Names and Half-dozen Changes…



by Richard Ambrosius

Isn’t it amazing? It took the 50th birthday parties of a few thousand leading edge baby boomers for corporate America and the mainstream media to wake up to the fact that the median age of adults in the US increased by about a decade while they weren’t looking. Now, two years later, articles and conference topics on the typical boomer proliferate. Well the typical boomer, like the typical senior, is much like the typical snowflake

What do we call them? Are they like other older people? What does this mature market want? How do we tweak our ads to get the attention of these new older folk? As the market potential becomes more and more obvious, a plethora of consultants, authors and seminars are pontificating on how to capture this elusive, elder beast. Many will offer four easy steps or six simple typologies that will insure success in the aging marketplace.

Well, this complex market defies simple, structured solutions; yet is easy to understand if you can dismiss the concepts learned serving the youth dominated markets of the past. The self absorbed, techno-toyed boomer will enter later life with the same value system as preceding generations…only in a different context dictated by life experiences.

An associate in New York recently told me about a meeting of corporate executives who spent the better part of an hour discussing what to call these mature consumers? An hour? Until now it was ok to call customers, customers. I can only imagine the discussion. “What about senior, mature adult or MUPPIE (mature upwardly mobile professionals)? Sure, let us call the old ones seniors and the others juniors! Let’s do some research and see what people prefer to be called.” Well, I can only speak for me; but I prefer either Richard or Mr. Ambrosius, thank you very much.

I am not complaining. My business is to help others succeed in the maturing marketplace. If there is any secret, it is training sales, fund-raising, public relations, and marketing personnel on how the maturing consumer thinks. How they process your messages differently than adults under age 45. If you believe those who portend that boomers will be teenagers or hippies for life, you will regret that decision.

Still, too many age 20 and 30 something creative types have gone to one seminar or workshop on the demographics and returned to pump out high quality, creative ads and brochures that present age as seen through the eyes of the young. Why not ask a man to explain what it feels like to give birth; it is about as meaningful. This is not a criticism of creative talent; but merely an observation that a majority of ads targeting middle age and older adults are screened out/ignored by the mature mind.

Since we seem to be a list driven culture, I offer one. Not steps to success in older markets, but half-dozen changes that begin influencing consumer behavior in midlife and become more pronounced as we age. These changes are founded in the research and writings of mature consumer behavior specialist, David B. Wolfe and reinforced by my own 27 years experience learning from, working with/for and marketing to older adults:

1. Rely less on reason and more on intuition cued by emotional visuals, copy and concepts. Use images that promote strong, positive emotional responses such as intergenerational photos, nostalgic images, and Rockwell style photos that tell a story. Relationship building must precede presentation of a service or product because relationships are emotionally based (gut feelings) rather than rationally deduced.  Both visuals and copy should communicate an interest in the whole person, not just a side that may need a particular product or service. Avoid depictions of older consumers in flat, single dimension contexts, such as using or talking about the product without reference to a larger context of the person’s life experience. Communicate with people – not segments.

2. Make a good first impression (always emotionally based). Experienced older adults form first impressions more quickly and resist reversing them. Just ask yourself, do you become less and less tolerant of bad service with each birthday? I have asked that question to thousands at seminars and the answer is a resounding yes. This is not because we become less tolerant; but because we know what we want. Age makes us more sensitive to images that can stimulate negative first impressions; especially if the image conflicts with a positive self-image or threatens our personal autonomy.

3. Once you gain their attention, the older consumer will want more information than when they were younger. Older adults read warranties, guarantees, and insurance policies; but only after they have decided they are worth reading. The marketer must present an emotional appeal when most advantageous, then shift to hard or objective information. However, let the consumer drive the process. Give them no more than needed or wanted. Brain science has proven that emotion increases adrenaline flow, which increases long-term memory. 

4. Because the mind’s processing speed for objective information slows with age, deliver objective information (e.g., product benefits and features, technical information, etc.) at a slow to moderate pace. Avoid jump cuts and incomplete sentences in narrative copy or radio and television spots. If the consumer is interested, the length of the copy will not be a barrier . . .a negatively perceived headline or visual could be. Due to a lifetime of experiences, the processing speed for subjective information increases. That knowledge alone will increase your direct mail response rate when you discover how to lead with emotional appeals and follow with the facts.

5. Maturing consumers become more resistant to absolute propositions and directive language. The new generation of mature adults, especially boomers, grew up with television ads, exaggerated claims and hyperbole. They have heard it all. They want fact-filled information; but prefer to draw their own conclusions. Information on companies and products should be presented in a qualified, even deferential manner. When you use directive language, urgency strategies or exclusionary terms, you threaten the consumer’s autonomy and the mind begins experientially screening out your message.

6. Maturing consumers more quickly grasp metaphorical meanings, nuances and subtleties using subjective information processing. Unlike the objective presentations that worked with younger consumers, marketers need to take advantage of greater sensitivity to subtlety by expanding the content of the message and thus its perceived attractiveness. By using less specific language to describe products or services, the consumer can use their own creative processes to define the product in the context of their reality and life experience. This can be accomplished using nonverbal symbols such as the flag, babies, sunset, playful children, pets, hugs, smiles, holding hands, doves etc. Likewise, the mature consumer is more receptive to narrative-styled presentations of information. Therefore, make greater use of story-telling techniques to get information across.

Since so few companies have targeted the mature consumer, absolute evidence on what works best in this changing consumer market is limited. Some companies have explored the mature market using traditional methods only to conclude there was little potential because consumers failed to respond. They blamed neither the messenger nor the message. It seems they blamed the intended recipient. Others have invested thousands of dollars to teach sensitivity to their personnel without ever developing an empathetic understanding of the mature consumer and their decision-making processes.

As businesses continue to track the elusive elder beast, there will no doubt be varying degrees of success. This article does not call into question the approaches that have worked so well in previous decades, as they were very appropriate in the dominant youth market. However, yesterday ended last night and new approaches must be tested and improved before we can advance the state-of-the-art.

Those who are willing to look outside the box as they explore new approaches to communicating their offers will dominate their respective markets for the next 20 years. They are the visionaries who seek long-term success over short-term security.

Richard (Dick) Ambrosius is Vice President of Marketing Communications for PRAXEIS of Jacksonville, FL. For the past 27 years, he has been an outspoken advocate of positive aging and ageless marketing. For more information, call 904-381-0433 or visit www.praxeis.com.



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