Research and the mature (50+) market

I am currently updating the Mature Market Report. This is a comprehensive literature review with a point of view, covering many different aspects of marketing and the UK’s ageing population. It draws upon more than 300 data and research sources and the current edition extends to over 60,000 words. Please get in touch if you’d like to read it – I’ll send you the Exec Summary in the first instance.

Once you’ve written something like this, it becomes a millstone around your neck. It demands to be updated at least annually.

So why did we decide to produce it? 
The UK is facing unprecedented population change, along with all EC member states and advanced economies. Our ageing population presents a wide range of challenges and opportunities, many of which have yet to be fully addressed. For businesses, this demographic trend is extremely important. 

This is a group of people that is too large to ignore, too diverse to stereotype and too complex to second-guess. Yet that is exactly what many businesses are doing: the barriers to purchase and consumption of goods and services by ‘older people’ are many and varied – and are increasingly well-documented. From product and service design to marketing communications and customer service, business and marketing for ma businesses continue to be youth-oriented. Meanwhile, other businesses sneak under the radar by successfully addressing the mature market.

Despite all this, the data, research, information and knowledge available are disparate – if they exist at all. There is no single text to act as a starting point for business and marketing strategy development. The marketing press re-invents the subject every year or so, recycling its own cliches and the same old data leavened by the instant wisdom of a few random advertising experts. A former editor of Campaign even edits a website targeted at high-spending, age-defying 50-somethings.

As a consultancy specialising wanted to provide our clients with a comprehensive overview, which would save them time and arm them with superior insight.

We also wanted to meet new clients, starting the relationship with something of interest, relevance and value. The report enables us to do this. If this is you, please get in touch!

Problem or opportunity?
The UK’s ageing population is only a problem if it is not understood and planned for. In fact, it provides many business opportunities.

However, many businesses have yet to address the situation. One reason may be that population ageing is a long-term trend rather than a dramatic year-on-year change: and for one reason or another, not every business is driven by long-term market-driven strategic planning. Furthermore, there is a cultural aversion to issues related to age, which applies to business, meaning that ageing and older people just do not receive the focus they should. Old age is culturally unattractive, especially to people working in advertising, digital and marketing.

Population change is dramatic when viewed over time. For the first time ever, in 2007, there were more adults aged over forty-five than there are aged under forty-five, and more people aged over sixty-five than there are under sixteen. In fact, the fastest-growing age group of all is that of people aged 85+. The last Government described the current situation as a ‘tipping point’ and age-related issues have subsequently become high profile in Parliament and the media.

What have been the barriers to change?
As has been argued thus far, the main barriers to change are first awareness and then attitudes.

Failure of long-term planning has been one barrier. The role of marketing – whose job it is to review the external environment – has changed: as a business function it is often no more than a service function, with strategy a c-level function. Hence, in many organisations, long-term planning may not include demographic change.

The history of marketing is also a barrier. Since the development of mass marketing in the 1950’s, marketing has tended to be managed by younger people, with younger audiences and consumers in mind. At that time, there was a natural affinity between burgeoning consumer goods businesses and the large number of young, post-war ‘baby boom’ families with young children. Mass production and mass marketing were dominant strategies for this scenario. However, times have changed. Mass marketing is no longer a dominant marketing strategy and as the demographic profile of the UK changes, marketing must change as well.

Traditional concepts of age and ageing are increasingly outmoded and ineffective as a basis for marketing planning. ‘Older people’ refuse to conform to stereotype. To think in terms of a single homogenous group of people aged over 50 is not an appropriate or effective response. Even though this is a large, complex and diverse group, it is too often ignored, patronised or stereotyped. It is important to get beyond the idea of older people as a single segment.

What do we mean by ‘mature audiences’?
The term ‘mature audience’ is used to reflect two related aspects of the ageing UK population and changing demographic structure. First, as the population has aged, there are more older people, who form an increasingly large and important group to be taken into account. Second, when taken as a whole, the total UK population is older (or more mature) than ever before, in terms of statistical distribution by age.

Older people are no longer a peripheral segment and form an increasingly large proportion of the total population, in terms of size and economic power. However, this is not just about older people – it’s about an older population overall. As the total UK population ages, mainstream audiences are inevitably older and more mature, centred around a median adult age of 45. There are more adults and fewer young people. Not only is an age-defined segment getting larger, but mainstream audiences are also getting older. This is not a specialist subject, but should be of interest to all marketers.

For individuals, ‘old age’ is a relative concept, dependent in part upon their own age. For much the same reason, we have not used an arbitrary age cut-off point, as there isn’t one. The most common lower age limit used in the literature we have studied on the subject of ‘older audiences’ is 50 – although there is no good reason for this.

If you’d like to read the executive summary of the Mature Market Report, please contact me. If you’re interested in reading and reviewing the full document, then let’s talk!

Mark Beasley
rhc Advantage – the mature marketing consultancy

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