Understanding the Senior Market

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The demographic picture of our nation is changing rapidly with the growth of the 50-plus age category. The 50-plus demographic will represent 45 percent of the population by 2015, according to a recent AARP report.


Fifty-plus consumers have been in the work force a relatively long time, allowing them to accumulate more wealth than the younger population. These men and women earn almost $2 trillion in annual income, own more than 70 percent of the country's financial assets and represent 50 percent of discretionary spending power.


This segment's per-capita discretionary spending is 2.5 times the average of the younger households.


Who are they? To capitalize on this wealth-controlling segment, we must understand where they allocate discretionary income. First of all, they are established homeowners. More than 79 percent of 50-plus consumers own their homes, the highest rate of any age group, according to Ken Dychtwald's "Age Power: How the 21st Century Will be Ruled by the New Old." This group also transacts more than 5 million auto loans yearly, represents 35 percent of the auto insurance market and buys 41 percent of all new cars and 48 percent of luxury cars, his report noted.


These people recognize that they are aging and must address these needs. They buy more than 90 percent of long-term-care insurance; account for 51 percent of over-the-counter drug purchases; consume 74 percent of prescription drugs; represent 65 percent of hospital stays and 42 percent of physician visits; and 1.5 million reside in nursing homes while another 1.5 million live in continuing-care retirement and assisted-living residences, according to Dychtwald's report.


Fifty-plus consumers have worked hard for decades and are ready to enjoy the fruits of that work. They spend more than any age group on travel and leisure products and do not skimp on luxury and quality. Consumers 55 and older are most likely to appreciate luxury products, with 74 percent associating luxury with elegance, according to a November 2002 article by Rebecca Gardyn in American Demographics.


Matures and boomers. Not only must direct marketers understand how the 50-plus market spends, they must understand the events that shaped their formative years and appeal to values and beliefs influenced by those events. This market is generationally divided between matures (ages 60-95) and baby boomers (ages 40-59).


As the matures survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War, they have a constrained set of life expectations, focus on saving and are motivated by self-sacrifice, according to "Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich report on Generational Marketing."


Boomers were born to unparalleled prosperity and economic expansion, enjoying unprecedented employment and educational opportunities. They want to simplify, and still think of themselves as young and avoid anything associated with aging, the Yankelovich report adds.


Online. One of the most effective ways to reach the mature market is online, as people 60 and older are the fastest-growing group of computer users and information seekers, using the Web to find health information, plan personal travel and for e-mail. In a recent Media Metrix study, the average online time daily was 47 percent higher for the 50-plus group than for younger ages.


As people age, changes in vision may decrease the ability to detect fine details. The National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine list ways to make your Web site friendly to this age group in "Making Your Website Senior Friendly: A Checklist":


· Use an easily readable sans-serif font at a 12- or 14-point type size in medium or bold.


· Double space and use both upper- and lower-case letters.


· Left-justify paragraphs.


· Avoid using yellow, blue and green, which are difficult to read.


· Avoid backgrounds that are distracting or too richly patterned.


Abilities such as comprehending text, remembering new information and completing complex tasks decline with age. Web marketers can make their sites user-friendly to this demographic by:


· Writing text in a positive, familiar style.


· Breaking content into short, straightforward sections.


· Making your layout simple .


· Using large buttons or icons for links.


· Keeping page layout consistent.


· Keeping pull-down menus to a minimum.


· Making instructions for scrolling simple.


· Making telephone and address information easy to locate.


Direct mail. Many segments of the mature audience enjoy receiving direct mail and are the most likely demographic to read it. This medium lets them read at their own pace, absorb information, review the facts and make leisurely, qualified decisions. According to The Customer Focus 2002 survey by Vertis Inc., seniors are most likely to open a direct mail piece that has their name on the envelope, meets a timely need, is visually interesting and appears important.


According to a 1993 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 75 percent of adults 65 and older read at an eighth-grade level or less due to limited education and poor eyesight. Marketers can take steps to account for this, according to a recent report on "Writing Easy-to-Read Materials" from the Center for Medicare Education:


· Keep your presentation simple.


· Use short sentences (15 words) with short words.


· Use 13- or 14-point fonts with plenty of white space.


· Avoid glossy paper, which can reflect light and create a glare, making it hard to read.


· Ensure that disclaimers are in legible font and minimize legalese.


DRTV. Direct response television can be very effective in targeting the mature market. Thirty-six percent of 50-plus adults have purchased an item via DRTV in the past three months, according to a recent article in Advertising Age. These ads allow adequate time for the marketer to build trust and establish a relationship with the target audience. The key is to keep the message simple and minimize distractions, such as background music.


Infomercials must fulfill a specific need and emphasize good value for the price. Appreciate the sensitivities of this age group by marketing to the consumer's abilities, not disabilities, as they resent being reminded of what they cannot do.


As the majority of this age group likes to think of themselves as "middle aged" or "young," never portray them as out of touch or objects of ridicule, according to "The Monthly Report on the Mature Market." Appeal to their youthful self-perception by featuring attractive models 10 to 15 years younger than the target audience.


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