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How Do You Market to Seniors? (Hint: Like Everyone Else)

November 30, 2020


How Do You Market to Seniors?

We've talked about how we progress through life, learning, growing, and discovering new aspects of ourselves. And one of the reasons I like to think about this is that society tends to forget about people as they get older.

I was seeing a posting from a Strategist asking the question…“how do you market to the 70+ set?” 

The ideas shared suggest a broad stereotype and … misunderstanding of older folks. It often reflects what we’ve been told about people who are 70, 80, 90 years old. 

So, how do we market to the senior set? How do we respect them and the buying power they represent? 

Actually, we should market to them almost exactly like we market to everyone else.

The Myths about Older People as Consumers

I can’t tell you how many meetings I am in where the discussion is around “our customer is dying out” we need to redirect. And in redirecting, alienate our current best customer. 

We associate that generation of customer as our brand failing to remain relevant. Yet, they have the time, assets and disposable income…and a lot of them are just as digitally savvy as the rest of us. How successful would a brand be that respected this generation vs. thinking of them as a niche dying audience. 

There are myths that tend to feed and inform our attitudes:

1.      Older people are less materialistic than younger people

2.      Older people aren’t active participants in society

These myths reinforce each other. While it may be true that with age we become less materialistic because this generation has time and desire to redirect their spending power into other things. They may have enough stuff. (I think everyone’s realized that one this year!)

But that first myth plays into this idea that older people don’t need—or buy—anything. And that’s just not true. As we age, what we want and need changes, sure. But, we still need clothes, but maybe not business clothes or shoes but fewer high heals. Why cook when you can go out more frequently? Sure, priorities in life change, health insurance may not have been important in your 20’s but as we age….issues become more visible and change in order of spending priority. 

People are living longer, healthier lives. There’s no reason someone in their 70s can’t still be running marathons, running for President 😊 and travelling.

That’s where the second myth is a problem. Older people are characterized as not being “active” participants in society anymore. There’s this idea that once people hit 70 or 75 or 80, they’re frail and ill and need to go to nursing homes. And while that might be true for some people, it’s definitely not true for everyone! Many people still have very active lives. My Dad is 88 and plays competitive golf and scores below his age, always! He works out every day, has a little job in town….and my Mom is equally active at 87. 

And even those people who are ill or need to head to assisted living are still people with needs. You may recognize them as they are actively supporting causes or awareness related to chronic diseases. They send meals. They might organize food drives, bridge or euchre clubs, volunteer to help cook meals, or even lead fitness classes or organize workshops. They may also be active members of their families. They might be buying toys and clothes for their grandkids or great-grandkids. Maybe they help their kids make big ticket-purchases like a new car or start savings accounts or any number of things!

So, as Marketers, we need to get rid of our stereotypical assumptions about what people who are 70+ or 80+ are doing.

Is 70 the New 50?

We also need to keep in mind that there are some big demographic changes going on here as well. Canada is going grey. The Boomers are now entering their senior years; in a few years, the entire cohort will be 60+. That means the oldest Boomers—born in 1947—will be pushing 80.

The Boomers were the single largest demographic in history. So that’s a lot of people who are going to be in the 60+ bracket—and in that 70+ bracket.

Throughout their lives, the Boomers have redefined every decade. They’re the ones who said 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40. And one reason for that is, first, they’re living longer and they’re staying healthier longer too. So when they hit 40, they went, “Hey, this isn’t old!”

Same with when they turned 50, and we’re seeing the same thing now that they’re turning 60, 65, 70. Every time Boomers hit a “milestone” age, they look at themselves and they don’t see themselves in society’s expectations.

They don’t see themselves as old, and they don’t feel it either! So they’re going to continue doing the things they want to do, the things they loved. That means they're going to run marathons and go on trips and be active community members.

How Do You Reach the 70+ Set?

When this question was asked, there were some good answers. The 70+ set is still likely to read newspapers and other print media. They’re likely to watch the news on TV, and they’re likely to listen to the radio.

So—how do you reach the 70+ set? We can definitely use traditional media to find these consumers.

I also saw some interesting ideas—like going to the local park. Doing some guerilla marketing and getting out into the community isn’t a bad idea. But the sentiment also feels like we might find older folks feeding the ducks, versus seeing them as active members of our communities.

So yes—we might be able to reach older folks in a local park. But they might be there with a group fitness class. They might be out on a stroll with the grandkids. So we need to adjust our expectations of what these people are doing in the park and what messages we need to bring to them.

We also cannot forget about new forms of marketing. We don’t think of older people as being online. But how many of us adopted texting and email and Facebook without a second thought?

Use may be lower among the “oldest old”—members of the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation. But even they’ve adopted technology. People who are in their 70s and 80s now were in their 40s and 50s during the PC workplace revolution of the 1990s.

Many have also adopted text messaging and social media to stay in touch with friends and family! Tech-savvy seniors can be found video-chatting with their grandkids. And they might be the ones who are calling in from some far-flung locale, because they finally got to take that trip they’ve been dreaming of.

Seniors may also have email accounts. Many have adopted online shopping—especially this year during the pandemic.

So we can also reach seniors with our usual Internet marketing.

In short: don’t count the 70+ set out!

Adjusting Our Messages and Remembering Our Brand Essence

The methods for marketing to seniors can largely stay the same. Facebook ads might reach someone who is 70+ just as easily as they might reach someone in their 20s or 30s (almost half of the 65+ set uses Facebook, for example). We'll want to adjust our mix a little bit, adopt some more “traditional” methods. But there’s no reason to ditch digital marketing altogether.

What does need to change, often, is our messaging—so that we can be sure we’re speaking to the 70+ set’s concerns. It’s not a lie to say our concerns and needs change as we get older! We might still end up buying toys for kids—but we’re buying for our grandkids, not our own kids now.

Of course, we can switch up our messaging. But when we do that, we need to remember our brand essence. The people in the 70+ set have maybe had much more experience with our brands over a longer time. They may have even deeper relationships with us, even though they don’t buy as often as they used to. But that makes them even more sensitive to changes in our brand essence. These people are going to notice if we switch gears.

What’s more is that they’re even more likely to jump ship if we don’t honour that relationship. If we change what we’re offering—at the core—then these folks are going to go somewhere they can get exactly what we used to offer.

At the same time, they’re also invested in our brands. They don’t want to make that switch. So we need to think on what we’re offering and how we offer it. And we need to make sure our messaging still reflects that, even as we adjust to address people’s concerns.

So—like always—remember to start with the why!


Here to inspire!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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