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Marketing to the over-50s - segmentation is the key

With more than 50% of the UK predicted to be over 50 years old by the year 2020, the growth of the mature market appears to be unrelenting and poses serious questions to us as a nation, writes Fiona Hought, managing director of Millennium.

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Furthermore, many advertisers and marketeers are quick to overlook the over -50s when it comes to marketing strategy, exacerbating the sense of isolation that many in this age group feel. The media activity directed at the mature market can fail to hit the targets required for many reasons, with one of the most important being a lack of understanding with regards to age group segmentation.

Marketeers are all too aware of the need to segment their audience to a high degree when approaching the more junior end of society, with specific marketing targeted at increasingly narrow age groups. However, many are still reluctant to put this theory into practice when targeting the over 50s, treating them as one homogenous group. The subsequent disappointing results are no surprise.

Whilst approaching the older reaches of society might seem like an insurmountable task to many, the truth is that the over 50s represent a significant untapped market for many companies.

Old age and poverty are not synonymous. People over 50 account for 40% of Britain’s consumer spending and this figure is rising. In addition, this age group also holds 80% of the UK's personal wealth, meaning that marketeers might have to change their traditional approach and apparent obsession with targeting the 15-35s if they want to return profitability to their clients.

Effectively approaching the over-50s might require a sea-change for many marketeers, but industry specialists can provide advice to make the process easier.

As with many western countries, we are obsessed with youth in all forms and this relates especially to marketing activity. The fact is that many companies will soon have to face the fact that we have an ageing population and targeting a dwindling youth market will not provide the return on investment that they had hoped for.

Due to inexperience, many companies' marketing attempts to woo the over 50s boil down to painful stereotypes and patronising calls to action. What is needed is a more thoughtful, considered and empathetic approach.

It cannot be overstated that treating the over-50s as one homogenous group of people will not pass muster. With life expectancy continuing to increase, over 30 years will elapse between a UK woman being 50 years old and then reaching life expectancy at 81*.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that a 15-year-old boy had the same tastes and criteria for purchasing a product as a man of 45, so this 'one size fits all' approach must not be applied to marketing to the over-50s. Segmentation is the key and marketeers need to champion its effective use to produce campaigns that are focussed, empathetic and remunerative.

Breaking down the over 50s into age brackets will provide a good foundation on which to build a segmentation model, although this is merely just the start of the process. These cohorts are essential, as marketeers must be aware of the key events that have shaped consumers' minds during formative years and they will therefore provide a rough grouping of people who have been shaped by similar world events. The fight against Communism, World War Two and the Vietnamese War are just a few of these.

However, marketeers must also have a clear idea of the present situation of consumers, based on criteria such as whether they are still working, levels of affluence and the degree to which they’re adopting new technologies e.g. online shopping. These two approaches combined will give marketeers much clearer insight into effectively targeting sub groups within the over-50s.

With the dramatic and sustained growth of the over 50s the question facing many agencies will be how they can tap into this lucrative market. Effective segmentation should provide the necessary foundation on which to build successful marketing campaigns.

*Source – ONS.

For further information on Millennium.

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