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

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.

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

The grannies are grumbling – and who can blame them?

paper bags near wall

Photo by on

Gransnet has just produced a report citing what people over 50 know – but many marketers are still failing to grasp. “Mature” consumers are not one step from the grave and only thinking about recliner chairs, funeral plans and who’s going to get the money when they’re gone.

We over 50s don’t come as an homogenous lump. In reality we’re probably more varied as a generation as any other. We’re interested in what’s on offer, but we don’t blindly follow fashion trends to fit in. Many of us have more disposable income than at any other time in our lives.

And for many of us, we have dropped the responsibilities of caring first for children and then older relatives, and we are free to spend our time and our money where we want to.

All that begs the question, why do we feel so dismissed? According to some of the respondents of the Gransnet survey, it’s because the younger marketers simply don’t understand this market.

Will parents follow adult offspring into clean living?


As the parent of two mid-20s children, I’ve tended to see them as brave but unusual in not being part of the drinking culture. What’s more, while one smokes (sigh), he’s also a dedicated vegan.

But it turns out they’re not at all unusual these days, and I suspect that this growing band of “clean lifers” will affect the way their baby boomer parents view their choices in the future.

Here’s why.

The clean lifer concept is one I’ve picked out from a report by Euromonitor International on the Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2018.

According to the report, the group clustered around educated 20-29 year olds are eschewing clubbing for more minimalistic lifestyles. With strong ideals they believe they can make a difference, and are saying no to alcohol, unhealthy habits, animal-based products and the need to impress through ownership.

At the same time, family is very important to this group, especially in countries like the UK and the USA, where the cost of leaving the family home has become prohibitive for many. As a result of this close relationship, adult children and their parents are choosing to share experiences more, such as travelling to new places.

It seems to me that it’s very likely that these relationships will in due course see those views and actions of the younger generation being reflected in their own parents’ behaviour.

Although my children don’t live with us, the subjects that concern them are constant topics of conversation when we meet. I’ve learned more about the rationale (and emotions) behind veganism in the last six months than I have in nearly 60 years. Don’t tell my son, but I may be converted over time – though it’s hard to know how to make meals interesting without meat and dairy when you don’t enjoy the heat of spices.
It’s an interesting question for the food and drink market though. If the baby boomers and more follow the lead of their adult children, will we see a downturn in the alcohol intake of older people? We’ve seen a move in many groups towards meat-free days. Will dairy follow suit?

Why retailers are mad to ignore the older consumer


Consumers shopping for clothesThere’s a very interesting article in Property Week* underlining my argument that retailers and providers of goods of services in general really need to start taking the growing older population more seriously.

The magazine teamed up with retail real estate loyalty and marketing specialist Coniq to take a hard look at whether retailers are focusing enough on the growing spending power of older consumers, and found plenty of room for improvement.

The report points out that the “grey pound” accounts for more than £320bn of all UK consumer spending and that the over-50s hold more than 75% of the nation’s wealth. Over a three-year period the over 50s spent 42% more on retail goods than other age groups and, very surprisingly, 66% more than millennials.

And yet it’s these millennials that are at the heart of marketing for shopping centre landlords and their retail tenants.

Some 80% of the almost untapped market of over 50s don’t relate to current marketing, feeling ignored or even patronised, according to BNP Paribas Real Estate research.

When retailers do look at the older generation, it’s often with very dated perspectives. People are living longer and there are easily two generations in what was once a general “old people” category. There are the “old old” who have lived through austerity and the younger baby boomers “young old” who have enjoyed times of plenty – and their respective needs, desires and behaviours are quite different.

The newly retired have more disposable income right now, and they’re spending it in areas such as travel, well-being, healthcare and home maintenance.

This latest generation of older consumers are looking for more authenticity, transparency and environmental responsibility from their providers, and are looking more for services than products. When they do shop for fashion, for example, they still want style but to fit their changing shapes.

According to the article retailers in other countries around the world are making more effort to provide services that appeal to the oldest consumer. That includes putting on events in shopping malls such as health tests, hobby workshops, financial services advice and even dating evenings. Some shops are meeting the needs with wider aisles and non-slip floors as well as targeted offers. Subliminal actions like turning off the piped music, slowing the escalators and turning the lighting up at quiet times are helping to attract and maintain loyalty.

What could be done in the UK? Experts suggest subtle zoning of shopping malls to make them more accessible to older shoppers who are starting to experience less mobility.

But what should be borne in mind is that there is plenty of difference between the newly retired consumer in their 60s and those who are 20 or 30 years older and they should not be consigned to a single category.

Equally, retailers and service providers ignore older people at their peril. As Ben Chesser of Coniq points out “If I told our clients we’d identified a group that accounted for 30% of retail spend they’d be jumping through hoops to engage with them.”

  • Article requires (not easy) registration.

Using property to fund retirement

Are people depending on downsizing to fund retirement?

Are homeowners selling up to fund retirement – or not?

The not entirely disinterested parties around the insurance and pensions market have been busy surveying the population heading into retirement to find out how they plan to support themselves.

Despite regular encouragement to think again and plan broadly for retirement, some surveys are finding that homeowners will be selling up and downsizing.

The Royal London reports that up to 3 million people are planning to rely on their homes for a pension. Even more of those interviewed by Aviva have the same intention, with six million homeowners over 45 seeing their homes as pivotal to their retirement plans. Some 69% of Aviva’s respondents say their homes are worth more than their combined pension, savings and investments.

Yet research from Aegon has found that 74% of homeowners would only use their homes as a last resort to provide a retirement income and that 53% are still hoping to leave their homes to their loved ones. In Aegon’s survey, 21% were hoping their own inheritance will help fund their retirement.

So who’s right?

There are plenty of grey areas. House prices across the country still show distinct differentials, so those in the southeast who choose to quit and move to cheaper areas could feel real benefits. For many though that may not deliver the hoped-for value. Steve Webb, ex-pensions minister, called it a “delusion” when launching the Royal London report.

There are also plenty of issues around whether people will be in a position to downsize. Retirees may find they still have family living with them who have been unable to get onto the property ladder but still need to stay in the area for their jobs.

At the same time, moving into purpose-built retirement housing is not necessarily going to release much capital. The sale price of a slightly run-down house and the purchase price of a retirement apartment may actually be surprisingly similar. And this market has slowed at least temporarily in the run up to the European Referendum.

Yet it looks like the trend may have already started. Legal & General’s latest results show its equity release business had overtaken annuity sales in the last six months, with the company selling more equity release products in the first half of 2016 than in the whole of its first year in the business last year.

Image: GraphicStock