Agency Targets Matures With Common Sense, Uncommon Business Model

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Consumers over the age of 50 represent nearly one-third of the total U.S. population, a number that is expected to grow by 42 percent by 2014, according to niche marketing firm The Senior Network, Stamford, CT. And while seniors represent about 42 percent of all after tax income in the country, it still is a segment that is overlooked by marketers.


"This segment has an enormous amount of disposable income and yet the business community is sleeping," said Norman Sherman, TSN managing director, who launched his hybrid marketing communications and direct consumer outreach business in 1990. He touts his firm's dual business model, which, he said, gives clients both access to, and expertise on, the expanding mature consumer market.


TSN's clients have included Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Nabisco and Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp. -- companies that have long understood the unique needs and characteristics of mature consumers.


But according to Sherman, many big agencies would have less initiated clients believe that the 25-49 year old demographic is still where the sales are. For instance, he said that one of the best marketed cars in the country today is the SUV. He said manufacturers forget that much of the 50+ population (which buys over half of the new cars sold each year) doesn't want to "climb up into their vehicles."


Certainly research on the expanding mature market is not the problem. But Sherman said it often gets disregarded because of overly-entrenched agency-led thinking.


"There are a number of misperceptions about the mature market that inhibit many marketers and agencies from reaching this consumer effectively" he said. "A lot of this thinking is at the brand level where the typical managers are 30 years old or younger. They'll tell you all the same stuff, the same stereotypes because they don't understand the life expectancy reality or the numbers about mature consumers. Yet ask them about their parents and they'll tell you that they're only semi-retired … that they're doing consulting. They'll say their parents have a house here and a summer place there … that they're not like a lot of seniors, that their parents are the exception"


Sherman said the word exception is the key. "Matures are a marketplace of exceptions" he said.


Even at the Ad Council, New York spokesman Ken Olmer conceded it had been a while since the educational nonprofit organization had designed a campaign targeting matures specifically. "In 1992 we produced an awareness campaign around colon cancer and one on breast cancer in 1993." He also noted public awareness campaigns produced by the council in the 1980's, which focused on senior employment issues and understanding social security regulations.


In general, TSN is positioning itself to take advantage of a marketplace that is no doubt growing, but whose psychographics are being too overlooked by a generation of marketers who apparently think too much like baby boomers.


Sherman cites simple facts about the younger marketer's use of certain terminology and perspective that feeds into off-strategy campaigns and less-than-satisfied clients. For instance, he said mature consumers possess "accumulated wealth" and generally a lot more of it that someone still raising kids. Yet he said marketers insist on looking for things like "dual income" or "earning power" -- useless category jargon that fits the mature niche like a straightjacket.


"Another wrong but long-held belief about this market" said Sherman, "is that they maintain a tremendous degree of loyalty to certain products and as a result, make it harder for marketers to get them to switch. But every piece of data we've seen says that they are just as likely to try something new as any other age group. The problem is usually that the marketer has tried to sell the "new product" to them as if they were marketing it to a thirty old…" Sherman said hard numbers matter, but so do reasonable, well-thought-out strategies, "not the fast-talking commercials and inappropriate marketing images" he said matures usually ignore or find inappropriate at best.


"I kind of like the old phrase 'don't underestimate the consumer, she's your wife,' " said Sherman, "Except I say don't underestimate today's consumer, it could be your mother or your father."


TSN is currently in the process of launching Seniornetwork.com, an online media and marketing communications outreach model connected to local area communities, organizations and senior activity centers across the country.
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