Marketing to seniors: Interview with Senior Market Advisor

seniorsSome time ago, I did an interview with Senior Market Advisor, a publication that gives advice on selling insurance, annuities, and long-term care insurance to the senior market.

The interview focused on direct marketing techniques and I thought you might enjoy reading it.

What kind of message works best when you’re trying to get prospects to fill out the reply part of a mailer?

The reply is the moment of truth, and you don’t want people to have any doubts about what they’re asking for or getting into.

So briefly restate the offer and benefits. This can take the form of a “statement of acceptance.” If you think of direct mail as a dialog between a business and a consumer, then the reply is where the customer “speaks” back to the person who sent the package.

Your statement of acceptance should include an affirmation, benefit statement, request for the item, summary of the offer, sweeteners, and a guarantee.

For a direct order, it could work like this:

Yes! I want to cut my taxes in half. Please send my copy of How to Instantly Cut Your Income Tax for just $29.95. And if I respond by January 12, I’ll also get the TaxSlash computer program FREE (a $39.00 value). I understand that if I’m not completely satisfied, I can return the book for a full refund — but I’ll keep the computer program as my gift.

For lead generation, it can be much simpler:

Yes! I want to cut my taxes in half. Please send my FREE copy of How to Instantly Cut Your Income Tax. I understand there is no cost or obligation.

Whenever possible, the reply should be a separate piece. This helps people notice it. And it avoids the psychological aversion many people have about ripping up materials they may want to keep.

However, if the reply is attached to something, it must be prominent, perforated, and easy to tear out. Reply forms attached to letters work well, as do perforated reply forms in simple self-mailers. And a bind-in reply card for print ads almost always boosts response.

A lot of people try to cram as much information as possible into small spaces, but this seems to make reading difficult. When you’re dealing with limited space, what is essential and what can be omitted?

Basically, direct response advertising requires only 3 things:

  1. Make an offer.
  2. Include enough information to accept the offer.
  3. Provide an easy means of responding to the offer.

Everything else is an enhancer of some kind.

Generally, most businesses talk way too much about themselves and not enough about the wants, needs, and concerns of their prospects. So if your promotion sounds like an autobiography detailing the entire hundred year history of your company, start cutting. No one cares about your company but you. People care only about themselves.

How do you introduce concepts like annuities ­ or other topics that a client may not completely understand ­ and expect a response?

There’s an old saying: “People don’t want drills, they want holes.” Likewise, no sane person wants to talk, think, or read about financial products.

YOU may be fascinated with annuities, for example, but the average person’s eyes will glaze over the moment you start talking about them. Instead, discuss what THEY are interested in … protecting their hard-earned money, getting a better interest rate than the bank offers, having reliable income for life, etc. Then simply make the annuity a way to achieve these things simply and easily.

Plus, you really need to educate people with simple, clear brochures, booklets, reports, and other items. Offer them free, get a response, and start an ongoing relationship with people. Smarter prospects are better prospects.

How should text be laid out? What should be emphasized?

Seniors are readers. So design text to be read, not just looked at. All the usual good design rules apply: bold headlines and subheads, generous white space, narrow columns, serif type that’s big enough to read without eyestrain, and nothing too progressive or artsy. Don’t take your cue from anything that wins an award. Look at high-circulation magazines and see how the type is laid out.

Is color worth the money? Full color? Spot color?

Photos are usually better in color. But in the hands of a good designer, a two-color piece can often look as good or better than a four-color piece. It really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Generally, the simpler the better.

What type sizes and colors work best?

At about age 40, eyes begin to deteriorate. By 60 there’s some degree of impairment even in healthy eyes. Specifically, the lens becomes more rigid, eye muscles weaken, and the cornea yellows. The result is that older eyes can’t focus as well on small type, can’t perceive colors as distinctly, and generally see a somewhat dimmer world.

So for older prospects, it’s wise to use type that’s no smaller than 12 points. Also more use of large, simple graphics can help convey messages more easily. Blue and green become harder to distinguish with age, and yellow becomes trickier to use for eyes that see everything a little more yellow. Colors with more contrast, such as black, white, and red, are a safer bet.

What about art, photographs, or illustrations? What should they depict?

Artwork should always link directly with what you’re selling and telegraph your message. Don’t use photos as a crutch or random design elements. Don’t use clever pictures thinking that you’ll arouse curiosity. If a mature audience can’t make sense of your mailing instantly, they’ll trash it.

Nix the pix of blue-haired ladies in rocking chairs and bald men playing checkers. Many of today’s seniors are active and vibrant, or at least like to think of themselves that way. Show people as they wish to be not as you see them. Help people recapture their youth and you’ll win a friend forever.

If you’re on a limited budget, where should you cut corners?

Format, size, and number of pieces are areas where you can save. If a direct mail package is too expensive, try a self-mailer. If your mailer is too big or heavy and the postage is high, try a smaller or lighter version. If you have 6 pieces in your package, try removing one or two and see how it affects response. If you have a good sales letter, you can often remove a brochure without hurting response. You can try two-color instead of four-color.

Also, prices vary widely among printers and lettershops, so consider what you actually need and hire the vendor who can most efficiently get the job done.

How important is quality of paper?

For most promotions, standard paper choices are fine. Fancy, expensive papers are seldom a good investment unless you’re trying to achieve a special effect. You’re probably better off focusing on strong copy and irresistible offers.

What are the keys to addressing older clients through direct mail? What does this market respond to?

Some general advice …

Don’t call seniors “seniors.” People who are 50 plus don’t think of themselves as seniors and calling them that will just insult them. Likewise, never use the words “old” or “elderly.”

Sell to people not stereotypes. A 60-something business executive isn’t the same as a 60-something retiree. Know who you’re selling to.

Be direct. Really direct. They’ve seen it all and won’t respond to cliches or empty patter. Focus on benefits. Keep it simple and clear. Make it tangle. Get to the point fast.

Don’t use pressure or scare tactics. You may capture some of the low-hanging fruit, but the rest will remain out of your grasp. Instead, educate them and build a relationship. Information sells. Trust is everything.

Emphasize your credibility. Testimonials, research, endorsements, years in business, and other proofs help show that dealing with you isn’t a mistake.

Remove risk. Seniors like to try new things, but they don’t want to risk anything. Try free trials, money-back guarantees, an emphasis on customer service, and any tactic to reduce perceived risk.

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4 Responses to “Marketing to seniors: Interview with Senior Market Advisor”

  1. Erin Read Ruddick on November 16th, 2009 1:35 pm

    Dean, solid advice to focus on the benefits relevant to mature consumers.

    Our agency conducted research with more than 414 Americans to find out what photography works best when marketing to Baby Boomers and Silent Generation (seniors). We found some intereting differences in what’s effective based on wealth and employment, among other factors.

    Your readers might find the research and tips useful – a free eBook is available for download at

  2. Dean Rieck on November 16th, 2009 1:51 pm

    Thanks, Erin.

    The term “silent generation” is interesting. I think it was coined in the 50s. They may be silent as far as how vocal they are, but they certainly speak with their pocketbooks.

  3. Erin Read Ruddick on December 16th, 2009 4:11 pm

    Amen on the not-so-”Silent” generation! That term was coined by a TIME Magazine reporter.

    Like folks in my own generation (Gen X), members of the Silent Generation dislike the label they’ve been given and wouldn’t choose that moniker for themselves. 44% would go with “Responsible Generation.”

  4. Dean Rieck on December 16th, 2009 4:17 pm

    Responsible Generation. I like that, Erin.

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