WHAT WE’VE LEARNED: MARKETING TO SENIORS

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There are many senior stereotypes out there: “They shouldn’t be driving.” “They don’t use computers.” “They’re skilled at making a very convincing Santa Claus with minimal-to-no-effort.” (Actually, that one’s pretty true.) But honestly, most of these stereotypes don’t have any substance to them. The real truth about American seniors is that many are just as active, just as present on social media, and just as digitally savvy as some other age groups—and they expect to be treated that way.

As an agency, TA is unique in that we specialize in marketing to seniors. It’s helped us gain deep insight and understanding into this economically powerful and very relevant American demographic. To expand a little more on how we communicate with this specific group, we asked a few TA professionals, Jason Sargent (Chief Strategy Officer), John Kinkead (Creative Group Director), Cash Meyerhoffer (Associate Director of Digital Media) and Rhett Boyakin (Creative Director), to sit down and share their experiences and thoughts.  This is what they had to say.

American seniors have changed.

Jason: Let’s start with the obvious. Within the senior audience, it’s not just one group of people. There are so many sub-segments based on both demographic and psychographic factors. And there has been so much change over the last 10 years, it’s critical to throw away any assumptions when you’re marketing to seniors. Seniors today have vastly different experiences with technology than previous generations. People turning 65 this year, for example, were in their early 30s when Apple released Macintosh. Many have had access to the internet for 25 years. Then, layer in the way that the Great Recession impacted many of their savings and planning. Retirement may look very different for them than for those of previous generations. All of this means there is not one “senior” market.

Cash: A big change we see is that a lot of seniors are still working in some capacity. Just a few years ago, almost a quarter of men over 65 were still in the workforce. Less for women, but still more than in the past. And I can see the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more seniors to stay in or get back into the workforce. 

John: I think a big change is today’s seniors are a lot more active, I think, than in the past. It’s not the Norman Rockwell view of American retired life anymore. Being retired in America means being more physically and socially active now. In New York, for example, there are 13 different horseshoe leagues for seniors. And we find that seniors have a more active social life, spending more time with friends and peers, not just their spouse and grandchildren. 

Common mistakes when marketing to seniors:

Jason: The biggest mistake I see marketers make is to segment the senior market by age alone and then use outdated stereotypes in visuals and word choices to sell their products or services. Seniors are so much more diverse in terms of experiences, needs and desires, so this just creates dumbed-down, and often offensive communications.

John: I see a lot of ads using visuals that over-emphasize ‘walkers’ rather than an active or healthy senior. Seniors want to be represented in their best life—active, for example. Even if it’s aspirational. 

Rhett: One reason why everyone sees lots of stereotypical visuals is because of stock photography. It’s harder to represent the truer reality of today’s active, modern seniors when there’s only a narrow view of seniors in stock photography.

Cash: And what about ad spend? People over 50 have $1.6 trillion in buying power but only 10% of ads target them. It’s incredible that more ad spend isn’t going to where the money is. 

How to be successful when marketing to seniors? Skip the stereotypes.

Jason: Successful marketing always starts with the audience. You can’t market to seniors based on just their age. We need to understand their ethnic and income diversity and their different needs. Marketers need to understand what has happened during their lifetimes, what their experiences are and what they value. All of this helps to connect at a deeper level and shapes a successful campaign. 

Cash: A successful marketing campaign targeting seniors will also look beyond traditional communication channels and try to find the best way to reach them and get them to act. A lot of seniors are more tech-savvy today. When I started at TA, it was print and TV that worked to reach this audience. Now they’re going online way more. We’re in the middle of a switch and we’ve seen success matching direct mail with banner and social ads. They respond similarly to younger audiences.

John: A successful campaign will use behaviors and needs to segment their senior audience, and will take into account how they make decisions, where they get information, and who makes the decision. As an example, generally women do most of the research and make the final decision on senior health insurance. So tailoring senior health communications to older women will generally be more successful. But to be successful marketing to seniors, you have to put the time in and do the research.

Rhett: Seniors value straight-talk and information that is clear is going to resonate. And until stock houses expand their images to be more representative of the aspirations and diversity of seniors, I think a good campaign that is marketing to seniors really needs to use their own photography.

The future of marketing to seniors.

 Cash: We’re going to see more and more people over the age of 65 still in the workforce. So services, visuals, messages and communications channels we use when marketing to seniors will need to reflect that to be successful.

Rhett: There’s a trend right now with nostalgia. People are really responding to, and appreciating, a look and feel that reminds them of good times in the past. There are great opportunities to explore this in the future.

Jason: Finding ways to really understand this audience, who they are, and what has shaped their lives is not just a trend, but is the only way to to be successful when marketing to seniors — today and in the future. And with 30+ years of digital data that future marketers will have access to, tomorrow’s seniors will expect relevant communications and will have a lower tolerance for campaigns that treat them as part of a group rather than as an individual.

 Gone are the days of boring afternoons spent watching reruns of Jeopardy. Seniors today are more active, more tech savvy and more diverse than ever before. And as Generation X starts aging into the 55+ market, those marketers who seek to understand these differences will stand out from those who do not — and will succeed. If you’re planning on marketing to seniors, contact the experts at TA to learn how to leverage our experience and expertise to make your campaign even more successful.

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July 7, 2020by jason sargent, cash meyerhoffer, john kinkaid, rhett boyakin

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