Senior Women: Defining the Audience

Part one of two.

The baby boomers have been turning 50 for only two years, and already they have stirred an enormous amount of activity in the industry.

Baby boomers are not a generation to be ignored. What’s that song, “I know what I want and I want it now”? You can almost see them stamping their feet and demanding new products and services: Skin creams to erase lines, medications to manage menopause, and bio-technology to replace damaged body parts.

Even before the onslaught of the baby boomers, the 50-plus population is a significant target audience, and now it’s really getting attention. Why?

First, the demographics are just too compelling to ignore any longer. The population has shifted to the point where consumers over 50:

  • Represent 38 percent of the total US adult population.

  • Are 70 million people strong.
  • Control 55 percent of the discretionary spending in our economy.
  • Own 77 percent of the U.S. assets in their name.
  • Own 80 percent of the U.S. savings dollars in their name.

Then, women live longer than men do. So the 50-plus population skews to 52 percent women vs. 48 percent men.

Quite frankly, marketers don’t exactly know what to do about these consumers over 50 who are re-defining aging. Our image of retirement is a life of leisure, but most of today’s retirees have full calendars doing volunteer work, minding grandchildren, traveling, working and pursuing their hobbies.

This is a new generation of aging Americans that is defying the stereotype of “senior citizens.” They are not “old” as we have known it. They retire, but then they get new jobs and new careers. They get re-born to nutrition and physical fitness.

They don’t sit home watching TV; they roam the world with the Elderhostel and walking tours. They are not technologically challenged. Quite the contrary, they embrace the marvel of the Internet.

They have money to spend, but they are discriminating consumers. Remember this is the generation that learned from consumer advocates Ralph Nader and Betty Furness to demand service, information and value. They have also spent many years exposed to advertising, and quite frankly, by now they are pretty jaded to advertising.

The statistics on ownership of computers and Internet usage change faster than the auditors can audit them, but one consistent message is that computers and the Internet work for the older as well as the younger population.

  • 68 percent of online buyers are over 40.

  • This population had 65 percent growth in online usage since 1997.
  • This population spends 38 hours a month online, more than any other demographic.

At a conference on Internet retailing, a representative from the Gap said that its online customer is much older than its in-store customer. How could that be if the Internet is the world of youth?

Quite simple if you think about it: Young people go to the stores to socialize, to meet friends and find dates. Older customers don’t need that kind of socialization and are quite happy to order from home without the fuss of try-ons, crowds, lines and young people hanging around trying to meet other young people.

Three Steps To Success

Let’s talk specifically about how to approach the over 50 woman with products and services on the Internet. There are three steps for successful Internet marketing to women over 50:

  1. Define your target audience.

  2. Get to know them.
  3. Speak to them in a voice they will hear.

Step #1: Define Your Target Audience

Fifty-plus is not a homogenous market. It is as diverse as 18 to 49, and you need to clearly understand which group is going to be most responsive to what you have to sell. There are three segments: the GI generation, the silent generation, and the boomers.

The GI Generation

This is the oldest segment. Born between 1909 and 1925, they are currently 74 to 90 years of age, and there are 9 million women in this age group.

They are the generation of women that went to work while the men fought the great wars. They then returned to tending families in the newly created suburbs. Their husbands went to school on the GI Bill, and their first homes were acquired with GI housing loans. The majority were grateful to (and dependent upon) a husband-provider who was employed for decades by a solid company.

The company and the United States government were viewed as their benefactors, and they in return became team players, loyal to country and company. They are described as the population that “works within the system.”

It is this generation that is forcing us to re-think the meaning of longevity, their own as well as ours. This is an active audience for many products and services including:

  • Every healthcare innovation that prolongs the good life, from joint replacements and expensive prescriptions to technology.

  • Community living.

However, the women in this age group are not your primary target for online marketing of goods and services. They are over 75, and while there are exceptions, for most, computers are not part of their daily thing.

The Silent Generation . . . Anything But

This is more likely to be your target audience. Born between 1926 and 1945, today they are 54 to 73 years of age and include 41 million people and 22 million women. Calling them the Silent Generation is not an accurate description; in fact they are anything but

This generation produced Abby Hoffman, Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Freidan, Helen Gurley Brown, Ralph Nader some of the most radical activists since Washington, Adams and Jefferson. They made the country re-think our unfailing loyalty to government and employer, forced us to acknowledge civil injustices toward race and gender, and they re-defined the role of women. This generation led the social revolutions of the sixties while the baby boomers were still battling acne.

The women in this assertive silent generation were caught between the homemakers of the 1950s and the liberation of women. Many of them began a career in their late forties and fifties, and just as they made the change from homemaker to working woman, they are rapidly catching up with the Internet.

Many of them use computers at work, they email their children at college and grandchildren in distant cities. They are responding to iVillage and the ThirdAge sites. For Internet shopping, they will be an audience worth having.

The Boomers

Demanding, demanding, demanding. Born between 1946 and 1959, they are 40 to 53 years of age and there are 56.4 million people and 29.3 percent of the US adult population. That’s 26 million women.

The boomers have been turning 50 for only three years, but already they have caught the attention of marketers. Their demands will force business to make the adjustments needed to service an aging population. All 48 million of these women between the ages of 40 and 73 are in your primary target audience for Internet marketing. They work with computers in their work and at their homes. It is an integral part of their life.

So this defines the target audience of women over 50. Next week you’ll get to know them better and learn how to speak to this market segment in a voice they will hear.

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