Old But Not Forgotten?

With all the focus on Gen Y and even the millennials, seniors aged 65+ seem almost completely forgotten when it comes to online marketing. We can’t help but wonder why, except we admit this isn’t exactly the most desired demographic for advertisers.

Still elders are considered to be one of the fastest growing demographics for online media. It’s not so much that people in their 70s and 80s are suddenly shifting to being heavy internet users; it’s that a huge wave of Internet-savvy boomers, now in their 60s, will begin passing the 65+ milestone – making now the time to start planning.

Technology Adoption: We can see the transition happening already. Our elders represented over 12% of the population in 2000, and the U.S. Census projects steady increases to nearly 21% of total Americans by 2050. According to Pew research, only 15% of boomers aged 50-65 are unwired as compared to 44% of the current elders. That compounds the changes expected from this group.

At the other end of the scale, more super-wired behaviors will emerge soon. There are admittedly a few seniors who download music and make blog postings today. Pew reports that about four percent fall into this “Elite” category (early adaptors, positive view on technology, own most gadgets.) However the older boomers are already six times more likely to fall into this category.

Online Activity: There are areas where the seniors behave like everybody else. They are just as likely to look for health information as Gen Y users. They make online travel reservations in equal numbers. Both e-mailing and searching, especially for people, are commonplace activities too. They don’t research products or buy online as much as their counterparts, at least not yet.

When starting an online search, elders are reacting to off-line media triggers based on their consumption patterns. Per BIGresearch, they rely most heavily on newspapers before searching. Nearly 53% identify newspapers versus 42% of all adults, and specifically mention reading “an article” too. They cite radio less frequently, at 18% versus 30%, perhaps due to no commuting time.

Of course, elders initiate searches based on online marketing influences. They respond to e-mail advertising like other adults, both over 25% each. Yet only 17% point to online advertising versus 25% overall, and we’re not sure why. They aren’t reacting much to blogs, instant messaging or online communities, but only young adults are really triggered there.

Destinations: Certainly some web sites cater only to seniors, offering everything from health care advice to computer know-how, even the opportunity to start your own blog. Notable examples include AARP, which has many different resources including an active forums area; Senior Journal, which guides visitors to local services; and Senior.com, a site whose tagline refers to it as “Your Internet Community.”

There are also destinations aimed for older boomers. One well-known example is ThirdAge Media. We all chuckled about a specialized search engine, Cranky.com, announced earlier this year. Cranky is part of Eons, which aims to be community-destination for this age group.

What’s more interesting? The actual behaviors of seniors online. Creating specialized, age-based sites to meet their needs seems very challenging to me. However, knowing exactly what they are doing online – and where to market effectively to them – should be more productive in the long run.

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