Silver Tech Recharged

Why not considering seniors in your comms planning could mean missing out on a huge opportunity.
Tells Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at UNLIMITED.

An unlikely new record holder
Last month Instagram gained a new user. Someone with a clear point of view, undeniable credibility, and a loyal following. Such was this user’s appeal that he quickly amassed followers, reaching the milestone of one million followers within four hours of joining, quicker than anyone in the platform’s ten-year history. This new record holder, who is now well on the way to 6 million followers, is no millennial fashion blogger or Zoomer esports influencer but, instead, a middle-class, British 94-year-old, Sir David Attenborough.

The times they are a-changing
Like Sir David, large numbers of seniors are adopting technologies, platforms and behaviours usually associated with younger consumers. The assumptions that an increasingly youthful marketing community make about seniors’ tech naïveté or isolation seem more lazy, opinionated, and misguided with each passing year.

From device ownership to increasingly sophisticated patterns of online and mobile usage we see the same pattern: with uptake amongst the young virtually at saturation levels, older consumers are rapidly catching up and have come to represent key new audiences to target.

Smartphone ownership for 16-24 year olds has only grown from 86% to 98% since 2012, while in the same period, for 55-64 year olds it has rocketed from just 9% to 80%: If that trend continues, the two groups will be more less equal in a couple more years.

Seniors are also becoming frequent users of social media. Boomers are actually the age group with the highest global growth in WhatsApp usage (up from 27% in 2016 to 40% in 2018) and it is a similar story for Instagram usage (up from 17% in 2016 to 28% in 2018).

Same with online shopping, particularly for grocery. COVID has forced large numbers to overcome their wariness in favour of convenience and a desire to minimise the chances of infection and much of this growth has been with older shoppers:  The most marked increase in online grocery shopping is within the over-55 age group, where regular online shoppers have nearly trebled (8% in 2019 to 23% in 2020). Last year, less than half of over-55s (47%) did some of their food shopping online. Now 74% do.

Demographics are accelerating this trend

The rapid age-blurring of technology has been driven by several factors – the natural process of mainstreaming that follows the classic adoption curve, the strange world of COVID-enforced change, and natural demographics to name but a few. Age bands are not static, but constantly shifting. Every year some 900,000 Brits come into the 55+ category by virtue of reaching that milestone birthday. Some 700,000 turn 65 and 500,000 turn 75. When they hit those thresholds, they don’t suddenly abandon the behaviours of their younger selves and so, in its steady march, younger patterns of ownership, attitudes and behaviours make their way steadily up the age ladder. Eventually, even today’s millennials, already approaching 40, will themselves be tomorrow’s seniors and, of course, they will be heavy tech users.

Recognising the needs of this new audience
While tech use is democratising, this new audience may still have distinct needs compared with younger, tech-savvier users, based either around their social attitudes and conservatism or rooted in their relative inexperience with new technologies, processes or terminology.

Recent survey work by our sister agencies Nelson Bostock UNLIMITED and Walnut UNLIMITED uncovered some interesting age differences around expectations of login processes for e-commerce sites for example. Younger users are clearly willing to trade off security for speed, for example by giving up their social media details to speed through logins. Older users though have significant data and identity misgivings: 84 % of over 75s would like to better understand what data is captured and how it is used online, 81% would like to feel more confident about the security of their personal details when logging in and 71% are concerned about the personal information they are required to give away when logging-in.

Not one audience but many
Many marketers and PR professionals are potentially missing out on a massive opportunity by overlooking seniors. Even those who are including this group in their targeting are often doing so partially or ineffectively. Most will be doing no more than thinking of those aged 55+ as a single group. While this is better than ignoring all seniors, it isn’t enough.

Try a little thought experiment. Ask yourself: can you imagine thinking of all those under 55 as a single audience with the same lifestyles, the same needs? Of course not. We’re well used to the idea that we need to break up under 55s into Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and now Gen Alpha to recognise their nuanced differences. In the same way we need to break up the 55+ audience into smaller and more meaningful sub-groups.

Living agelessly
But it is so easy to get this badly wrong. 84% of seniors agree that “I don’t want to be defined by my age”. Communicating with seniors is about recognising the needs they have, without them sensing that you are making age-based assumptions about them. So, breaking them down into more meaningful sub-groups needs to be about far more than simply cutting them into finer age bands (55-64, 65-74 and 75+ being a commonly used approach). Health, income, location, family situation, working status and previous exposure to technology can all be far more important as differentiators than mere age. An affluent, educated, healthy Islington 75-year-old retiree who looks after her grandchildren several days a week may be a far more interesting prospect for your social campaign than someone much younger but who has money worries, health challenges and/or no young family to keep them informed about new technology.

Connecting with “f*@king awesome”
“Your 40s are good.  Your 50s are great.  Your 60s are fab.  And 70 is f*@king awesome!” So said Helen Mirren, 74, who embodies the idea that ageing is not something to be feared or avoided, just enjoyed.

It is time to revisit any assumptions you have about seniors and technology. OK, relatively few of them may stand in line for the new iPhone 11. Yes, relatively few of them may be regular TikTok users. But nor are they total tech rejectors. More and more of them, particularly those 55-75, are either relatively tech-savvy or keen not to be left behind. And the new seniors coming into the group each year will only increase this trend.

Seniors are a large and affluent group keen to embrace technology. Marketers must embrace this positivity about seniors, ageing and technology. Only when this happens will seniors cease to be the forgotten generation.

Silver Tech Comes of Age is just one of the many great articles featured in Recharged; our e-magazine on all things consumer tech – from the guys at Nelson Bostock and us!
To download your copy, simply click here.



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