Despite the best efforts of Covid-19, the UK population continues to age. To maintain growth, businesses must engage more effectively with older people, as customers and as employees.
Consider these facts: Business is losing £billions of potential expenditure by older consumers, mainly because of poor marketing2. And more than 1 million people over 50 who would like to work are unable to do so, because of ‘prejudice, age bias and casual ageism in the workplace’, according to a recent Government report.
In a world that just keeps on getting older, a more age-inclusive approach to business is an economic imperative and should be a strategic priority
A world that keeps getting older
The population of the UK – and every other developed market – will continue to age for the foreseeable future. There will be more older people, in both absolute and relative terms. Check out the ONS for the data.
In the UK, half the adult population is aged over 45. Over the next 20 years, the number of people aged over 65 will double in size. A child born this year in the UK today has a 50% chance of living to the age of 105. Becoming a centenarian will be the norm.4 And this applies to all developed markets.
In a world that just keeps on getting older, a more age-inclusive approach to business becomes a strategic priority and an economic imperative.
There is strong evidence that a more age-inclusive approach benefits everyone. Employees of all ages can and do work together harmoniously and efficiently. The Government receives additional taxation and GDP increases. Business benefits from a skilled and experienced workforce, improved productivity and superior financial performance.
This is not to suggest that other forms of inclusivity are not important. But age is unique: it is dynamic – there are more older people (both absolutely and relatively) every day; it is inevitable (if you’re lucky); and it applies to everyone, irrespective of gender or race.
Why new business thinking is needed
Business growth depends upon taking older people more seriously, as customers and as employees. This is economic fact and a strategic imperative. Yet all the evidence suggests that this is not yet the case in many businesses. New thinking is needed.
Consider employment. Pre-COVID-19, more jobs were being created than can be filled by the decreasing number of younger people entering the job market. This gap was estimated at the surprisingly high figure of 7.5 million jobs by 2022 (Business in the Community). The only logical option is to recruit and retain more people aged 50-69 within the workforce. Maybe older. Perhaps the timing of this will change post-COVID-19, but the trend remains the same.
However, employment rates continue to decline after the age of 50 – and the current epidemic seems to be exacerbating this. Many people aged between 50 and 69 – and older – would like to work, but are unable to do so. Age discrimination in the workplace remains a problem – research studies tells us that most workers aged over 55 say that at best they feel increasingly out of place in the workplace and at worst, have been treated unfavourably because of their age.
This is confirmed by a recent Government report1 , which estimates that more than 1 million people over 50 who would like to work are unable to do so, because of ‘prejudice, age bias and casual ageism in the workplace’. Age discrimination in the workplace is illegal, but the law is rarely enforced.
Much age discrimination is unconscious and may not be deliberate. For example, specifying a degree for a job where a degree is not essential (educational opportunities have changed: fewer older people have degrees).
As consumers, an increasingly large number of older people wield exceptional economic power. There are now more people aged over 50 than ever before, accounting for 35% of the population, 47% of consumer expenditure and 80% of personal wealth (ONS). According to McKinsey, consumption growth in Western Europe over the next 20 years, in all mainstream categories, will be driven by the over-60s.
Despite this, research studies consistently tell us that most older people feel that business and marketing either ignore, misunderstand or patronise them. What’s more, it is estimated that annual expenditure by people aged over 65 could increase by as much as £3 billion if their needs were met better2.
New business thinking is required if these issues are to be addressed more effectively.
Age is not sexy in business
Ageism is endemic in society and inevitable in business. Age is just not sexy in business, concluded one academic study of the subject. Our dislike and fear of age and ageing run deep, leading to unconscious age bias.
Business culture is firmly rooted in an increasingly inappropriate and irrelevant culture of youth and cool. The dress codes, language and office environments of any of the global corporations who dominate our economy – and those who service them – are designed to speak the language of younger people. Older people are seen as largely irrelevant to today’s technology-using, fast-moving, cool-grooving business world.
However, it’s still business, not rock and roll. The beard of Richard Branson, the skinny jeans and T shirts of tech entrepreneurs, the fireside chats in funky offices and above all, the youth-oriented culture – they’re are all there for one reason: to make money. I just read the excellent Bad Blood4, the chilling true story of how a Silicon Valley start-up became a multi-million dollar corporation through lies and deceit. A culture of ‘get with the programme’ was at the heart of this.
Before technology took over, the marketing function and its advertising agency suppliers led the way in worshipping youth. In marketing, youth has predominated for several decades: the people who work in it, the work environment, the work that is done and the audience for whom it is intended. Despite all the evidence, most marketing budgets are still directed at younger audiences.
All this made sense in the 1950s and 1960s – when the population was much younger than it is now. However, the market has moved on and marketing is still playing catch-up.
Perhaps one reason for this is the youth of people working in marketing and advertising. In marketing departments and agencies, it is almost impossible to find anybody aged over 40. In advertising, creative, digital and media agencies, just 5% of employees are aged over 50, while 50% are aged under 305. This contrasts with ONS data that tells us that 32% of the UK workforce is aged over 50 years old. It is not too surprising that the worlds of marketing and advertising often lack empathy with older people.
Where marketing led, other business functions have followed and tech companies have taken it to a whole new level. Offices like a fashionable Soho club? Check. Slides between floors? Check. Quinoa bars, free artisan coffee and craft beer? Check. A ‘youthful’ approach to business is a habit that’s hard to break.
It has also become central to business culture that creativity, energy, innovation and digital savvy are youthful attributes. The CEO of WPP recently stated that WPP was proud that 50% of its staff were aged under 30, for just this reason (he was forced to apologise the next day). However, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that there is no direct relationship between age and a decline in creativity or intellect. The effects of physical ageing are undeniable – but these days are unlikely to be a serious factor for most people in their 50s and 60s.
Consumer insight: driving business culture, strategy and change
The group of people aged over 50 is now too large to be ignored, too complex to be stereotyped and too diverse to be second-guessed. This means that traditional assumptions, concepts and models of age and ageing are increasingly outmoded and ineffective as a basis for business and marketing planning. ‘Older people’ refuse to conform to stereotype, do not behave like previous generations of older people and do not wish to be regarded as ‘old’. 1
Age and generation are ineffective and inappropriate ways of segmenting, targeting and grouping people. Most aspects of consumer interest and behaviour cross age and generation boundaries, and inter-generational collaboration of some kind is almost always a natural and positive force.
As customers, many older people believe that products, advertising and marketing communications are not targeted at them, even when they are purchasers of that category. They are also extremely likely to be experienced, discerning and demanding customers who are sceptical and dismissive of advertising and marketing communications.
In the workplace, people over 50 account for 30% of the workforce. Some need to continue to work for economic reasons: around 50% of people in their 50s and 60s have inadequate provision for retirement. And with the state pension age growing ever more distant, and company pension schemes in decline, an increasing number of people will have no option but to work beyond the historic state retirement age. Others choose to continue to work for social and personal reasons. As this group moves out of the workforce, experience and skills are lost, which are increasingly hard to replace.
There is extensive evidence to demonstrate that older people can contribute to a more harmonious and productive workplace, as part of an age-inclusive workforce. Some flexibility may be required in areas such as training and working hours. The cultural and physical aspects of the workplace itself may need to be re-evaluated. But it is all very achievable and can be hugely beneficial.
The Age-Inclusive Business Seminar
We are keen to encourage and support businesses to become more age-inclusive, in the belief that this will benefit business, society and individuals. We provide audit, consultancy and training services to businesses considering age-inclusive approaches for all or part of their business.
Our in-house Age-Inclusive Business Seminars provide businesses with relevant information as the starting point for decision-making and strategy formulation. These can be tailored to each business, but are typically two to three hours in duration and fall into two parts: first, presentation and discussion of the broad business facts, trends and issues, and second, discussion of business-specific issues.
To discuss this further, please contact Mark Beasley – email@example.com
- The Mature Market Report – Mark Beasley / rhc advantage. https://rhcadvantage.co.uk/mature-market-report/
- The Missing £Billions – International Longevity Centre
- Report published by House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, 17th July 2018. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/publications/
- The 100 Year-Life. Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott. Published by Bloomsbury Business
- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. John Carreyrou. Published by Picador
- IPA Agency Census. Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. http://www.ipa.co.uk/news/ipa-publishes-agency-census-2017#.W04LyIgnbIU
About the author
Mark Beasley is a management consultant who specialises in business, marketing and the ageing population. He was co-founder and Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association (2013-2018), leading its growth to become Europe’s leading organisation for age-related marketing and organiser of Europe’s largest specialist conference.
Starting his career as a graduate trainee in the fashion industry, Mark worked in marketing agencies for more than 20 years, as copywriter, account director, planning director and managing director. The agency he co-founded, Marketing Perspectives, was acquired by Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP group, where Mark became part of a global planning team. During this period, he worked with a wide range of global brands on many different marketing activities, campaigns and projects, including food, drink, services and technology.
He left WPP to work as a management consultant and Business School lecturer, before forming rhc advantage, a specialist ’50-plus’ creative and strategic marketing consultancy, in 2009. His writing includes the Best Practice Guide to Marketing for the 50-plus for the World Advertising Research Centre.
Mark has spoken on the subject of age-related business and marketing at conferences and company seminar in the UK and Europe, on the BBC and at the House of Lords. At specialist consultancy rhc advantage he has worked with clients in sectors including care, charities, financial services, food & drink, media, mobile telecoms, retirement property, technology and travel.
He has an MBA, is a social science graduate, was admitted to the Marketing Society in 1989 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2015. Mark can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Beasley, 17th September 2020