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.

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

Supermarkets are beginning to embrace their older customers

There are great moves afoot to address the needs of older consumers in retail.

It’s a rapidly growing market and according to new research from AgeUK, going to the supermarket gives nearly 2.5 million older people a reason to get out of the house.

Over a million over 60s visit a supermarket every day, says the report, and a further 5.3 million go at least 2-3 times per week.

Age UK is calling on retailers to train staff to recognise older people who may be lonely and chat to them.

That’s something that’s built in to the ethos of some supermarkets already. Our local Waitrose has always been a place to find conversation at the till if you want it and no hint of being hurried. On the other hand, Aldi staff are pleasant but goods fly through their hands as they speed process their customers.

Just last week we heard about slow tills at Tesco. It’s an experiment in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Scotland to help shoppers with dementia, but could be of value to all customers who enjoy a slower shop with conversation and help.

Not every disability is visible

That’s not the only positive news from Tesco. It’s one of several supermarkets that are changing the way disabled toilets are labelled to highlight the fact that not every disability is visible. The aim is increase awareness of the many reasons why shoppers might need to use facilities that are more accessible.

AgeUK has more on the agenda for local retailers and businesses. The charity would like to see greater awareness promoted amongst staff of local services that can help, and store policies which help front line staff to become volunteer befrienders, making regular visits and telephone calls.

 

Does your marketing take account of the growing number of over 65s?

Customer service feedback

When I encourage businesses to take account of an ageing population to boost their success, I’m not talking about getting rich quick from a captive audience.

What I believe businesses in any area should be doing is understanding the changing marketplace and making adjustments accordingly.

Take going online. There are around 4.5 million over-65s in the UK who are not online. Why? They may not have the skills, they’re very rightly worried about security, or they may struggle with the dexterity, vision or memory that makes online shopping, banking or using any services difficult. Or, like my dad, they may simply refuse to go any further than an electric typewriter.

So financial institutions, retailers, utilities and more can go one of three ways. They can ignore the changes in the shape of their market. They can take an opportunity (as many are already doing) to make more money by charging more for offline transactions and argue that they are simply covering costs.

Or they can take a hard look at how they interact with their market and make adjustments to win more share through a better experience for all. It’s a losing strategy to assume that everyone of any importance has a mobile phone and a Facebook account, or is even internet-enabled. More worthwhile is to think about which channels work best for different segments of the population. Which messages are most relevant to this growing older audience? How can you demonstrate that you are a credible provider while protecting your customers from those who seek to steal and destroy?

We’re always talking about the customer experience and how customers expect the best. Older people deserve the best too, and that’s a long-term strategy for businesses who want to stay around and build their reputation wisely.