goldenWhat do you know about marketing to the older generation? It might not be enough. Check this out:

  •  According to the last U.S. Census, the FASTEST growing market includes people 50 years and older. Right now, that’s about 37% of the total U.S. population. By 2015, that should hit around 45%.
  • Nearly 30% of these people are on the Internet. Unless, that is, we’re talking about those in the top third of the income bracket. Among this crew, an incredible 80% are online.
  •  How much money do these folks have to spend? About 70% of all the disposable income in the U.S. Or around $1.6 trillion. Overall, they have a combined household worth of around $19 trillion.
  •  Of that, the over-50 crowd — just in the U.S. — spends about $7 billion per year online.
  •  They also buy 40% of all new cars, 80% of all new LUXURY cars, 74% of all prescription drugs, and another 80% of all leisure travel.
  •  By the way, this same crowd — of which close to 75% are grandparents — ALSO buy 25% of the toys sold in the U.S.

Now, I’m the last person to tell you that demographics are destiny. After all, to lump together the “older generation” is to include every race; every economic, religious, and political background; every level of income… you name it.  Almost every marketing niche in existence somehow overlaps with the post-50 set.

And it’s about to get even more diverse…

 According to the Census, between 2005 and 2030, the total market of consumers between ages 18 and 59 will only grow about 7% larger. Meanwhile, the market of people over 60 will grow 81%. That’s huge. Somewhere around 20.5 million more customers.

 With all those folks going grey — with such diverse interests and needs — what to sell?

 Creams, lotions, pills, and wheelchairs?

Not hardly. In the 1930s, it made sense to think of 65 and up as the age of obsolescence. Not anymore. If there’s one clear trend with the older generations it’s this: a whole new concept of what it means to be older has evolved.

 By and large…

 1) Today’s Older Generation is Healthier

 There’s lots of talk about how life expectancy is soaring. Hogwash. Science doesn’t expect anyone to live past 114 years. And that’s the way it’s been for a long time. What’s changed, though, is how well we’re living and how long we’re doing so.

Only about 5% of the older population lives in nursing homes, according to agingresearch.org. We’re shifting from acute to chronic ailments that may make life a little tougher, but don’t stop us from doing and accomplishing all kinds of great things, regardless of age. We’re also getting in shape and staying in shape a heck of a lot longer.

 And we’re discovering that heredity has less to do with bad health than bad habits. And that diet and exercise can even hold off diseases we might otherwise be susceptible to.

 If you’re marketing to this crowd, you’d better throw in adventure travel, fitness products, vitamins, dignified fashions and sportswear, and in general a lot more “younger” products and sales pitches than you might have imagined 20 years ago.

 2) Today’s Older Generation Wants To Learn

 Age-related memory loss and brain function is way over-estimated. New research even suggests it has a lot more with how you EXPECT to age rather than any actually mental or physiological changes (see today’s second CR).

 But more importantly, we’re all just a little more aware of learning opportunities today. And the opportunities are more accessible than ever before. That’s as true for the older population as it is for the rest of us.

 There’s a booming market for mail-order education, seminars, educational travel, and more. Heck, my own grandfather learned to speak conversational French at 76 years old. That’s better than I’m doing at 39!

 3) The Older Generation Wants To Work

 It too many cases, economic pressures force some people to work longer than they want to.

That’s a problem. 

But there’s also a huge segment of the older population that just WANTS to keep on working, regardless of an opportunity to retire. Some never quit, some volunteer, still more launch second careers. And that may help explain why products that teach new skills and let people launch home businesses can do so well.

 The bottom line?

Check your assumptions about the senior market. They’re a lot younger than you might think.

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kissQuick — what do testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin all have in common? They’re the chemicals of “true love.”

 Yep, some jerk has reduced romance to a science.

What’s this got to do with selling? Plenty, it turns out.

Just ask Prof. Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University. Dunbar — according to the BBC — spent the last half of the 1990s studying personal ads. And no, not because he was lonely.

Rather, Dunbar discovered that the copy used in all kinds of personal ads, from people of all different kinds of backgrounds, shared a strikingly similar subset of “hot button” words. And virtually all those words fell into just five categories: Wealth, Commitment, Sexiness, Social Skills, or Attractiveness.

These are, of course, some of the same basic drivers we lean on when we write copy for “products” other than a date with a significant other (“Double Your Income in Less Than a Year,” “Win Friends and Influence People,” “Look Sexier This Spring”… and so on).

 But here’s where Dunbar’s research gets even more interesting…

Once Dunbar had the categories, he then asked 200 men and women to rank the appeal of ads that contained a mix of the most common buzz words.

 Women responded most to “Commitment” heavy ads. Then, in order, ads that emphasized Social Skills, Resources, Attractiveness, and — last — Sexiness.

 Men put attractiveness at the top of the list. Perhaps no surprise. Was sexiness second? Not at all. Instead, they focused on ads that suggested Commitment followed. Then Social Skills, Resources, and — last again — Sexiness.

 Surprised? Other than men putting “attractiveness” at the top of the priorities, the lists are virtually the same. And even the ad copy personal ad writers created for themselves — to attract mates — reflected that, pitching the traits they instinctively knew would be important to their prospects. But then, in follow-up interviews with the men and women in the study, Dunbar found deeper shades of difference.

 For instance, both men and women in the study placed high value on “a sense of humor.” But to each gender, it meant different things. Women said it meant they wanted someone witty and quick to make others laugh. The typical man, however, said he mostly wanted someone who could get his jokes so he would seem like a funny guy.

 Which actually works out well for both parties.

 Likewise, the average woman wanted a man about five years her senior. The average man, on the other hand, wanted women that at least looked younger — with smooth skin, glossy hair, and the like. Not coincidentally, say the researchers, they’re all signs of high estrogen levels.

 But here was something surprising. Older women that looked younger had a better appeal to men then women with a fresher birth certificate. Possibly, say the researchers, because the younger looking women just seemed like they came from a better gene pool.

 (Hey, I’m just reporting the results here!)

 There’s more…

Younger guys, in general, have less wealth to offer. They also seem to have lower requirements than older men. Likewise, older women polled suggested they were more open to less handsome or wealthy men. But younger women, on the other hand, have lots of youthful beauty as an asset. And, it happens, end up being the choosiest of all.

 And all this, it turns out, adds up pretty neatly to creating ideal conditions that work best for cranking out offspring. Which is, after all, how the species survives. Cold, perhaps, but that’s over a decade of research doing the talking. Kinda puts a different light on that romantic candlelight dinner you had planned for tonight, doesn’t it?

 One last thing: The one thing both men and women wouldn’t stand for in the ads… but encounter all the time… was lying. Instinctively, match-hunting advertisers know what prospects want. They will even bend the facts to promise it. But it almost always backfires in the end. Just like it would in any other kind of advertising.

Do I personally believe love and romance are as cold and scientific as all that? Well, let’s just say I would LIKE to believe it’s not so simple as all that. The heart, said Pascal, has its reasons which reason knows not of. And Dickinson, the fact that love is all there is is all we know of love.

 I’ll agree… but can’t promise you that it’s not just the oxytocin talking.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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