When it comes to advertising, seniors are fairly and accurately represented. From commercials for arthritis medication toâ€¦ commercials for retirement financial servicesâ€¦
Well, maybe they're not so much accurately represented as represented. Sort of.
The reality is that Baby Boomers and older generations are often omitted from marketing unless a product is specifically made for them.
The assumption is that they're set in their ways and can't be persuaded to try anything new. However, the truth is that 45-65'ers grew up with advertising. They respond to (or ignore) it based on their desires, needs and interests, just like Millennials.
In fact, according to recent research, Baby Boomers outspend younger adults online 2:1 on a per-capita basis.
So why do so many brands ignore them? Part of it has to do with deeper cultural issues. Older people aren't perceived as being fun, curious, or capable of changing their minds. But too often marketers just don't know how to reach them (advertising is, after all, typically run by younger professionals).
Here are few basic guidelines to follow when marketing to older generations:
- Don't patronize
- Use social media
- Don't make assumptions
Put simply, older people don't want to be thought of as old. No one likes to feel less capable, so avoid a marketing plan that portrays seniors as sedentary or uninspired. Theoretically, this should be easy for advertisers, who spend their days getting inside the mindsets of their target demographics.
In a study by direct marketing agency, Millennium, 55% of people over 50 feel that advertising treats them in a patronizing manner.
This statistic points to a real problem. It suggests that when seniors aren't being completely neglected by marketing, they're being shrugged off by it. It goes without saying, but older people have the same types of hopes and struggles as anyone else; they're just adjusted for age. The question then becomes, do we actually understand this demographic?
(Spoiler alert: we don't).
Use social media
When it comes to online marketing, most people assume that older generations barely know how to turn on a computer. However, the reality is that seniors represent the fastest growing age group in social media.
In 2013, 43% of Americans over 65 were using one social networking site or more. Compare this to 26% in 2010 and only 1% in 2008, and the statistics suggest that, while they may have been slow to adapt, more and more seniors are familiar with how social media works.
Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 58% of seniors 65+ go online to shop.
All of this means, of course, that if you haven't included older people in your social marketing efforts, you should start. If they're using a network, then they are accustomed to promoted posts and other forms of advertising.
Don't make assumptions
A major assumption among advertisers about older generations is that they're blindly loyal to their familiar brands. Perhaps this is based on old stereotypes of seniors who are cemented in their ways, and can't be bothered to try anything new.
While all of us re-use products and services that work, many of us eventually move on due to changing needs and preferences in our lives. The same can be said for seniors. Whether a brand stops being useful to them, or they simply want something different, they're as amenable to new choices as any other age group.
Another stereotype to be wary of is that older people are cheap. True, retirees have to watch their savings, but Baby Boomers in particular are known to have done well, averaging an annual disposable income of $24,000. In other words, they have money to spend.
So how do you incorporate these guidelines into a nuts-and-bolts online strategy? Try these tips:
- Uncluttered website design
- Larger font
- Appropriate images and content
- Specific landing pages
- Accommodate older software
Uncluttered website design
Having an easy-to-navigate website is generally a good idea no matter what age group you're targeting. No one likes looking at a cluttered page with a counter or non-intuitive layout. It sends people away.
While you should expect your older audience to know how to get around on a website, don't make it a challenge for them. Emphasize your most important content, whether it's simple information or a CTA, in an obvious place on the page.
Likewise, eliminate the presence of flashing banner ads, animation and other obvious distractions. Make it easy for your audience to concentrate on what they're most interested in.
In web design, choosing the right font is key. San-serif typefaces like Arial and Verdana, for example, can be easier to read on a computer screen than, say, Times. Keep this in mind when designing how the content on your website appears.
Some seniors do experience diminished visual ability, so you'll want to make your copy as readable as possible. Perhaps more importantly, you should set a 12-point font at least. You might even consider making it 14 or 16 to ensure that everyone will be able to easily take it in.
You don't want to abandon the visual design of your typography, but you might consider expanding your kerning (space between letters) and leading (space between lines) as well.
Appropriate images and content
It should be an unspoken rule, but if you're marketing to an older age group, make sure your content reflects their age. It would be out of place to only use images of younger people if you're trying to reach an older audience on a travel website.
The same rules of content marketing apply here. Think about your demographic's struggles, questions, and desires. How can you provide value? Once you can answer that question, plan your blog, banner ads, social media plan, etc. accordingly.
Specific landing pages
While some brands sell senior-specific products and services, many cater to a wider range of ages. It can be difficult then to try and target specific segments of your audience. If you make it too broad, no one will respond to it. On the other hand, focusing too much on one segment will alienate the others.
You could consider making an alternate home page, but an easier way to reach individual sections of your audience is to create different landing pages. You've probably already done this for people at different stages of their buyer's journey / sales funnel; the concept is the same.
Make specific messages aimed at your older audience based on their intentions. If they clicked on a particular link from a particular website and suggest a particular interest with your brand, guide them to an appropriate landing page. You can use age-appropriate language and imagery here to entice them further.
Accommodate older software
Though they may have disposal income and are hitting social media hard, Baby Boomers and seniors may be likely to hang on to older technology. Whether they're keeping it for convenience or saving it to pass on to a child or grandchild, older generations could be stuck with an outdated Flash player, or worse for you - they could arrive to your website via an older web browser.
If your site isn't configured to integrate with old versions, then you may face page-load problems, which will almost inevitably send a customer to a competitor.
Stephen Moyers is an active tech-savvy blogger who loves to write about online marketing, Social media marketing and various technology topics. He is currently associated with a Los Angeles based SPINX Digital Agency which provides a range of services like Social Media Marketing, Website Design & Development, Search Engine Optimization and many more. You can follow Stephen on Twitter.