What Products And Providers Do Older Adults Want? Insights On An Underserved Marketplace

New survey study by Age of Majority, professionals in advertising and marketing to more mature customers, leaves very little doubt that shoppers in excess of 50 are not being offered adequate awareness by entrepreneurs. Without a doubt, the survey of 931 older adults exhibits that 53% of doing the job adults believe that buyers 50 and about are currently being disregarded by marketers. The main motives cited for older shoppers being underserved are ageist stereotypes, the thought that young consumers are a lot easier to relate to, and an underestimation of their paying out electricity.

Centered on Age of Majority’s study, coupled with information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Spending Survey (2021), investing power of each Gen-X and Baby Boomers is significantly underestimated. Gen-Z (<25), for example, accounts for just three percent of actual overall spending but consumers estimate the figure to be 24%. Meanwhile, Gen-X (42-57) and Baby Boomers (58-76) collectively account for 63% of spending, but are only estimated by consumers to spend a combined 37% of total expenditures.

Unfortunately, these misperceptions about spending power seem to be reflected in marketer efforts to reach these age groups as well, with limited attention being paid to how to effectively serve the wants and needs of older consumers. Thus, the feeling among older consumers that they are being ignored is not surprising given the under allocation of corporate resources and marketing efforts against this audience.

Multiple research studies have documented a disconnect between advertising/marketing efforts and what older adults need. For example, an AARP study of 2,826 adults found that 62% of older people still feel ads have unrealistic representations of the over 50s, and nearly half (47%) agree that “ads of people my age reinforce outdated stereotypes.”

On the academic side, a recent paper published in Journal of Advertising by Martin Eisend found that, despite increasing market size and buying power, older consumers are an understudied group. Simply said, there is an imbalance of focus and investment in older consumers based on their actual spending power.

According to Jeff Weiss, CEO (Chief EvAGElist Offer) of Age of Majority, “There is a real discrepancy between what the business world says and their actions. Over half of our survey respondents consider a greater focus on adults 50+ (who account for 52% of consumer spending) to be a growth priority, yet less than 30% of their marketing spend is targeting this relatively affluent group.”

Weiss notes that in terms of better serving older consumers, businesses would be well served to understand research insights on this market. A key point to come out of Age of Majority’s research studies include findings that older consumers want to be independent and live as autonomously as they can.

It is also the case that certain types of technology are a significant factor that can help them to maintain autonomy. AgeTech, or technology that is developed to help older adults live longer, happier and healthier lives is a key component to enabling older adults to thrive at home (and to maintain – as much as possible – their current lifestyles). New AgeTech technology is being developed across a wide variety of categories including areas such as health management, socialization, home maintenance and personal growth and development through AI.

While adoption rates of this technology can vary dramatically by application, many AgeTech products do not reach their full potential with older adults as the user experience they offer does not meet expectations. Weiss notes that developers would be wise to create a better user experience that is more empowering and encouraging to older adults, making them more excited to embrace them. He points to a gap that exists between what product developers think older adults care about vs. what older adults really want.

To get a better understanding of some of these gaps, Weiss collaborated with Dr. Richard Caro, CEO and Co-Founder of Tech-enhanced Life, PBC — a public benefit corporation with the mission of improving quality of life for older adults and their families — to do qualitative research on a group of Longevity Explorers. The Longevity Explorers are a unique sharing, evaluation, and ideation community — made up of older adults (in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s), and their friends, families, and caregivers, distributed throughout North America.

“One of the strongest recurring themes when we do projects helping company development teams refine their prototypes or explore the unmet needs of older adults,” says Caro, “is how shocked the developers and marketers are when they discover the huge gap between their prior perceptions of older adults and the reality they hear when they listen to the explorers.”

The session provided a glimpse into the lives of older adults and how technology helps them live their lives more independently. The use of AgeTech varied greatly depending on the specific circumstances of each Longevity Explorer but some of the more common applications were: Smart speakers to get weather/news updates and to help manage household tasks (e.g., turning off or dimming lights) Smartphone apps for online banking and to meet their transportation/mobility needs Tracking of overall health vitals including sleep patterns Home security and Communication with friends and family.

One thing that the Longevity Explorers did have in common was frustration with some of the technology that was developed without input from end users like them. For example, one 81-year old participant in the discussion recounted how she had broken her femur and, although she was able to call for help, she was concerned with emergency personnel having to break down her front door to get inside her home (leading her to literally have to crawl to the door). She noted how this would have been obviously impossible had she been unconscious, so suggested a smart app that works in conjunction with fall detection (as used in an Apple Watch) to both detect a fall, call for help and unlock the front door.

Weiss suggests specific actions marketers can take to better appeal to adults 50 (who control over 50% of all consumer spending), that include:

  1. Challenging assumptions about older consumers, consider what they are based on and how they impact research/analysis/product development strategy and marketing
  2. . Integrating feedback from a range of older adults into the innovation pipeline early in the process (and baking it into processes so there is consistency in action internally among departments)
  3. Think bigger picture in addressing the needs of older consumers: understand their lives, potential needs (now and later on) and their outlook at a higher level to understand opportunities (not just for tech product innovation, but for marketing, potential partnerships, etc.)
  4. Considering how older consumers will interface with technology and how you can help them to help themselves, so technology is empowering, not discouraging or intimidating
  5. Getting feedback from older adults at every step, including during the creative process in advertising

Weiss believes that taking these steps is realistic. It is notable that contradictory data came out of the Age of Majority survey regarding attitudes related to younger consumers (under the age of 35). On the one hand, almost 2/3 of respondents believe that younger consumers are less brand loyal (compared to older adults), yet over 70% believe that they are worth more because you can get them young and keep them for life.

“I chalk this up to FOMO,” says Weiss. “Not Fear Of Missing Out but Fear Of Marketing Older. No one ever got fired for suggesting that you market to young consumers over older ones.” Clearly, this fear needs to be overcome to better serve older consumers.