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Data Reveals a New Picture of the Emerging Senior Market


Change Agent Colleen ScholerFor Colleen Scholer, data has flavor. Large-scale quantities of research, segments and sub-segments, analysis—she approaches these with curiosity and an investigative spirit, discovering interesting mixes and zaps of insight.

She’s vice president of brand insight and strategy at Ageist media company, “dedicated to championing the vitality, influence, and contributions of the modern 50-plus demographic, and an agency that advises businesses, brands, and organizations on emerging trends and how to better understand, speak to, and engage this important and growing segment.”

As well as brand services and research, the hybrid organization produces a newsletter rich in stunning images and profiles of older adults (it was founded by a photographer), well-being conferences, and soon, a podcast.

Scholer shares some of the overturned assumptions about the 50-plus market.

Think in terms of tribes

“All people do not age the same way,” Scholer says. “That’s obvious, but it’s astonishing how often it’s forgotten.”

“The more people age, the more they diverge. Youth culture can be a monoculture. But age leads to a multi-sector tribalism,” she says. “You have to be wary of the mass surveys around age.”

To reflect that diversity, Scholer likes to speak in terms of “tribes”—like segments, but with different types of differentiators.

“It all begins with the up-front sample criteria,” she says. “Determine who is your target market, then research within that. But be open-minded to those divergent segments, and how messaging might vary among them.”

Qualitative data has added value

Numbers matter, but they don’t necessarily rule. “You want to back up your claims with quantitative data, but you also want to get the flavor by capturing the verbal data, on a human-to-human level,” Scholer says. In a 15-question survey, about two open-ended questions is a good balance.

These have garnered comments that jump off the page: “I feel stronger and smarter than ever,” and “I’ve learned to love myself more.” These are the types of content you could build a whole campaign around, Scholer says.

Insights into a targeted segment

Ageists recent survey looked at a segment, or tribe, of 50-to-70-year-olds in a criteria segment who were currently healthy, active, curious, and financially stable—about 20 percent of the people in that age range in the United States. Scholer shared some of the results and how these might apply to senior living.

Picture them positively. 79 percent feel healthy; only 12 percent said they feel old, and only 5 percent said they had noticed a mental decline. This keys into how this group wants to be portrayed in imagery, ads, and content: As energetic, as enjoying life, but also as intelligent and experienced.

No “OK, Boomer” blowups. Another surprise was how much data showed that marketing to 50-to-70-year-olds is “not so different from marketing to the coveted millennial market,” she says.

“There’s so much in the news about the dichotomy, but we find there are many similarities,” she says, in how they look at love and relationships, belief in sustainability practices, and daily use of technology, for example.

Consider office space. 50 percent said they would work as a freelancer in their area of expertise after they retire. Senior living communities, Scholer speculates, may want to think of office spaces or meeting rooms that can accommodate this going forward.

They will research the heck out of you. 93 percent are “very curious.” This leads to a big behavior shift that looks like it will continue into future generations. Today’s 50-to-70-year-olds value their experience and are proud they’re “still learning.”

“They know themselves, they know what they need, what they like. They have a sense of security in their power to make decisions,” she says. “Unlike some in our parents’ generations, they’re used to researching options. They’ve been conditioned to make decisions based on research and fact-finding.”

That practice extends to their adult children who might be working with them to make decisions about where they’ll live: They have the same high expectations of life in aging and the same propensity to hunt down information.

“They’re going to be the next customers on the horizon,” Scholer points out. “So they’re interested for themselves, too.”