Understanding the Aging Markets

By Leslie Shankman-Cohn, ASID, CAPS and member of the ASID Aging in Place Council

Did you know that approximately 10,000 baby boomers are becoming eligible for Social Security every day? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the elderly population will more than double between now and the year 2050, to 80 million. That means roughly one out of five adults in the U.S. will be over the age of 65.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, the majority of this group leads active lifestyles. They want to remain independent, contributing members of their communities as long as possible. Just remember, regardless of age or ability, most people do not want to think of themselves as aging, and they do not want others to perceive them as being old. Therefore, advertising and marketing to seniors requires special sensitivity.

The first rule of thumb is to forget the slick, high-tech, loud music sales pitch. Instead, keep your marketing strategy simple, straight-forward and uncluttered. Remember that printed materials need to be easy to read and in a simple layout. As in any good design, “less is more.”

Another important point is to understand that you might need to advertise to a broader audience to reach your ultimate end-user. Prospective clients or referrals might include midlife and older homeowners, adult children, other family members, friends and service providers such as home care and health care professionals.

Due to increased longevity, today’s “older Americans” can be anywhere from 62 to 102 years old. Within this broad range of aging and elderly, there are four generally recognized major age-defined groups, each with its own unique perspective towards life:

  • Baby Boomer Generation, born 1946 to 1964
  • Post War Generation, born 1928 to 1945
  • World War II Generation, born 1922 to 1927
  • Depression Generation, born 1912 to 1921

The NAHB Research Center defines these cohort groups by the formative historical events that occurred during their adolescence and early adulthood. This information can be useful in the development of your marketing materials.

  • The Baby Boomer Generation is really comprised of two groups: people born from 1946 to 1954, referred to as the “leading-edge” baby boomers, and the “trailing-edge” boomers, born from 1955 to 1965. Baby boomers remember the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the war in Viet Nam, the birth of rock and roll, and campus protests. They grew up questioning authority and basked in self-indulgence. Most still hold onto the notion that they will always remain young and active, refusing to acknowledge the aging process (just look at all the anti-aging products and services there are on the market today!). Efforts to market to baby boomers should appeal to their sense of individualism, tendency to question ideas and long-held truths, considerable interest in their health and well-being, and a strong desire for instant gratification.
  • The Post War Generation experienced an era of remarkable economic expansion and the great migration to the suburbs. This group benefited from the rise of the middle class and came to believe that American progress and prosperity would continue indefinitely. Contrary to the U.S.’s victories in the Second World War, they witnessed instead the Korean Conflict, Communism and the hysteria of McCarthyism, the rise of Soviet imperialism, nuclear threat, and the Cold War. When designing a marketing plan for this group, remember that a great majority of them are well-educated and have amassed considerable savings. They seek stability, security, conformity and social tranquility. They are concerned about ease of visitability by family and friends.
  • Born into the Great Depression, those who came of age during World War II witnessed unprecedented destruction and atrocities, including the birth of the atom bomb. Bound together by adversity, they focused on defeating a common enemy, and sacrifice for the common good was a way of life. This group is very patriotic and loyal. Concentrate on evoking a sense of camaraderie and a team-oriented approach.
  • Today’s oldest living Americans reached adulthood during the Great Depression. Their coming-of-age experience was overshadowed by economic strife, high rates of unemployment, and the need to take menial jobs as a means of survival. The need for financial security drives their actions, and they are slow to take risks. They don’t want to be a burden to others and have a strong desire to remain in control. Because of these factors, marketing to this group should address independence, efficiency, and dedication.

Marketing is essential to business success. Any effort to market a business must necessarily begin with an understanding of the population for whom business services are intended. So, brush up on some basic market psychology, review your history and apply it to the 50-plus population you want to serve.