It arrives by snail mail sooner or later. Usually, it takes the recipient by surprise. I'm referring to the invitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), that great American reminder you've hit your senior years.
After the shock wears off, most people recognize the benefits to being a "senior." If you think about it, AARP does a pretty good job of communicating to the 93.7 million people in the U.S. who are over 50.
You're aware the massive population demographic known as baby boomers are transforming into seniors as we speak. Current usage studies show about 24 million seniors online in the U.S.
So, with all these senior hands on the keyboards, how do you develop content that appeals to this growing and powerful demographic? Here are some hints from the experts.
Take cues from popular sites. Take a look at the sites for AARP, Senior Women Web, and The National Council on the Aging (NCOA). All have lots of interesting content, are easy to navigate, and provide clear benefits to the user. Consider that these sites are not condescending, don't feature happy faces of old people, and don't try to shoehorn content into issues stereotypically considered "older concerns." In fact, the content of Senior Women is so diverse article topics range from the Tony Awards to Alan Greenspan.
Respond to boomers. Baby boomers make up the most demanding generation but are well worth it. The 55-year-olds of today came of age in a period of prosperity and are not adverse to spending. Yes, they were preceded by Depression-era babies who aren't as comfortable splurging. The big "senior boom" is coming from those born between 1945 and 1964, however. Start thinking about targeting this group now. By the way, if you're targeting "younger seniors," you'll also want to think about cultural cues that excite baby boomers. There is a reason why bands such as The Who and The Beatles are used to market everything from cars to prescription medicines.
Seniors are a multi-segmented target group. Generally, seniors are segmented into young seniors (55-65), mid-range seniors (65-80), and older seniors (80-plus). Although these segments are quite fluid (remember, some people in their 70s are helping their grade-school-age children with homework), they have different concerns. While young and mid-range seniors may be thinking about their jobs, financing college educations, and the transition to retirement, older seniors may appreciate more information on maintaining their independent lifestyles and health concerns.
Think "senior values." Yes, values change once one has attained the wisdom that comes with later years. Although seniors generally have spending power, materialism and one-upmanship aren't as important as expanding horizons, maintaining independence, and growing personally. Always put decision-making power in the hands of senior users. The invitation "You decide" is a lot more compelling to them than directives spouted by a 20-something.
Pick the right influencers. People who are successful well into their senior years have great appeal. Sports figures do well when they have proven their success even after their game-playing days.
Don't assume informality (or vulgarity). The Web invites a certain informality, but be careful about addressing your older audiences with "Hi, Joe!" Allow them to determine how they'd like to be addressed. Be on your toes about vulgarity. What plays well to the Gamma Alpha frat boys doesn't work with sophisticated seniors.
Don't shrink type or clutter screens. A no-brainer? Maybe, but you'd be surprised at the confusing, cluttered sites pitching to seniors. Being a little more generous with content doesn't hurt, either. These individuals weren't raised on MTV. They actually possess an attention span.
Provide a method for emailing content. Ever notice the really good email jokes and digital images are forwarded by Mom and Dad? Millions of seniors forward stories, graphics, and jokes across the country, loving it as a substitute for the old "thinking of you" Hallmark card. If you're targeting seniors, it pays to make it easy to email your content. It may be just the thing to send to that wonderful woman and her boyfriend What's-His-Name they met on the cruise to Alaska last summer.
Don't trick. Never try to take advantage of seniors. Most are highly aware of scams. The mere scent of rip-off could get you in hot water.
Recognize the power of grandchildren and grandparents. What's the benefit of aging almost every senior enjoys? Grandchildren, of course. There are 65 million grandparents in the U.S., but there's little recognition of that special bond between grandparents and grandchildren (does anyone know when Grandparents Day is?). A salute to grandparenting could put your site on the "most visited" list for mature Web users.
Got other ideas for making your content senior-savvy? Let me know, and I'll share them in future articles. After all, we're all not getting any younger!
Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.