said: “Human beings are social animals, and it’s no surprise that we tend to do better when we have the capacity to connect with others. But what can be surprising is just how important social connections are to cognitive and physical health.”
Challenges faced by social marketers
No-one said it was going to be easy. One of the biggest challenges faced by social marketers is the age gap between those who produce social content and those older people who consume it. On the one hand, people in their 20s and 30s – the age of most people working in social media - are likely to hold incorrect assumptions about older people, often involving negative perceptions, caricatures and stereotypes. They may well live in a world where the young and the cool predominate. On the other hand, what it means to be old is changing fast, as we live longer and continue to be active consumers into our 80s and beyond.
It is also important to understand how older people consume social content. Social media just isn’t as important to older people, who use it less often than younger people and for very specific purposes, especially social contact with family and friends and pursuing interests and hobbies. Compared with younger people, social media is less likely to be seen as a place to just hang out, to ‘curate’ an idealised version of oneself, or to enjoy video and music clips. Instead, it is seen as a practical resource, a means to an end. This suggests that for older people, social content needs to be relevant, not just an amusing way of passing time. Generally, the over 50s are fairly conservative and tend to stick to what they know, which for more than 90% means using only Facebook. This means that static content is more likely to be viewed, while links to other websites will be avoided.
And finally, and frustratingly, all older people are not the same. In fact, we get more diverse as we age. So, the convenience of being able to use jovial, active, healthy and wealthy silver- haired grandparents as a cipher for all older people is not matched by the more complex reality. Never has the need to know your audience been more important. For example, many wealthier ‘baby boomers’ in their 50s and 60s are extremely savvy – about technology and the world generally. This group is unlikely to be receptive to any content that patronises them or suggests that they are in any way ‘old’ or out of touch. On the other hand, many older consumers – especially those over 65 – are likely to be relatively new to computers, the internet and social media. Such ‘narrow’ users, as Ofcom terms them, lack confidence and knowledge and need to be addressed with care, to avoid misleading or confusing them.
Five ways to improve social content for the over 50s
While there is no substitute for a strategy, here are five ways to improve social content for older people.
1. Be more inclusive. For many mainstream brands, older people are part of a larger audience, yet often feel excluded. For example, why use age-specific images of people implying that only the young and glamorous need apply? Instead, create content which is more inclusive and less age-focused (whether old or young). The problems faced by consumers and the benefits promised by brands are usually the same, irrespective of age.
2. Tell a good story and tell it well. Older people have high standards and an intense dislike of bad communication. They want facts, information and logic and they expect well-written and well-structured English. Above all, they want to make up their own minds, based on the evidence.
3. Appeal to the right sort of emotion. Research by Dr Karen Nelson-Field4 has shown that videos featured on social media are much more likely to be shared if they draw a ‘high arousal, positive reaction’. For older people, emotions are most likely to be aroused through reference to universal values, not sensationalism or ‘clickbait’. The most popular types of Facebook post for the over 50s, according to over-50s specialist, Silversurfers, are nostalgia, human interest and humour.
4. Speak their language, not yours. Avoid techy speak – no-one over the age of 12 is likely to care if it is World Emoji Day, as one over-50s brand recently told us. Focus on the message, not the medium, avoiding slang and jargon. And please, avoid speaking as though shouting out to a bar full of 20-somethings, when your brand and therefore your social content is (or should be) focused on 60-somethings. Here’s how not to do it, as demonstrated by recent social media utterances from a well-known stairlift brand:
- ‘Check out our latest ad! What do you guys think of it?’
- ‘Who’s ready for the weekend? Kick back and relax – or put your party shoes on’
To add insult to injury, the latter irrelevance is accompanied by a photograph of a confused looking old man failing to operate a set of DJ decks. Haven’t these people heard of Tony Blackburn or Bob Harris?
5. And above all, don’t patronise your audience. Older people are likely to be experienced and discerning consumers, who have been there, done that and may well still be wearing the Tshirt. Avoid stating the obvious, as these recent social media utterances from over-50’s ‘specialists’ have done:
- ‘Rome has so many attractions and sights that it would take a full guidebook to cover them all.’
- ‘Who has a family trip planned this summer? It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with loved ones.’
- 'Now that it’s summer, why not treat yourself to a walk in the sun.’
So that’s the over-50s for you. A large and diverse group, many of whom have heard of Rome, are aware of the purpose of family trips, and need no prompting to go for a walk. Too important to most mainstream brands to ignore, increasingly heavy consumers of social content and way too savvy to patronise. If your brand doesn’t have a social content strategy for the over-50s, isn’t it time you did?
Four social content solutions for the Over-50s
Contact us now to learn more about these effective and proven social solutions for brand growth – specially purposed for Over-50 audiences:
National Social Sampling Panels
Seed and amplify new product trial experiences amongst influential users in partnership with major Over-50 brand communities such as Women’s Institute and Silversurfers.com.
Managed Influencer Network
Content partnerships with the most popular and followed Over-50 bloggers and vloggers.
Over-50 Social Listening
Insights and benchmarking into Over-50 only online conversations filtered by category, brand and product.
Content, Community and Channel
End-to-end solutions for Over-50 social engagement from planning, creation and management to moderation and adverse event response.
For more information, contact Mark Beasley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Beasley, of rhc advantage, mature marketing consultants