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The 50+ Digital Marketing Opportunity

Lever Interactive, together with Coming of Age and Google, recently hosted a happy hour marketing event at Google’s Chicago office entitled “Untapped: The 50+ Marketing Opportunity in Digital”. Through presentations from Jim Gilmartin of Coming of Age, Adam Yellin of Google and Brian Yaro of Lever Interactive, we learned about the great potential this audience represents and how to effectively communicate with them. A video of highlights from the presentations is included at the end of this post.

In an effort to summarize the key points of the event and provide further insights into connecting with the 50+ markets, I recently spoke with Jim, Adam and Brian about the event and the key takeaways they feel are most important to remember.

Wish you could have attended? Here’s a video featuring some of the presentation highlights:

Why do you think the 50+ market gets so little attention from marketers and brands?


Mark Twain wrote, “The problem isn’t the things that we don’t know; it’s the things we ‘know that ain’t so.” His comment is simply a reflection of a common sense reality. Today, traditional marketing and selling draw on a lot of things “we ‘know’ that ain’t so.” For instance, marketers once “knew” (and many still do) that people 50 and older rarely change brands. Everybody “knew” that once consumers settled in on a brand or a company, as they aged, they became more resistant to switching.

Almost everything we know about marketing and selling was learned when consumers under 40 pretty much shaped cultural values and ruled the marketplace. Now the Baby Boomers (50 years of age and older) continue to be a huge influence on shaping cultural values and the rules of marketing and selling simply because of their numerical superiority. So, much of what we know about marketing and selling is wrong, if you are still working with assumptions about consumer behavior that developed when markets were much younger.


Is it a question of attention or is it a question of the right attention? The 50+ audience is embracing new technology, and, while this is an audience that might have historically been best reached through traditional advertising mediums, these days marketers need to think about how they can more effectively reach them through digital channels.


A couple of reasons:

1) The cost to implement a 50+ advertising strategy vs. years of return — Marketers and brands are looking to what, and who, is next in order to stay ahead of their competition. While it is always smart to be looking forwards, marketers and brands are missing out on a vast, wealthy and digitally-connected demographic.

2) Age differences — Many digital advertisers and brand managers are a couple of generations removed from the 50+ demographic. There is a bit of the unknown in play.

Who should be marketing to the 50+ audiences?


All companies that sell consumer-based products and services. The key to significant success is the inclusion of multiple generations in messages.


Any brand who is interested in a new customer. If your product appeals to the masses, just because you are 50+ doesn’t mean you won’t be interested.


Any company or brand who receives business from the 50+ audience. Take a look at your analytics, your sales data and your customer lists. You will most likely be surprised by the percentage that the 50+ audience accounts for.

What are some common mistakes or misunderstandings when advertising to 50+ audiences?


The purpose of marketing and sales communications is to stimulate awareness, interest and desire in customer minds that lead to decisions to buy. An implicit presumption in marketing is that customer minds – at least adult customer’ minds – process information more or less the same way. Therefore, marketers stereotypically direct communication to the “average customer”.

Furthermore, when targeting Boomer and older customers, marketers tend to group these demos into “the Boomer market” or “the senior market”. The danger is that this approach creates a herd marketing mentality when attempting to connect with these very diverse populations. In Boomer and older customer populations, the average customer does not exist.

Marketing communications and sales approaches should be experiential in nature. They should reflect empathy for the values of this demo regarding how company products/services are being perceived of as a gateway to meaningful life experiences. If a company ad or sales presentation fails to connect with a 50 + customer’s idealized image of self, it is more likely to be ignored. Remember, don’t focus on selling the product. Instead concentrate on selling your knowledge of the 50 + customer’s values, motivators and needs and how your product is a gateway to helping them to reach their goals and encounter meaningful life experiences.

Touch their hearts and they will allow you to enter their minds.  Remember that aging customers, on average, have a superior sense of reality.  Don’t succumb to the myths and stereotyping about aging that pervades our society — you may do so at the expense of increasing your product/service sales.


As a marketer, you can’t ignore the fact that digital consumption is on the rise. With an hour more time spent on video and more than half of that with a mobile device (since 2011), this is a trend that cannot be ignored by any marketer, regardless of the audience you are trying to reach.


While the message and imagery may need to be customized, 50+ consumers are engaging with brands digitally in much the same way as younger generations. It does not require large investments to actively target the 50+ audience digitally if you are already doing so for younger generations. And the return can be substantial.

If you could summarize your presentation in 2-3 sentences, what would they be?


To be successful in 50+ markets, understand the life stage values and motivators of 50+ markets and incorporate them in your messages. In the 2nd half of life, the shared values and motivators include a bias toward autonomy, an experiential bias and less need for things, a trend toward giving back, a predisposition for practical behavior and need to renew social and cultural engagements. Also, for efficient and effective marketing and sales approaches, gain a good understanding of how the human brain processes information.


According to the last U.S. Census, more than 50% of the population will be 50+ by 2017. Video consumption habits are on the rise, as is use of mobile devices. Are you a part of the conversation there?


Again, utilize the digital tools you are already using and identify how, when and where the 50+ audience is engaging with your brand. You’ll most likely be surprised by how many 50+ consumers are visiting your site. And with some creative messaging updates, you can effectively reach them in digital.


What did you find most interesting from the other speakers?


Current approaches are supporting the value of using digital marketing to connect with 50+ customers.


Jim’s discussion on the consumer mindset was really thought-provoking. How our defining attributes shift in the second half of our life was really interesting. Being stuck in the middle of the millennial/gen x demo, I’m not quite there yet, but can personally see how I am becoming more of my own person as I age.


From Jim — How the brain processes information and how it changes as you move into the fall and winter of life.

From Adam — The growth in the sheer numbers of 50+ consumers engaging with digital content on a daily basis.


What is the key takeaway you hope people came away from this event with?


An appreciation of information-processing principles and findings and understanding 50+ customer behavior and values can yield some valuable lessons for those interested in influencing 50+ consumer behavior. Although marketing communications are perhaps the greatest beneficiary of what we know about how people process information, these lessons can be applied to many other areas, including personal selling, package design, branding and training of salespeople.


We are in a time where technology is here to stay and as marketers, we need to recognize that. What works now might not work next year, so recognize that you need to be nimble and be able to react or stay ahead of change.


While we, as marketers and brands, need to be cognizant of how to best message to the 50+ audience, this audience is engaging with advertising and brands much the same way as other generations. And they have MUCH more money to spend on those brands that reach them.


In regards to the previous question, what is/are the first step(s) people should take to make that happen?


Marketers need to develop campaigns creating advertisements that produce emotions in order to get a 50 + customer to make a buying decision. Information processing refers to the process by which a stimulus is received, interpreted, stored in memory and later retrieved. Knowing this is only part of the equation. Because consumer reactions to marketing communications will depend on the manner in which it’s processed, an understanding of how the brain processes information can be very useful.


Don’t be scared of new technology. Embrace the innovation that is happening today. Try out new devices, try out the apps and technologies your kids are latching onto. Ask questions. Learn.


Take a look at the data your business already has. Analytics data, sales data and customer profile data are all great ways to identify your business’ 50+ audience. These insights will tell the story on how you can then go about more effectively reaching and messaging to them.

What do you believe is the next big thing in marketing to the 50+ audience?


The next time you see a television commercial, stop and look at it from an advertiser’s standpoint. These companies are paying millions of dollars for their advertising and are not just throwing this money down the drain. They’re paying for advertising that works because it appeals to their target market’s emotions and helps them visualize themselves owning that particular product, using that service or taking the desired action. So, to achieve your primary goal of getting a response from prospective customers and produce a sale, when you advertise you need to titillate 50+ customer purchase motivators.


Jim talked about this audience as one that values life experiences. Does that leave an opening for virtual reality? Maybe…


The digital advancements happening in healthcare and senior independent living — Not only are more 50+ consumers fully adopting digital in their more active years; they are now utilizing a number of devices later in life to help them age well. It will be interesting to see how and where advertising evolves with these trends and devices.


What was your favorite part of the evening?


Interacting with the participants before the presentation and sharing our insights and knowledge to help the participants improve their marketing and sales abilities was satisfying.


Speaking with the attendees afterward was great. There was a very diverse audience in the room and it was really fascinating to hear some of the challenges for marketers trying to reach the 50+ demographic.


The great audience. As part of an agency built around marketing to the 50+ demographic, it was great to see such an engaged audience turn out to hear us speak.

If you’d like to make sure you’re on the list to find out about our next event, please sign up for our newsletter or shoot me an email.

To find out more about Coming of Age or marketing to 50+ audiences, please visit www.comingofage.com.

About Jim Gilmartin:C

Jim Gilmartin is the Founder and President of Coming of Age, the 50+ Marketing Agency.

Over the past 25 years, Jim has emerged as one of America’s preeminent experts on marketing to the 50+ market.

Prior to starting Coming of Age, Jim served as President and CEO of Parkside Human Services Corporation a subsidiary of the Lutheran General Health Care System. His responsibilities included all of the system’s non-acute programs and services for aging populations including senior living communities, outpatient rehabilitation facilities, adult day care and other aging related services.

The author of numerous articles, Jim contributes monthly for Media Post’s Engage: Boomers blog and is a frequent keynote speaker at professional conferences.

Jim CO-AUTHORED Market Smart: The Best in Age and Lifestyle Specific Design.

About Adam Yellin:

Adam Yellin is an Account Executive managing relationships with some of Google’s largest consumer health focused advertisers out of Google’s Cambridge, MA office. Prior to Google, Adam spent the last decade building sales and business development functions in companies innovating in the ad tech space.

About Brian Yaro:

Brian Yaro is the Director of Paid Media at Lever Interactive. Working closely with the Coming of Age team, Brian provides marketing and media strategy for our Fortune 1000 clients. Prior to joining Lever Interactive, Brian was a Senior Manager at Starcom, serving a critical role in growing the Kraft brand’s paid media business.

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