Building and Positioning Brands for the Longevity Economy

The more than 10,000 Americans who reach retirement age each day represent just a small portion of what AARP estimates to be a $7.6 trillion marketplace, now being referred to as the “Longevity Economy.” It includes all adults, ages 50 and above, living in the US.

Products and services coming to market to serve the needs of aging adults span an enormous gamut. As of now, a search on Amazon’s “50+ Active & Healthy Living” online store turns up 320,332 unique products, of which 77,735 qualify for free, 2-day or faster shipping. These items range from music that Boomers grew up on and yoga equipment, to large-print books, arthritis creams, walkers… and everything in between.

As the average age of populations in the US and in many countries across the globe increases, I offer the following suggestions for brands positioning their companies, products, and services to meet the needs of this booming new economy:

1. Spend more time engaging with older adults. Get a sense for the varied circumstances that factor into their daily routines by observing seniors in different surroundings as they participate in a variety of activities. Study their experiences as users of similar products or services, when these exist, as early in the development cycle as possible. More often than not, you’re likely to take something away from the experience that informs and improves the direction you take.

2. Get direct input from seniors and those responsible for their care. Which problems do they identify as priorities, and how can you address them? Keep in mind that many guardians and care providers are older adults themselves.

3. Don’t think of all older adults as one demographic group. Recognize that their life experiences can be very different. Epsilon released study findings earlier this year that indicate one’s financial situation has more of an impact on behavior as a consumer than age. Among Baby Boomers alone, there are at least three distinct psychographic groups to consider (younger, middle and oldest) — each of which might represent a different customer persona to address in designing your product or service. Perhaps some features will be present only to address the needs of one or two of these personas.

One day soon, it will be more evident which channels are most effective in reaching the distinct audiences belonging to the Longevity Economy. Eventually, as this market truly matures, Marketing and Development will better understand their audiences and figure out how to ‘meet them where they are’, allowing companies to increase penetration and return greater revenue.

But as of now, it isn’t always clear where many products targeting seniors are best merchandised. At brick and mortar retail, new category items like Hasbro’s Joy for All™, do not neatly fit in one store aisle or another, and retail buyers and consumers alike are unclear where to locate them. For many of these products and services, online will likely continue to be the primary channel of distribution.

4. Shift the focus of products and services to offer solutions that serve as tools that facilitate relationships. Build this into the premise of your offering. Many brands for older adults seem focused on solving a multitude of age-related issues, such as alert devices and monitoring services that respond when a senior falls. Yet, not many are approaching development with the objective of providing tools that facilitate newly redefined roles in relationships seniors have, as their reliance upon others for support increases.

The advancement of voice command devices (VCDs) is helping bridge the gap for the less digitally fluent. Voice command technology will likely be employed more widely by brands serving older age groups, often as a means of leveling the field for seniors to better engage and communicate with family, friends, and care providers.

California Labs is a company doing just that, with its recent launch of Loop™, a device that resembles the ubiquitous image of how, in the 20th Century, we envisioned communication would look in the future. Brian Gannon, the company’s founder, describes the device as, “a simple-to-use, Wi-Fi connected family communication system.” He adds, “No other platform can so seamlessly keep everyone you care about in the loop.”

Two large knobs enable users to easily scan public and private channels to share pictures and video with the whole family at the same time. Voice recognition makes function selection simple, eliminating any need to navigate a computer interface. The accompanying mobile app enables those without a Loop to connect, wherever they are. Loop recently shipped its first production, and is currently taking preorders for its next run.

5. Bake ways of preserving independence right into your offerings. We need more products and services that enable older people to maintain as much of their sense of independence as possible. As adults accustomed to being in control most of our lives, we easily feel threatened and infantilized when we sense, even temporarily, a loss in our ability to make decisions for ourselves and participate in activities we have come to take for granted. It’s at times like these that we have to rely on others, which for many individuals is a difficult reality to face. As a result, the dignity seniors have is closely tied to their sense of autonomy. Although not designed specifically for the aging population, disruptive and shared economy businesses, such as Uber and Lyft — and eventually driverless cars — can prolong seniors’ sense of independence and mobility when they give up driving.

6. Leverage your organization’s influence to defeat ageism. We once sought seniors out for their sage advice, and they were given sincere respect. As the number of older adults continues to increase over time, we need to reexamine our fascination with youth, and address the biases of ageism in the US head-on.

Start with your own company. Leverage your organization to create awareness around this issue. Create examples of seniors as a vital part of the workforce by hiring older workers who bring practical life experiences and perspectives that diversify those represented among the rest of your team. When we defeat ageism, our communities will once again benefit from wisdom earned only through experience, and regain a depth and richness that we sadly lack today.

The landscape of the Longevity Economy will no doubt rapidly evolve, as the wave of Boomers continues to roll forward and the advances of thought leaders and technologists progress. It will be up to us, as strategists, marketers, and brand stewards, to determine how these are applied, as we bring valuable new options to market designed to meet the needs of our aging population. By looking at other more established markets — and the kids market in particular, because of the parallels it offers — we can gain insight into how to attract the attention of older adults and family caregivers, equip them with the products and services that genuinely make their lives easier, and facilitate their relationships with those around them.

Moss Kardener is Chief Brand Advisor at OnStrategy Consultants. His firm works to position companies, products, and services for success, distinguish them from competitors, define engaging brand experiences, and create strategic​ ​communications to tell their stories. Reach Moss at 1 (510) 499–9697, or © 2017 OnStrategy Consultants. All Rights Reserved. Trademarks and data content belong to their respective rights holders.