Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Boomers Give Direct Marketing Punch!

What age group has the most upside market potential? You may be surprised to learn it’s people over age 50. They have more spending power, are in better health, and are more active than ever before. Are you effectively reaching these older adults with your marketing efforts?

In sheer numbers, older Americans dominate the marketplace. We are in the midst of a “boom” in the aging population. As Baby Boomers enter their 50s and 60s, they are breaking through the stereotypes of what it means to age. Many are working longer and delaying retirement. They may be active in the lives of their grown children, have grandchildren, and may be caring for aging parents.

Many elements of effective direct marketing apply to all age groups. Direct mail, email communications, and your Web site are excellent direct marketing tools for reaching older consumers. Yet, it’s important to consider your audience when creating the strategy, copy, and design. Overall, older adults require more subtle and thoughtful approaches.

Direct Mail
Direct mail is ideal for reaching an older demographic. Older adults are more likely to open and read direct mail. They will review larger amounts of material if it is interesting and personally relevant. Here are some guidelines for direct mail to the 50+:

• Soften the sell. Older adults are more sensitive to being sold. If you give the information they need and communicate clear benefits, they can make their own decisions. Scare tactics and hype are less effective.
• Simplify the presentation. While direct mail is notorious for multiple inserts, flyers, response stickers, and more, you may want to consider a more simple, straightforward package. A letter that looks like a letter, color brochure, order form, reply envelope, and possibly an insert that provides additional information to support the main message.
• Use straightforward teasers. If you use a teaser, keep it simple. Focus on the offer or the main benefit readers will receive from responding to this package. Older consumers are more wary of hype and unreasonable claims.
• Make a connection. Be as personable as possible with your letter and additional copy. Be respectful and tell your story in a conversational manner. Establish trust and start a relationship between the reader and your company.
• Consider testimonials. Hearing the story of someone similar to them helps readers make a personal and emotional connection to your product or service. Reading about a real person’s experience purchasing insurance or making a planned gift is highly compelling.
• Think about design. Make copy as readable as possible while maintaining a traditional letter format. Unlike younger generations who have grown up with MTV, video games, and quick snippets of information, older adults typically expect a letter to be a letter. Break up text with subheads, bullets, indents, and call-outs to increase readability. Also, use serif typefaces and keep font size at least 12 point or larger.
• Make an offer. Even though your approach should be more of a soft-sell, the offer should be obvious. Ask them for action. Give a no-risk offer where they can receive something of perceived benefit. And, make it easy to respond with a clear, simple reply device.

Email Communications
The age 55+ group is the fastest growing segment to embrace computer technology. To reach an older audience with email, you may need to rethink your creative approaches. If you’ve ever watched a teenager talk on the phone while eating, flipping through a magazine, listening to the radio, and watching TV, you know that they are adept at managing chaos and clutter. Older adults respond more positively to simplicity and clearly stated messages.

• Use a direct, compelling subject line. Avoid hype or grandiose statements in the subject line. Older readers are wary of online scams.
• Create an appealing offer. Before you write a word, consider your offer. Whether it’s free information, a free consultation, or a special price offer, make sure it will appeal to your audience.
• Make it easy to read. Keep the copy brief and concise. Clearly state your offer and the primary benefits.
• Keep the design clean. Make sure graphics are supporting the message and any images are representative of the target audience. Or, try plain text as an alternative.
• Provide links to more content. For those readers who are interested in more detail, provide a link to additional content on your Web site. Be sure to create a landing page that will take them directly to relevant content. Design the landing page to look, feel, and sound like the email they received.
• Make it easy to respond. Provide clear directions for how readers are to respond to the email. Use as few steps as possible. The more complicated it is, the more chance that you will lose them along the way.

Web sites
The 50+ age group spends $7 billion online annually. They are researching, gathering information to make offline purchases, and buying online. Make sure your Web site is designed with older users in mind.

• Keep the navigation simple. Make your Web site very easy to navigate. The more flat the navigations, or the fewer “clicks,” the better. Limit the use of complicated technology.
• Explain Web site functionality. Use action words to direct consumers through the site. Make clickable areas larger and make it obvious when text is clickable with color or underlining.
• Make it easy to read. Use larger type or provide the option to enlarge the type size. Use less content and provide plenty of white space and breaks in the text. Avoid dark or patterned backgrounds, reversed out type, italics, or sans serif fonts.
• Provide content specific to older consumers. If your site is designed to target a variety of age groups, consider creating a section with information that’s relevant to an older audience.
• Use personal stories. If you are already selling to older consumers, add testimonials with photos from supporters that will give credibility and sincerity to your content.
• Prominently display privacy and security policies. Older adults are more skeptical and wary about the accuracy of information online and are concerned about identity fraud. Being honest and upfront will help you establish trust with older surfers.

If have products or services that are targeted to older consumers, are you speaking to them in the right way? Or, do have products or services that are not necessarily related to age? Could you be marketing them more effectively to an older segment?