The dos and don’ts of marketing to today’s seniors

marketing to seniorsThere’s a moment you dread. You know it’s coming. You know you can’t do anything about it.

You want to think you’ll be calm and rational when it happens, but the cold shock of reality will almost certainly catch you off-guard.

I’m talking about the day you get your first “senior” mailing.

It could be an invitation to join AARP. It could be a catalog of pain relief products. Or maybe it’s a mailer with a picture of a gray haired couple on the front.

Whatever it is, it’s something for seniors and you’re not happy about it one little bit.

At first, you assume it’s a mix-up. That envelope can’t be for you. Not yet. No way. But it’s addressed to you. And a quick glance at the birth date on your driver’s license confirms that you’re not exactly a teenager anymore.

That’s when you feel a twinge of anger. “How dare they mail this to me! Do I look old or something? I’m not old. And even if I am, they don’t have to throw it in my face like that.”

You wonder if the mailman noticed. Or any of the neighbors. It’s not like that wretched thing arrived in a plain brown package. It’s out there screaming your age to the whole darn neighborhood. Talk about embarrassing!

So you cram it into the wastebasket, shoving it way down to the bottom so that it’s hidden beneath the trash. Then you just walk away, trying to forget the whole incident. “Maybe it was a mistake. That’s it. Just a big mistake.”

Why all the angst about a silly little marketing piece? Because seniors today aren’t like the seniors of yesterday. They don’t like to admit that they’re seniors. But it’s more than just denial.

Seniors really are fundamentally different than a generation or two ago. More and more come from a youth culture that started in the 50s. While they may be a little more conservative and a little less active now, they refuse to accept the idea that age is defined by the number of candles on a birthday cake.

So when you’re marketing to seniors, the first thing you have to remember is that you don’t call them “seniors.” And that goes double for terms like “old” or “elderly.” In fact, any direct reference to chronological age is a big no-no. People know how old they are. Trust me, you don’t have to remind them.

And it’s not just the words you have to watch out for. You have to be careful with the visuals too. Nix the blue-haired ladies in rocking chairs. Forget about images of bespectacled grandpas playing checkers. Many seniors are active, independent, empowered, successful, and highly satisfied with life.

And even if they aren’t, they like to think of themselves that way. So your pictures should reflect that.

In addition to all this psychological tiptoeing, remember that seniors have plenty of experience with people trying to sell them things. They’ve seen it all. They’ve heard every pitch. Read every ad. Opened a million pieces of mail.

So you’re better off being direct. Go easy on the hard sell and scare tactics. Just get to the point, solve a problem, make a promise, and present your offer. Advertising has been a central part of the culture for a long time now, so today’s seniors are smarter about advertising tricks than ever before.

And forget all the nonsense about using only short copy because people don’t read anymore. Not true. People are probably reading more now than ever before. But because there’s so much more to read, people are picky about what they read. Seniors especially.

People will read amazing amounts of material if it’s interesting and personally relevant. The trouble is, many of today’s young copywriters don’t know the difference between entertaining and interesting. And they assume that if the subject is boring to them, everyone else finds it boring too. They think they have to do a song and dance to keep people’s attention.

Spend the time to educate seniors on the unique nature of your product and the value you offer. Establish your credibility because who you are is as important as what you say.

Remove the risk because seniors tend to be more careful with their money. And for goodness sake, provide good customer service. Seniors have long memories. And they will never, ever forgive you for treating them poorly.

Remember, if you’re not a senior now, you will be. So you’d better start building up those karma points right now by marketing to seniors with a little respect. What goes around comes around, as they say.

The mailman’s on the way, my friend. Neither snow nor rain …

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7 Responses to “The dos and don’ts of marketing to today’s seniors”

  1. Andrew B. on April 19th, 2011 5:22 pm

    Excellent post, and certainly timely as the first Boomers turn 65.

    I’ve found the best approach with this group (or any group, really) is a “sideways” voice. Don’t write “up” to them, as if they’re unapproachable. And certainly don’t write “down” to them, as if they’re senile.

    Instead, write sideways, as if they’re your colleagues, friends and neighbors. (Because they are.)And they’re as likely to rock an iPod, hybrid car, mountain bike or sports drink as almost anyone else.

  2. Dean Rieck on April 19th, 2011 9:02 pm

    Andrew: That’s a smart observation. And pretty good advice for most any copywriting.

  3. Amanda Moore on April 20th, 2011 10:51 pm

    I agree with Andrew, I was always taught to write as if you were speaking to your grandmother or your uncle. I think a big problem with marketing to seniors is that most people treat them like they are incompetent or seem like they are trying to take advantage. On a side note, by the way this post started out I thought this was going to be a blog post about a non-senior who received a senior marketing piece. That would be a very ignorant data mistake that can cause you a customer as well.

  4. Sheba Simms on April 22nd, 2011 10:25 am

    This was an entertaining post that makes an important point. I love the psychology you used to justify this marketing technique. Thanks!

  5. Mark Ryan on April 23rd, 2011 11:56 am

    I want to echo your point regarding the ‘respect’ factor. Having parents over the age of 60, I know 1st hand the premium they place on service. The thought being – ‘I have put my time into this life. I expect to be taken care of’. If your mailing piece has any notion of acknowlegding the recipient’s age, I would seriously consider shifting the tone to one that focusses on providing extremely good service.

  6. Stella on April 26th, 2011 5:05 am

    Perfectly put! my echo phrase is “Seniors have long memories. And they will never, ever forgive you for treating them poorly.”

    So be the best in customer care!

  7. Ozio Media on May 10th, 2011 3:17 pm

    A successful copywriter should be able to market to anybody, seniors included. To start out the copywriter needs to know their target audience, in this case seniors, and know their wants, needs, and way of thinking when it comes to making decisions, especially deciding on whether or not to spend money. Copy should be relatable, bring up a common problem, and offer a valuable solution.

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