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Connections Q&A: Communications Challenges in the Longevity Market

Stria Staff June 18, 2018

There’s a burst of new opportunities for organizations and businesses seeking to serve older Americans—but many struggle to effectively communicate with and engage older consumers in a way that avoids clichés and ageist traps. What do you see as the biggest challenge when it comes to messaging and communications?

Stria’s “Connections Q&A” series gathers perspectives from across the field on a single topic. Here, we asked Martha Boudreau of AARP, Marci Alboher of Encore.org, Sherri Snelling of Caregiving Club, Paul Kleyman of the Journalists Network on Generations and Ann Arnoff Fishman of Generational Targeted Marketing to share their advice on how to meet the challenge of communicating in the Longevity Market. Here’s what we heard.

Martha Boudreau, Executive Vice President & Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, AARP

As AARP said in its Longevity Economy report, delivering products and services to people 50 and older is a $7.6 trillion opportunity. We are happy that some business sectors have awoken to that opportunity. But the fundamental challenge for those companies isn’t communications—it’s creating real value that improves the lives of older consumers.

The fact is, communicating effectively with older consumers isn’t much different than communicating with other age groups. Of course, people of different ages may gravitate to different communications channels. But the essentials are the same: Be authentic, accurate and clear. Focus on value, utility and ease of use. That’s what 20-year-olds are looking for and it’s what 70-year-olds are looking for, too.

If companies want older people to buy their products, they should do the work necessary to understand the needs and wants, concerns and aspirations of those consumers. Then they should make high-quality products that serve them and provide world-class service.

It can’t be about marketing gimmicks or clever messages. What consumers of all ages want is good value. Companies that deliver will be successful.

Marci Alboher, Vice President, Strategic Communications, Encore.org

Don’t assume that “older” is monolithic. There are vast differences across generations and culture. Talk to people based on their interests and your service or product, not their age. But also talk to them where they are—using the right media outlets, Facebook, etc.—and in type-size that someone over fifty can read.

And whatever you do, avoid euphemisms; that’s just ageism under cover.

Sherri Snelling, Founder/CEO, Caregiving Club

Both large health care companies and small start-up aging technology ventures need help engaging with their potential customer or client. Successful communications strategies are no longer linear but two-way interactive conversations.

In the longevity marketplace, you most likely have two target customers: the senior who needs care and the family caregiver who makes 85 percent of the purchase decisions, especially in health care. The caregiver is a crucial influencer not to be overlooked. Millennial and male caregivers are on the rise, so use mobile tools to communicate with this tech-savvy generation. Seniors are more tech savvy than most companies expect.

Paul Kleyman, National Coordinator, Journalists Network on Generations (JNG)

Businesses, nonprofits and agencies would do well to work collegially with media outlets. Rather than merely to promote their narrow interests, private entities can gain much by working more expansively with media to garner public feedback that can help inform their development.

Build relationships with reporters who seem to look beyond a quick quote. Spend more time providing them background and suggesting other sources for the wider story around your entrepreneurial focus. Encourage more and better journalism that does the legwork to hear personal stories and reveal concerns. That may help your business anticipate issues and make strategic course corrections.

Ann Arnoff Fishman, President, Generational Targeted Marketing LLC

When trying to engage and connect with the older population, the biggest mistake is underestimating the importance of Generation X, people between 37 to 57. Gen X’ers are the caretakers and decision makers, even with healthy, active older adults. They are overlooked but powerful and you have to market to them too.

Gen X’ers are the children of divorce, the latchkey kids. They grew up in blended families and fended for themselves. As a result, they are extremely practical and extremely cynical.

When marketing to baby boomers, never use anything that hints that they are aging. This is the first generation with a bucket list, they want to be perceived as being vital forever. You have to treat them with respect without being patronizing.

Some don’t even like the word retirement. I saw a marketing piece from a financial company doing outreach to boomers to help them plan for the future, when they’re not working. They called it “The Dream Book.” The content asks, what are your dreams, how can we help you fulfill them. I thought that was a terrific generational marketing strategy. That turned a negative—aging—and turned it into a positive.

Baby boomers were called the Me Generation, and it’s still all about them.

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