Seniors Are a Huge Market but Stop Trying to Scare Them Into Buying

Fear-based marketing to seniors was probably already outdated in the days of "I've fallen and can't get up."

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By David Inns

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Not that long ago, a fear-based marketing strategy for seniors made sense. With the digital era on the rise, companies began developing products to help seniors stay safe. When it came to marketing, we often saw brands capitalizing on older adult's fear of life threatening situations, including a fall, loss of memory or motor skills, or other health related issues like a stroke or heart attack. Fear can be an effective motivator.

Today, as older adults are becoming more comfortable with technology, this approach has becomes less effective. Recent Pew Research Center surveys found that seniors are moving toward more digitally connected lives. Around four-in-ten adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, and internet use adoption among this group has also risen substantially. Today, 67 percent of seniors use the internet and, for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home.

Because of this shift, older adults have started to see technology as more than just a safety net. Instead, this demographic is looking for technology that can help them stay active, independent and connected to friends and family. Unfortunately, however, many marketers haven't caught up yet.

Related: 5 Ways New Companies Are Capturing the Growing Senior Market

Why fear-based marketing doesn't work.

Fear is one of our strongest emotions -- it's a primal evolutionary development that helps us survive. However, when brands use a negative message to take advantage of customers' anxieties it can make both prospective and existing customers feel sad or depressed. They may adopt a victim mentality or even feel hopeless to the point that the solutions you're offering seem like a waste of time. California State University researcher Kaylene Williams concludes that weakly appealing to fear may not attract enough attention but provoking strong fear can cause the consumer to ignore or avoid the message. Extreme fear appeals often are unsuccessful in changing attitudes.

To put it simply, most of us avoid our fears and cling to what makes us feel happy and safe. Research published in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed that "consumers want to be happy, and marketers are increasingly trying to appeal to consumers' pursuit of happiness," a position that continues to be reinforced both in marketing and academic research. Therefore, a positive marketing strategy increases the likelihood that your audience will become brand advocates, feel confident about adopting your products and see those products as an effective solution to their problems. It will also become easier for customers to feel a sense of acceptance and trust, creating a deeper connection with your brand.

Related: 5 Ways to Effectively Market to Baby Boomers

What's resonating with seniors today.

First and foremost, marketing to the senior market requires an understanding that older adults are leading longer and more active lives. Seniors are just as likely as younger generations to spend time out and about. They are interested in technology that will help them lead an active, healthy lifestyle and stay connected with their friends and family -- for a long time.

It's also important to note that while seniors tend to have practical concerns and a no-nonsense approach to buying, they are becoming increasingly tech-savvy. Baby boomers were some of the first consumers in the technology era and are inherently more comfortable with technology than older adults in their 80s and 90s. As this demographic continues to age, marketers will need to change their tactics and strategy to reflect boomer's active lifestyle and tech savviness.

Related: Medical Cannabis Finds an Eager Market In Floridian Retirees

Tips for a positive marketing strategy.

So, what does this information mean for your marketing strategy if your audience is older? Here are a few tips to consider as you develop your tactics for 2018 and beyond:

  1. Create with, not for, your audience. Test your products with your older adult audience and listen to what they have to say.
  2. Acknowledge that the senior market is not one-size-fits-all. Marketing to 90-year-olds will be different than marketing to 65-year-old baby boomers who are more tech savvy. A message that doesn't reflect that may not land well.
  3. Develop a positive, empowering message to capture the attention of your audience, link your brand to a forward-looking outcome and build trust for your product as a valuable solution.
  4. Consider marketing partnerships that enable your customers to participate, learn and meet new people. Community and connection is important to this market.
  5. Incorporating the human connection through personal service will create a stronger connection with customers. Seniors prefer personal interaction with a well-trained, thoughtful team to web-based instruction or computer-generated call features.

Related: Marketing to Seniors: Online Versus Offline

As the pace of technology integration continues to grow, building a marketing strategy that reflects its benefits rather than using fear-based tactics will strengthen the connection between your brand and your market. Both your business and your customers will be healthier if you're engaged in the pursuit of happiness.

David Inns

CEO of GreatCall Inc.

David Inns is CEO and a member of the Board of Directors of GreatCall Inc., the leader in connected health for active aging with a complete portfolio of products and services, including: telehealth services, medication adherence programs, emergency response, fall detection and activity monitoring.

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