The Over 55s Demographic – How to Sell to Older People?

| December 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

Are you taking advantage of one of Britain’s biggest and fastest-growing markets? Are you interested in a target audience predicted to include one in three of all Brits by the year 2025? It’s the over 55s and they’ll make up a whopping two thirds of all retail activity by the end of the first quarter of the century.

Marketers ignore UK’s fastest-growing online audience

You’d think marketers would be falling over themselves to snag this massive and growing market’s interest over the next decade. But despite its legendary growth and excellent future prospects, most online retailers are ignoring the opportunity… so far.

According to a report by Greenlight, just one in five marketers is targeting ‘older’ shoppers online. Why does it matter? Consumers aged 55 and over have spent an awesome £14.45 billion online this year alone, with 76% of the demographic buying at least one item on the internet every month.

In fact the majority of the group is already pretty internet-savvy, with 90% researching and buying products online. An impressive one in ten over 55s spend more than £150 a month, and more than half spend anything from £20 and £80 a month online.

A demographic time bomb your business can’t afford to ignore

Unless you sell youth-specific products or services, the over 55s will be your biggest audience in the coming years. There’s no doubt about it.

If you’re currently throwing all your marketing budget at the fast-shrinking youth market, how do you think you’ll fare in a commercial landscape where 25% of Britain’s consumers are aged over 55? Are you looking far enough into the future or will you miss out while your competitors suck up every penny from this powerful, influential and often relatively wealthy group?

Are you actively excluding older people in the first place?

The above assumes marketers are actively ignoring people in the older age brackets. I doubt it’s true. What’s probably happening is that marketers aren’t currently taking special measures to reach and attract the over 55s. But is that really a bad thing? Do we need to treat the over 55s differently, make them a special marketing case based on age alone?

What products do the over 55s buy?

First, products. Do you need to create special products and services for the over 55s? Saga, after all, deals exclusively with products for the over 50s, and they seem to do okay.

The thing is, just because you pass a certain age it doesn’t mean your needs, tastes and desires change on the big day, leaving you a completely different person from your 55th birthday onwards. When you turned 23, 41, 12 or any other random age, did you suddenly change beyond all recognition? Probably not!

It’s tempting, as a marketer, to lump people together in chunks according to date of birth. But in real life older people consume much the same stuff as everyone else, with a few differences. Over 50s tend to buy more spectacles, for example. But it doesn’t mean they buy special ‘old person’ glasses. They buy the same makes, models and styles as everyone else.

The youth market is similar. Young people also consume the same stuff as the rest of us but demand extra products most adults don’t consume, toys being the most obvious.

How to write for the over 55s

What about writing content for the over 55s? Do you have to use special language? Not at all. Writing for older markets is exactly the same as writing content for the 24s, 36s or 78s.

Whatever you’re selling, to whatever demographic, marketing messages are best delivered in plain, clear language, used creatively to build a proposition so powerful it’s hard to resist, keying directly into the audience’s desires. In a copywriting context, age doesn’t matter.

Don’t you get more risk aversion in an older market?

I remember the first marketing job I ever landed, a junior direct marketing role in the insurance industry. The interviewer, like me in his early 20s, asked me how I’d treat older prospects compared to younger. I said I’d probably concentrate on exciting the younger segments and reassuring the older ones. I saw his eyes light up, and it got me the job.

Oh, the arrogance of youth! Many years later and fast approaching ‘older’ status, I know making assumptions about consumer behaviour based on age is dangerous. Having survived this long I know people don’t fall neatly into behavioural pigeonholes. You get the same spectrum of personality types in every age band.

How to sell to older people

How to sell to older people? In exactly the same way as you sell to everyone else. By using best direct marketing and digital marketing practice, taking SEO into account wherever you need to. By crafting strong, attractive messages that dovetail perfectly with human beings’ desires, pleasures and fears. By engaging with the right people at the right time, with the right products and services, whatever their age.

Do you really need to segment your audience by age?

I’m going to stick my neck out here. In my experience I don’t think it helps to segment people by age, except when you’re selling something age-restricted or age-specific.

There are so many other types of data you can use to segment people. They’re a lot more relevant than age, which is both an artificial construct and a blunt instrument. Take buying behaviour. Say someone buys from you once a month, every month, at roughly the same time of the month. That’s worth an awful lot more in practical marketing terms than knowing someone’s age.

Using age as just one of a collection of demographic indicators can help you draw a picture of an audience. But age alone isn’t enough to make sweeping assumptions about them.

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Category: copywriting and marketing

By Kate Goldstone - ()

Originally from Middlesbrough, I lived in Brighton for many years before moving to North Devon. I’ve had a passion for words all my life and this is my twelfth year as a freelance writer. In my spare time I draw, paint, sculpt, carve wood and rock, garden, read, write poetry and enjoy long distance hiking. I sing and play the recorder. I collect modernist paintings, vintage rugs and mid-century German art pottery. I’m a member of The Poetry Society. And I am an experienced volunteer shepherd, a ‘Lookerer’.

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