There’s one more thing the average marketeer can now be sure of – in addition to death and taxes, the population ageing is here to stay.
We are witnessing a demographic shift without parallel in human history—and the twenty-first century will witness even more rapid ageing still; as a UN report states, “In absolute terms, the number of older persons has tripled over the last 50 years and will more than triple again over the next 50 years”.
This is a global phenomenon – albeit with countries at very different stages of the process and different paces of change – so whilst Europe, North America and Japan might be ahead of the curve, the rest of the world is sure to follow. And as Sarah Harper, Professor of Gerontology at Oxford University, has pointed out – this trend is enduring: “It is unlikely that we will see a return to population structures dominated by young people. In that sense [the 21st century] will be the last century to see the youthful demographies which the human race has experienced to date.”
So there is a growing population, with specific needs, and – as a group – high disposable income; sure this is a marketing and innovation dream? Yet from our research with this audience they feel they’re being badly served by most companies and brands – either ignored (perhaps considered too old to change) or mis-targeted (treated as if they’re in their 40s for example).
The reasons are myriad. Most innovators or marketeers in our world are in their 20s, 30s and 40s and lack a real understanding and empathy with what it means to be going through the life changes that come with entering ones ‘senior years’. This is compounded by the fact that few research studies focus on (or even cover) over 60s: how often does one find data that only takes account of those up to 65 yrs old – or if it goes further lumps this diverse group all together.
The result is that all too often our view is superficial – a view of what old age looks like from our perspective, rather than a real understanding of what it looks like from the target’s viewpoint: as one consumer said to us “It’s a young person describing what it is you need…..those dreadful words just make you cringe, you think: ‘That just doesn’t apply to me’.”
The world of innovation and marketing – whether client or agency side – needs to realise this is a serious blind spot. If we can develop a more sophisticated and contemporary view of what it means to be in ones late 50s, 60s, 70s and upwards, we can create genuinely positive offers that help this audience better live the lives they want to lead and generate new growth opportunities for business. As part of our contribution to this effort, over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the changing nature of ‘old age’ and – in practical terms – some of the things businesses can do to adapt to this demographic shift.
Senior consumers are keen to be heard and have plenty to say, indeed we have found they are delighted to co-create alongside businesses to tailor ideas and messages to better suit their needs. We need to wake up to the inevitable: the age of the ageing consumer is not just coming, it’s already here.