(now part of Be Fruitful Alliance)
Missing the Mark on the Over 45 Market
Are companies missing the mark when it comes to meeting the needs of the over 45 market? Absolutely!
Consumers over 45 years of age, specifically the aptly named “Baby Boomers” (those born between 1946 and 1962) are feeling
slighted by many companies. Boomers comprise between 78 and 96 million individuals in the United States today. More than half
of the population is expected to be over 50 by the year 2010.
This segment represents a very lucrative opportunity for many products and services, and not just retirement funds and senior
homes. But the problem is product designers don’t know how to design for this segment, because Boomers are not their parents.
Most Boomers have a potential longevity greater than their own children or grandchildren. Their numbers represent an estimated
$29 billion annually to the U.S. economy. It may be time for marketers and product designers to give them the attention they deserve.
Boomers have more discretionary income than any other age group yet they don’t spend at the rate younger consumers do. Why?
Unfortunately, product designers don’t seem to understand it isn’t lack of interest in certain products, it has more to do with design
modifications. Most new products don’t meet their needs. Many marketers and product designers fail to understand the increasing
limitations of people as they age.
Here are seven specific areas where companies are missing the mark with Boomers:
Package design and user friendly packaging becomes essential to retain or capture the over 45 market. With the advent of safety
seals, the over 45 consumer has had a harder and harder time getting into packaging. All bottles and containers with inner safety
seals should include a tab big enough and textured enough for less agile fingers to pull it off. Consumers should not have to use a
knife to wrestle the top off their yogurt container so they can eat breakfast. Hard plastic casings may provide a deterrent to
shoplifting in the store but it may not be worth slicing open your hand trying to open it. This aversion to package wrangling causes
some over 45 consumers to switch brands.
Boomers grew up with high quality products and have watched the quality decline over the years. Most women over 45 don’t want to
wear a shirt you can read the newspaper through because the fabric is so thin and cheaply made five washings disintegrates it.
Boomers remember when quality products meant you could rely on the products to perform as promised. Quality clothing means
flawless design, straight seams and thick material that drapes well and holds up to multiple washings. Boomers are willing to pay
for quality because they are not as price driven as younger consumers.
Many Boomers like the old products and still use them in their daily lives. Then one day they discover the company they purchased
their product from no longer provides service or replacement parts for it, and they are forced to abandon their reliable product for a
cheaply made but not cheaply priced replacements. Boomers want manufacturers to service and repair products they sold,
regardless of product age. To fail to honor this relationship with the customer creates ill will among consumers who value integrity
4. Change for no reason.
Change for change sake is not always a good thing. The recent federal regulation requiring everyone to switch to digital television
or lose the signal is an example of unnecessary forced change. Boomers remember when such a requirement would have been
grandfathered (i.e., phased in over a period of years) so those who could least afford it would not be harmed. Companies no longer
value all consumers, only those “upscale” customers they feel will yield more profits. This planned obsolescent may be a great way
to sell more product but it backfires. Many Boomers wait to buy new products because this year’s great idea gets scraped or
changed next year. So Boomers wait and wait and some learn to live without new products.
Today’s marketers have shrunk flavor choices down to three flavors to make manufacturing easier. Boomers remember when they
had real choices on what flavors to have. What if you don’t like strawberry, blueberry or raspberry yogurt? What if you want lemon,
peach, cherry, boysenberry or banana cream? Boomers are used to having variety. It is one of the characteristics that defined their
generation. This lack of food choices is a factor in the trend of Boomers eating out rather than cooking in. They simply get bored
with the same flavors available in manufactured foods.
Advertising misses the mark by stereotyping, using cheap gimmicks or by using generational “jokes” that make Boomers scratch
their heads. This actually hurts a product’s image more than it helps. This lost ground is oftentimes difficult to make up or
measure, but it is real. A recent car ad featured a man driving, talking to someone off camera. At the very end of the ad, the camera
moves to the rear window where a dog is mooning the camera. While the ad guys were patting themselves on the back for their
clever ad, the consumer was wondering what it had to do with the car (which was never shown in the ad). The company pulled the
ad quickly but it hurt their image. While the ad was directed at young drivers, it excluded and offended everyone else.
Hollywood bemoans how people over 45 don’t go to movies while ignoring their needs. Many movie themes are directed towards
people with young children, young love involving pointless sex and violence with little or no plot. Boomers no longer have small
children, don’t want to see sexually explicit movies in public and want movies to have a point. The few movies with substance
usually do well with Boomers; there just aren’t enough of them. Shaky camera techniques, rapid scene changes, staccato speech,
rapidly scrolling or fly-in action and flashing special effects all may be artistically cutting edge, but they make it difficult for those over
45 to watch. The eye becomes less able to track rapid movements and to focus quickly as one ages. Most movies give Boomers a
headache. Loud music during dialogue is also hard on Boomers who are beginning to experience hearing loss. They cannot
understand the dialogue so they can’t follow the plot, and at some point Boomers decide it’s too much work to watch movies.
Home entertainment has taken off among Boomers because they can rewind as many times as needed to follow the plot.
In the past ten years, companies have looked only at sales numbers for changes. When you use sales numbers to assess
consumer satisfaction, you miss the big picture. Consumers have to buy something: it does not mean they are happy. Companies
mistakenly believe all consumers are price driven and nothing else. Many companies embrace the idea that there is nothing new to
learn about their customers so why bother to investigate.
Old bastions of the industry are being overtaken and having their customers taken from them by companies willing to ask the hard
questions using marketing research to get accurate and up-to-date profiles of their customers. The most common mistake
companies make when doing customer research is to decide ahead of time who they think their customer is, rather than looking at
the whole population.
One marketing research professional tells it this way: “Even when I advise my client to look at other types of people, they insist their
customer is the upscale consumer. So they end up missing important insights that their more open-minded competitors were
willing to investigate. It’s a real disadvantage in a competitive marketplace.”
By using customer segmentation data, companies can hit the mark with the over 45 market. Old habits can be redefined and used
to leverage a more competitive product position. Good marketing research is the single best way to truly know who your customer
is, what they expect from your company, what they want changed, what they like and dislike about your product, how to reach them
and how much they’ll pay for your product.
Customer segmentation data built into a comprehensive marketing plan allows advertisers and marketers to see, hear and touch
the people they’re selling to. They’ll have the right product, the right words, the right images and the right people buying the product.
Copyright Kathryn Lehan 2008. Permission required to reproduce or use anything on this site.
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