THE COMING GERIATRIC INVASION: The Aging of the American Marketplace

Michael Tummillo

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Recently, the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce presented a seminar entitled, “Reaching the Hispanic Population. " The gist of the message? “The Hispanics are coming! The Hispanics are coming!" The marketplace had better get ready because the browning of America is happening VERY quickly and, as a whole, many of us are very unfamiliar with this market.

But something else is happening on a daily basis and it is no respecter of businesses. It has been effecting marketing trends at a very slow and steady pace, well. . . from time in memoriam. What is this trend? It's the WRINKLING of America.

One need not pour over demographic surveys in order to detect this change. Frankly, a quick look in the mirror is all it takes for most of us. One look at today's advertising messages can be very revealing as well. Anti-aging, wrinkle disguising lotions, white haired, flat-bellied couples walking hand-in-hand along the beach, mature spokespeople giving us that “been-there-done-that-try-it-THIS-way" look that inspires trust. Prescription pharmaceuticals, too, are everywhere, enough to make you sick!

Experts expect that, in the next decade, the under-50 crowd will increase 1.5%. At the same time, the over-50 population will increase 41%. Many marketers are concerned about which segment they should be gearing the majority of their advertsiing dollar. My opinion? Unless your marketing is geared toward those who are genuine children in comparison (school kids, college kids, recent college grads), ALL marketing will have to take the needs of our maturing adult society into consideration. As an old school ad writer myself, if I were trying to market to this group, I'd be writing with empathy, asking older people what THEY want and need. If they needed a car with a lower threshold, I'd design one. An inexpensive computer with huge keys? Consider it done. Valet or covered parking? Give it to ‘em! Earlier hours? A special menu? It will be worth the investment. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

For starters, they're my parents, a couple of wonderful over-70 individuals who just moved into town. They're also ‘me’ as I am getting closer to 50 than 40 with every second. Aside from brief annual visits and a weekly phone call or eMail, I haven't really observed my folks as they've matured over the past 25 years. When did this metamorphosis occur? In the two months that they've lived here, I can tell you from personal, up-close and personal experience, they're different. But so am I.

Marketers beware: There is no single “Mature Market. " To be effective, one must understand which sub-segment we're targeting and the specific needs and desires of the group that makes up that segment. What do I mean? Let me explain. . . there are three major sub-segments of the Mature Market. These include:

* Pre-retirees: Age 50 until retirement at about age 62.

* Active retirees: From retirement until the mid-70s.

* Seniors: Though we used to call anyone over 50 a “senior, " that term has no application until at least the mid-70s these days. We must recognize “senior" as a state of mind rather than a chronological curse. In other words, “they" aren't all the same.

Categorizing and recognizing these three segments is only half the battle. The other half involves really digging into the backgrounds and needs of the market filling those sub-segments. As the Baby Boomers get older, the rules for marketing to any given age group are changing. Just as the Boomers rewrote the communications instruction manuals for 20 to 40-year-olds, today they are changing how we view 50-year olds. Tomorrow, it will be the 60- and 70-year olds.


No serious marketer should consider approaching the Mature Market unless he or she is ready to enter into a relationship with them. Few successful marketers enter this arena with a single-sale mindset. Although, as George Burns quipped, at their age, many may not even buy a green banana, believe it or not, the key here is in understanding that the Mature Market is most likely to be interested in a longer-term relationship.

So, what about relational marketing? Much of that relationship is based upon written materials and, especially in the active retiree and senior crowds, where your prospects have the time and interest to read what you write, that is, if it's truly interesting to them. Relational marketing for the mature should be based on new information and knowledge. This market wants to learn new things about the world. So, give it to them. With fewer words and larger type if necessary.

The mature consumer is wise enough to know that they have many choices. They are the grapefruit squeezers among us, least like to buy everything that's being sold to them. They will do research, talk it over with friends and ask questions. Many are living life in a daily survival mode and are quite cautious. They will not do business with you if you patronize them or don't supply the answers. Heaven help the business that fails to offer the level of customer service they grew up on - or the kind they themselves provided to others “back in the day. " With this group, you shouldn't try to “hype" or over-promote. They won't fall for it. Though it may lead to an occasional short-term sale, ultimately, it will negatively impact your bottom line.

Oddly enough, there may be some companies who will mistakenly say, “We need not concern ourselves with the Mature Market. They buy the same things everyone else. " Au contraire! Though the 50-plus population wants to be treated like anyone else - for who among us wants to be categorized as “old"? - their actual physical and emotional needs are different.

You, as a marketer, should make yourself aware of what makes this market tick and should plan new products, services and communicative methods for capitalizing on the unique differences. Perhaps, by doing so, you will be able to capitalize on the power of the group that holds 77% of all America's assets today, whose disposable income doesn't peak until almost the age of 70 and who truly desires to hear from you - so long as you aren't wasting their increasingly precious time.

They're coming, headed toward you as quick as they can get there, with several bathroom stops along the way.

Michael Tummillo, Communications Director for the Award-Winning Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, Stephenville, TX. Tummillo has served as a Creative Director and Copywriter for nearly a quarter century in the DFW Ad Biz.


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