If it’s December, it must be Advent

It’s the first of December. What does that mean? An inbox full of seasonal offers, promotions, competitions and giveaways of course.

I love these more than any other marketing hook across the year. And I’m particularly delighted this year that so far only one company has tried to suggest that the 12 Days of Christmas start on December 1st. They don’t. This is Advent. The 12 Days of Christmas come after the big event.

Does this matter really?

Yes, I think it does for the ‘mature’ marketplace. Those of us born in the 1960s or earlier will almost certainly have learned about festive traditions in school. That means most of us know without having to check that all those partridges and leaping lords turned up after Christmas, not before.

Marketers getting it wrong is detrimental to their credibility. I know I’m probably at the far end of the grumpy scale, but if I can’t trust a company to get the facts right on something that is public knowledge, how can I know that anything else they say is reliable?

I don’t buy from businesses that haven’t done the research. Nor do I buy from businesses who can’t get to grips with the use of the apostrophe. People who grew up in my era know about these things, and many do care.

It makes sense not to waste opportunities in the mature market through carelessness and silly mistakes. It’s always important to understand the audience to get the best results.

And now I’m off to enter today’s competitions, click on today’s baubles, and obviously, eat my calendar chocolate.

Challenge your assumptions about ‘older people’

I have an aspiring writing-school-trained author keen to be published on my blog for families with older relatives and friends.

She’s written three pieces now, and I’m still failing to disabuse her of the idea that we all develop dementia the moment we retire.

It’s a shame, because I’m weary of editing her articles to be less blatantly ageist, which means I’m going to say no to more.

This type of actually quite offensive assumption is happening everywhere.

Today there was a GP on the radio suggesting that over 55s can’t use apps. But many of these old codgers have been working with IT from the days when it was called data processing, and it was a lot harder to use back then.

I recognise that people want to categorise and pigeonhole their potential audiences. But so many people are getting it so badly wrong with ‘older people’.

For one thing, we can easily fit two generations of people into this category. The under 70s may well be supporting relatives in their 80s and 90s.

My advice, just based on today’s irritations is to avoid:

  • Considering everyone reaching retirement age to be on a rapid downhill path into senility
  • Thinking that retired people can’t learn new stuff – although they might need to be convinced as to why they should bother
  • Putting one big bracket around everyone from 55 (or thereabouts) and 105, and believing they all have the same needs and aspirations
  • Believing they are all hard-nosed Brexiteers, any more than any other age group
  • Using the word ‘elderly’ more than once in a piece – and then only if your SEO insists

And that is just what’s been frustrating on the radio and in my inbox early on Monday morning. I’ll be back with more no doubt.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Diabetics like to eat out too

Now it’s safe-ish to go out again, we’ve been meeting up with family to eat outside at cafes and restaurants.

One thing we’ve discovered is that the pandemic has given menu planners the chance to get to grips with the trend to veganism.

Before lockdown, we struggled to find meals suitable for our vegan offspring. Yet we’ve eaten out several times in the past few weeks, and we’ve found an amazing choice of plant-based offerings.

That’s great.

So now, restauranteurs and café owners, you next challenge is low-carb choices.

This are the options that would suit people with diabetes. And there’s a growing market out there of people who have been told to reduce their intake of bread, potatoes, pasta and even fruit.

This whole area was something I didn’t know about until I got the warning that I was heading off into Diabetes Type 2 land. If I couldn’t get to grips with my diet and exercise I could find myself on another forever medication, with all its potential side-effects.

So I’ve edited my diet at home quite substantially, but eating out has become a challenge. I’m not a burger and fries person generally, because we stick to what we have been told is healthy eating. And I don’t have much sugar.

So far we’ve found very little choice that’s been designed to be diabetes-friendly. The best you can do is say you’ll have a dish without the fries or indeed any form of potato, or the brioche bun, or the breadsticks …. If it’s a helpful eatery they might offer to replace those with extra veg or salad, or you might just lose out.

But in the end it will be the cafes, bars, restaurants and takeaways that suffer the loss. Because those living with diabetes may choose to stay away.

Is that a problem? Well, two years ago one in ten people over 40 who have been diagnosed as living with Type 2 diabetes, according to Diabetes UK. That’s heading for 5 million people

And the number’s likely to be much higher in reality because many people don’t know yet that they have the condition, or are about to become diabetic. It’s also going to be bolstered by the fact that our population is ageing, and Type 2 diabetes is something that appears with age.

If you’re catering for a broad audience, and especially if you know that the over 40s make up a significant proportion of your customer base, you could be looking more closely at diabetic-friendly meals. And if you’re planning for the future to steal a march on your competitors, this may be a diet choice that you can’t ignore.

Photo by Timothy Barlin on Unsplash

Which older women inspire the over 50s?

When the media go in search of inspirational older women for their cover images and interviews, it does tend to be the same faces coming back on a regular basis. Mostly they are well-known for their long-standing places in the entertainment business.

But a recent survey shows that inspirational stories come from a far broader community. Alongside the well-known and well-rehearsed stories of the likes of Judi Dench, Mary Berry and Joanna Lumley, there are leading lights from politics, academia, campaigning, health, sport, and the Royal Family.

The poll was carried out amongst users of the website Look Fabulous Forever. The company says that the survey shows how much life is left for women past the age of 60, and that careers can still flourish past retirement age. While the site focuses on the over 50s woman, the company argues that these women provide inspiration for all ages.

It is very interesting to note that many of these women have had diverse careers. Some have achieved fame and then used that to drive campaigning on subjects that are close to their hearts. Dame Esther Rantzen is a great example – a TV presenter who has gone on to create and promote the Childline and Silverline charities. Others have built on a first career to take up a second, with Sue Barker as a good example of a sportsperson turned presenter.

Why is this important?

The fact that the poll has listed 60 living older women as role models suggest that those who want to appeal to the mature market should be looking further than the same faces and voices. And that while stars of stage and screen are more often in the public eye and therefore more recognisable, the list of inspiring women covers many walks of life.

Who are the inspiring women?

Featured in the top 60 list are (with many of those featured spanning several of my rather arbitrary categories):

  • TV, film and radio: Dame Judi Dench – 86, Joanna Lumley OBE – 74, Dame Julie Walters – 70, Meryl Streep – 71, Dame Lesley Lawson (Twiggy) – 71, Sandi Toksvig – 62, Oprah Winfrey – 67, Alison Steadman OBE – 74, Angela Rippon CBE – 76, Dame Maggie Smith – 86, Dame Jenni Murray – 70, Baroness Floella Benjamin – 71, Dame Helen Mirren – 75, Lorraine Kelly CBE – 61, Anne Reid MBE – 85, Dame Sheila Hancock – 87
  • Music: Dolly Parton – 75, Annie Lennox OBE – 66, Dame Shirley Bassey – 84, Carole King – 79, Tina Turner – 81
  • Politics: Baroness Betty Boothroyd – 91, Caroline Lucas MP – 60, Angela Merkel – 66, Baroness Shirley Williams – 90, Theresa May MP – 64, Harriet Harman QC MP – 70, Baroness Helena Kennedy – 70
  • Public life: Dame Cressida Dick – 60
  • Health: Professor Wendy Savage – 85, Dr Jenny Harries OBE – 62, Edith Eger – 93, Jane Scullion
  • Science: Dame Jane Goodall – 86, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell – 77
  • Academia: Dame Mary Beard – 66, Germaine Greer – 82,
  • Authors: Dame Hilary Mantel – 68, Dame Jacqueline Wilson – 75, Chi Chi Nwanoku OBE – 64, Margaret Atwood – 81
  • Religion: Rose Hudson-Wilkin MBE – 60
  • Horticulture: Carol Klein – 75, Bunny Guinness – 65
  • Food: Prue Leith CBE – 80, Dame Mary Berry – 85, Delia Smith CBE – 79,
  • Campaigner: Dame Esther Rantzen – 80, Baroness Doreen Lawrence – 71, Dame Joan Bakewell – 87
  • Sport: Lady Mary Peters, Jayne Torvill OBE – 63, Billie Jean King – 77, Sue Barker OBE – 64, Sister Madonna Buder – 90
  • Fashion: Zandra Rhodes CBE – 80, Dame Vivienne Westwood – 79
  • Royalty: Queen Elizabeth II – 94, HRH Princess Anne – 70, Duchess of Cornwall – 73

In case you’re interested

I’ve just reviewed a few of the products from Look Fabulous Forever on the Whey They Get Older blog.

Will vaccination see older shoppers rushing back to the shops?

We’re at the stage in the UK where the over-65s and younger people with ‘underlying conditions’ are being invited to have their first Covid-19 vaccination, with a second potentially happening around May time.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced people who used physical shops to go online. That’s been difficult for those who weren’t internet-savvy. And while internet shopping works well for the weekly supermarket shop – as long as you can get the slots – it’s not ideal for buying clothes or other goods that are much better seen and felt in person.

We’ve also lost the social interaction that shopping in person can bring. If you live alone, just being amongst other people is a boost to mental health.

So now that the end of lockdown is looming, we hope, for later this year, will there be a rush back to the shops for the older generation?

I think not.

Surveys suggest that the pandemic has simply accelerated a trend that was happening anyway, as retail moved to an online model.

The online model is here to stay

Not only have we been forced to shop online from the major retailers who already operated websites, but many of the smaller and independent retailers have had no choice but to set up e-commerce sites or go under. They are unlikely to give up on that investment when the high streets open again.

There is also the fear factor. Despite the fact that many of my acquaintances had our own jabs, no one is in a hurry to hit the shops again. We’ve been listening to the ‘guidance’ for a year, and we’re nervous about mingling, however safe we may be. Even getting a haircut, which is a huge priority next to seeing family, is a scary thought.

This all suggests that we are not going to just go back to retail shopping of pre-Covid times. Retailers will be considering how to move forward, and with the more mature audience taking up a significant and growing percentage of potential customers, it’s an opportunity to be addressed.

A few questions for retailers to consider:

  • Is it an opportunity to reach a new market that hasn’t been online traditionally, and what do you have to offer them?
  • How do you approach a market with plenty of wisdom and life experience that may need hand-holding through the experience but should not be patronised?
  • What technology will make shopping easy for those who aren’t, and don’t wish to be, on top of the latest apps?

Older people aren’t a completely different market. As with any age group, they are just moving along through phases of life.

Successful conversations

As far as content is concerned, it’s really important to get inside the head of your prospective customers. Do your marketing team and copywriters understand and empathise the wide range of aspirations and needs that motivate more mature customers? Do they speak the language of people who have lived and worked through the last 50 or more years?

Style of conversation matters too. For many older people, the human element is important, and they want to pick up a phone. That’s a technology to include in the channel strategy for customer interactions, that can also include email and chat.

If retailers aren’t yet studying the opportunities to attract older buyers, it’s a great time to do so.

Is it worth changing retail models to suit an ageing population?

We don’t know for sure what the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be, or even how long it will last.

What we do know is that it has changed the way we shop, and it seems likely that this change will be enduring.

While the greatest effect is likely to be seen in the highly tech-savvy younger markets, it is taking place amongst older consumers too.

We have an ageing population

In its report on Ageing Matters: the Future of Older Populations, Euromonitor has flagged up some important factors.

In the next 20 years, the global population aged 65+ years is forecast to increase by 600 million, to reach 1.3 billion. This growth will affect the way that economies, societies and businesses evolve.

And older people do have high disposable incomes

Older populations will see their incomes affected, especially if the over 65s lose out in a contracting job market. But against that, older people in Western Europe already enjoy some of the highest incomes in their age groups in the world.

The pandemic has started to break down the technology barriers

The lockdown has forced many older people to become more adept technologically, so that they can connect with others, access vital services and supplies online, and become more confident with shopping on the internet.

How can retailers and service providers build on this opportunity?

There are growth opportunities for businesses who can approach this market successfully.

But there’s still plenty to do to make online buying more accessible. Can retailers and providers re-think their models to make buying simple enough to appeal to this market?

Suppliers need to think about the technology that’s right for older consumers.  I’ve seen a range of ‘solutions’ for web access from mobile devices, from a new top-level operating system over the top of Android to completely re-thought propositions. There needs to be a balance between designing for a novice user while remembering that their ‘technical support’ – family at the end of the phone – will only be familiar with Windows, Android and i-devices.

If older consumers are to have confidence in digital payments, they will need huge support and education in how to secure their accounts and avoid the scammers. This is massive. We see daily how sophisticated criminals can be online, and providers need to take their share of the responsibility for keeping their customers safe.

Why mobility should be a beautiful thing

It must be at least 15 years ago that my folk art painting teacher appeared at class with a walking stick that she had decorated for a friend.

Gone was the boring brown. Instead she’d background painted the cane in a mint green, and then covered it with delicate daisies of white, yellow and blue.

It was gorgeous.

It was also pretty unusual.

Since then I’ve noticed good-looking creeping onto similar products on sale at National Trust shops and the RHS, for example. Places where people who enjoy life but need a little help might choose to visit.

It seems to have been a long time coming, but according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, designers and start-ups are now realising the value of aesthetics alongside practicality for a gently ageing population.

The news service found businesses on both sides of the Atlantic turning their attention to mobility helpers that are lighter, more manageable, and good looking.

Why? It’s partly because the end-user experience has become core to learning design. And also because the group of consumers classed as ‘older’ or ‘less mobile’ are getting on the internet and searching out what they want to own, rather than what other people think they should own. So they want something that’s a pleasure to own and use, and can be a talking point for social contact.

Whether it’s a walking cane, a walker, or another mobility helper, the people who are buying are more discerning and demanding than a generation ago. They are also regularly charged with in many cases being the owners of high disposable incomes. No wonder there’s a growing number of ventures willing to invest in a more beautiful lifestyle for longer lifetimes.

The future of housing with care and support

The shock of lockdown has encouraged many people to re-think their living arrangements.

Older people who live alone have found themselves isolated for months. Loneliness had already been recognised as a real issue for the less mobile and those without family nearby, and being trapped at home has really highlighted mental health issues.

On the other hand, the lack of support for care homes and media attention have made these residential settings look like the last place you’d want to be in a crisis.

That’s left a growing number of people looking for a middle ground, and for many that could be a type of sheltered housing. Organisations contributing to the ICUK conversation around making housing for older adults more inclusive have reported a significant rise in enquiries about their supported and independent living schemes.

But even these communal living arrangements have struggled during the pandemic, as they attempt to protect their residents and staff while still helping them to engage.

So, what can we learn from this experience for future housing for older people?

Social relationships are really important

A strong sense of community is important to the happiness of residents according to respondents to the first phase of the Diversity in Care Environments (DICE) study carried out by the University of Bristol in collaboration with ILC and the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN) about making housing for older adults more inclusive.

Those who answered the survey mentioned a general ethos that makes them feel included, such as community spirit, active get togethers, and friendly neighbours.

Those running sheltered housing facilities point to a communal area as being hugely important. Not only can the space be used to bring residents together for coffee mornings, film showings and much more, but outside agencies can come in to run events, such as exercise classes.

Access to easy technology is a must

One thing we’ve certainly learned from this experience is that technology is going to play a huge role in how people of all ages communicate and interact with the world.

If older people can Zoom or WhatsApp or House Party, they have a much richer way of keeping in touch with family and friends than simply using the phone. If they have safe access to the internet, they can order their groceries and other shopping to be delivered, avoiding the anxiety of not being able to get hold of even essentials.

The NHS is driving towards digital care. Some GP surgeries are talking about stopping their telephone services for repeat prescriptions, and asking patients to order online or in person. That’s not easy if you have restricted mobility or no internet. Video consultations are also on the rise, but you need the technology to benefit.

And for the people who do need the comfort of knowing that help is out there if they do have a problem at home, there are a growing number of technology-based services that can help. While some are phone-based, the availability of the internet is crucial for others.

Some communities do already offer wifi in communal areas, but wifi availability in each residence should become the norm, along with education on how to use the technology.

The whole environment matters

What else could and should feature in housing for older people in the future? The Housing for Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) has already been looking at the bigger picture. Building on their suggestions, there’s a whole list of specifications that can make later life living more enjoyable and safe:

  • Space inside a home to enable people to be active
  • Room for live-in carers
  • The importance of natural light, offering the opportunity watch the world go by
  • Balconies that offer an outside space and fresh air if no other open spaces are available
  • Access to open spaces as gardens, parks or allotments
  • Front door designs that allow for infection control in general and safe deliveries in particular
  • Affordable, energy-efficient and easy-to-control heating
  • Extra storage space outside the residence
  • Parking for cars, bikes, mobility scooters, and access to other transport

That’s quite a wish list, especially for residences that are already built. And clearly offering a wide range of facilities is at odds with trying to provide affordable homes. It’s a challenge for developers and local authorities who need to be planning for an ageing population.


Mature audiences care about words

The language we use to talk to our audiences can make or break our credibility.

And with the disposable income of the over 50s calculated to be a significant catch, it’s worth taking time to think about the right words.

The BBC recently asked its audience about the language that they didn’t like. This was followed up in a major social media group, who identify as Radio 4 listeners who aren’t all middle-aged. (But they probably are.) A vast generalisation is that this audience is reasonably well educated, and while accepting that language evolves, still want ‘good’ English from communicators, that’s not simply a stream of buzz words.

Here are a few of the terms that were mentioned repeatedly as enough to throw your radio out of the window. If they excite that much wrath, they won’t be working to the good in your marketing communications either.

Going forward. First example of an unnecessary complication. Just because it’s used everywhere doesn’t make it right.

So … I’m guilty of this one, but it drives others nuts. Starting sentences, or even completely new topics, with ‘So’ is a habit that can get far too much.

Pre-book, pre-order, pre-prepare. My contribution. Who decided to put that pre- on verbs that are perfectly adequate as they stand? It annoys me enough that if a theatre or bookshop invites me to pre-anything, I don’t on principle, even if I want to. (We mature people can be like that.)

Very unique. It either is or it isn’t.

Quite unique. See above.

Was stood. Was sat. This is the passive voice. That means if I was sat, someone else has sat me there. Otherwise I was sitting. People like me do get very exercised over this, and it doesn’t matter that it’s ubiquitous and the argument is that it should therefore be accepted. It hurts when we see it written down. Admittedly, this does also come under the heading of regional differences, which is a completely different matter.

The verbing of nouns. (See what I did there?) As someone pointed out, ‘medalling’ seemed to become a word at the 2012 Olympics. Now the practice is everywhere, and we don’t like it.

Low hanging fruit. Just one example of phrases that get thrown in without deep thought, and therefore is seen as lazy. It’s also verging on marketing speak, which we don’t want in our consumer communications, thank you very much.

Room 101. Like ‘low hanging fruit’ it’s a contagious phrase that has spread everywhere. Other examples are available.

World beating. Dislike of this one is a criticism of a certain type of politician who thinks all of life is a competition. The danger of anyone else using the term is guilt by association.

World class. I come across this regularly in B2B marketing. Not anywhere as bad is ‘word beating’, but what does it actually mean?

Killer app. What do they kill?

Off of. Uggh.

Literally. Regularly used when the writer means anything but literally. I literally laughed my head off.

Challenges. I was quite surprised that this offended some. We talk about ‘challenges’ in B2B marketing because no one wants to talk about ‘problems’. I have been in the business long enough to remember when IBM said there are no such things as problems, only opportunities. I have no idea if people believed them.

It is hard to use the language of a group of people to which you don’t belong. I do understand. I struggled with writing for millennials on a car insurance project, and had to call on help from some current 20+ friends to take the patronising out of the copy.

It’s important to get the tone right for any audience. Mature consumers can be a demanding bunch, so checking your communications meet their approval is a worthwhile task.

Read more of my thoughts on copywriting for businesses of every size.

Visit my website for families with older relatives and friends.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels.

Do you need over 50s marketers to reach an over 50s audience?

This is a question that’s turned up in an excellent article in Marketing Week about marketing to the over 50s.

The piece covers much of the ground that I’ve discussed before.

  1. The over 50s is a massively broad general category that encompasses many tastes and often two generations in a single family
  2. Even if you narrow the age group, the interests of that group are still wide and various, and not tied to their age
  3. When people hit 50, some may be interested in ads for funeral plans and stair lifts, but most don’t see any relevance to their lives.

The extra question that Marketing Week poses is whether you need people with experience of being over 50 to understand the audience sufficiently to market successfully to them.

This is a really good question, but are we just going down the same path as those who lump all “older people” into one category?

The respondents in the article took the view that interests and experience are more important than age in marketing.

I think that’s true of marketers too. What we, the aforesaid over 50s need, is people with understanding and a positive attitude.

Let’s take understanding, and break down the market. If you take a group of people who, say, have no dependents, but are still gainfully employed, can a marketer predict what their spending priorities will be? Saving for retirement and care home fees? Conspicuous expenditure on quality living? And can you do that for multiple groups of people over 50? Surveys help, and some businesses have been at pains to research the market effectively.

Then there’s attitude, and this is where I think marketing can come undone. I remember, in my first major freelance copywriting gig, being asked to recruit a video expert, and my client expressing absolute horror that I had found someone with white hair. It’s a very unsubtle example of something that is pervasive in many organisations. Young is good, intelligent, adaptable etc etc. Older is dull, uninspiring, inflexible, unadmired. It’s not obvious everywhere, but it’s there enough for it to spill into marketing campaigns addressing those so uncool older people.

My view, then, is that you don’t need to be over 50 to market to the over 50s, any more than you need to be a small child to market to small children. But an open mind and a desire to understand without prejudice are vital.

Photo by ieva swanson on Unsplash