01 Aug Why “seniors” are not a single market
When we talk about “seniors” or even “older adults” we immediately have a major definitional challenge. Who exactly are we referring to when we use this collective category? After all, even using just age as a measure, it covers people from 50 to 100 years of age and above-a very big category indeed!
In this brief article I want to argue that we have long made a major error in treating “seniors” as one single category and as this population is both growing massively and living longer we need to change our approach.
As the simple graphic below illustrates, it is not unusual for marketers and others dealing consumers to think about a market, especially when it comes to age, in a 5 year “blocks” all the way from 0 to 50. This is illustrated in the simple graphic below:
Sadly, at either age 50, 55, or, if we are lucky, 65 years of age, marketers tend not to do what the chart continues to do but instead simply add a + sign and treat the whole sector as if it were the same. This has a number of less than ideal consequences and 4 of the major ones are described in turn below:
1. Just as people change quite dramatically from one age bracket to another when they are young, this continues to be the case when they are over 50. These changes are visibly physical (older adults increasingly lose height and weight on average as they age, for example) but also in less obvious ways, such as levels of frailty. Frailty is most associated with loss of muscle strength in hands, arms and legs, but it also affects internal body organs too and can lead to unintentional weight loss, exhaustion, stress, inability to easily move and many limitations on performing everyday tasks such as cooking, eating, bathing, driving etc. It becomes pretty obvious then that when trying to ideate or innovate for this population, in order to assist them, you’d want to take account of what are often quite dramatic changes over time.
2. Other than these externally visible physical changes, the other realm that can change dramatically as people age is with their overall health and in particular with disease states or other health side problems. We tend to understand this with various major cancers and heart disease but not so much with less life threatening but nonetheless serious conditions including increasing deafness, loss of eyesight, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, respiratory problems and, of course, dementia (and its most common manifestation-Alzheimers). The point here is that the ability of older adults to live life in general is significantly impacted by how far these problems have progressed and the extent to which they combine to create other difficulties with day-to-day coping.
3. The third area that changes greatly over time with older adults is what we might loosely describe as social or psychographic factors. These are more about the choices and preferences that older adults may have or develop as they age. Some of these are generational (meaning they may be anchored to when and where they were born and what they experienced as a cohort –such as musical tastes, for example). However, many psychographic factors (especially attitudes and behavioral preferences) change because of circumstances and may “harden” or “soften” over time. Big events such as retirement from work, large changes in income (usually downwards), moving house or location, the illness or loss of a spouse, increasing time for education or new pastimes, feelings of overwhelm with innovation or new technology, feelings of increasing loneliness or isolation, and even views towards politics and politicians, are all examples of factors that can shift significantly in small age bands after 50.
4. Finally, commercial considerations can change greatly as people age. Most obviously, many people may have very different income levels and this often declines or becomes fixed as time passes. However, more broadly what people want and need can be highly varied at different stages of older adult life. For example, a 55 or 60 year old may want to acquire products and services that allow them to pursue new leisure opportunities, while a 65 or 70 year old may want products and services that educate or inform them about events or new eating experiences they may enjoy, for instance. And a 75 or 80 year old may want products and services that better connect them or help them to communicate more readily with friends and family. This is not to over generalize but to say that what people buy changes significantly as they get older. Perhaps the best example of this is food-while what food to buy and consume when eating in or out may be highly varied in young older adults, this may increasingly become more about how easy it is is to consume or chew and not experience gastric problems afterwards!
In summary then, this article argues that too little work has been done sub-segmenting the older adult population of over 50. The tendency of marketers and others dealing with this population is either to treat the over 50 consumers as a more or less homogeneous group, or to pay virtually no attention to them as individuals or ones that change in the same 5 year brackets that they routinely apply to younger people. This means that the more than 100 million people over 50 in the US alone are generally regarded as a single market segment, distinguishable from other segments on the basis of age, but homogeneous when treated alone, as a single sub-population. By doing this we completely miss the opportunity to offer products and services which are much more fit for purpose for these critical and large in number consumers. We can clearly be more successful as providers by meeting our customer’s individual needs.