Marketing to Seniors - What Doesn't Work

Many marketers don’t understand how to connect with today’s seniors, and they’re making some expensive mistakes. To effectively reach this audience you have to understand what does (and doesn’t) motivate them.

The most common mistakes when marketing to seniors are:

Using fear to motivate. The most effective advertising is aspirational in nature - it speaks to what we desire to be - productive, physically fit and valued; it doesn't scare us with fears of what we might become - old, infirmed, obsolete. Yet, many experts forget this important marketing wisdom and instead highlight fears of aging. As a generation, seniors are not fearful; they are challengists. They challenge medicine, technology, society and politics to be better. And challengists are aspirational by nature. It's why they believe things can be better.

Assuming that aging is a destination, not a journey. Our parents' and grandparents' generations looked at aging as a journey with a definite destination - retirement. Given the struggles of their lives and the lower life expectancy, "retiring" was a badge of achievement. For today's senior, "retirement" is often the start of a new phase - perhaps of a new career, a new passion, or more time to devote to a lifetime passion. And, it most definitely is part of a journey, not the final resting spot.

Highlighting nostalgia, not progress. While it is important to understand the historical political, societal and cultural changes that helped shaped the psyche of today’s senior, it is equally important to remember that they are a forward-thinking group - and have been for most of their lives. It's this forward thinking that wrought important societal, political, and cultural changes - and will continue to bring changes as we enter new phases. Seniors are not nostalgic for the "good old days" but rather look forward to what's next - whether it is in their personal or public lives or products they embrace.

Remember, a senior’s spending habits are attached not to his fears and insecurities, but to his hopes and aspirations.

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Showing 1 to 4 of 4 comments.

I asked my grandfather once before he died what he thought about himself, deep down, when he looked in a mirror and whether age had changed how he "saw" himself. He said, "You know Matt, when I look in the mirror I still see the 20 year old me... it is just that my tent has worn and torn a bit over the years."
He makes the point that age itself doesn't change our thinking patterns. The world we were born into is different than the world my grandfather was born into with different social moores and universal assumptions.

Posted by Mathieu | October 7, 2010 Report Violation

Great information to think about. Thank you. Getting rid of the word "senior" also helps as it is a word that has stigmatized a group of people based on an arbitrary physical age, most often associated with retirement and eligibility for government funds. All language around "aging" needs to be re-thought in the context of today's older adults.

Posted by Dean | June 3, 2010 Report Violation

I have to agree with Chris. There is a point in most seniors lives when needs take over from wants. Now, I support the idea that we 'should' always promote the 'journey' that is life and that you are largely only as old as you feel but there is an obvious point in life, though different for everyone, where safety, security and supervision(care) overwhelm ones other desires.
I do agree that there is no point in feeding off fears of that point but sometimes those fears aren't even from the senior but their families.

Posted by Graham | June 3, 2010 Report Violation

While I agree that this article holds true for "junior" Seniors (ie. the Boomers, Zoomers, etc), the "senior" Seniors of today think much differently than the young Seniors. Some of their thought patterns and actions couldn't be more different at times.

Of course, fear based motivation is not a quality way to market, sell, promote at any time, but beside the point here I guess.

Thanks for the interesting reading. Always enjoy it.


Posted by Chris | June 3, 2010 Report Violation

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