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How well do we know the over 50s? Why companies need to rethink their marketing strategies to entice the mature consumer

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The ‘Grey market’, over-50s or elderly are just some of the common terms used to describe the mature consumer. Globally, the population is ageing and this growing section of society is fast becoming a sizable part of the worldwide consumer market.

A new study by researchers from UK universities, including Brunel University London and Newcastle University, has reviewed a wealth of research on mature consumers to identify what we know and what we do not know about marketing communications in relation to this wide-ranging group.

Having reviewed over 100 papers from top-tier marketing journals, the article, published in the journal Psychology and Marketing, evaluates the effectiveness of various marketing techniques aimed at the over-50s. Alongside its detailed analysis, it provides a helpful guide for marketing practitioners.

Age is often referred to as a state of mind, and research identifies the negative impact that stereotyping mature consumers can have on the marketing communications targeting them.  

Prof Danae Manika, a marketing expert from Brunel University London, said: “Age as a concept is not enough for marketing segmentation techniques developed to meet mature consumers' unique needs. We identify a range of attitudes and behaviours of mature consumers and extend the mature consumer definition to include biological, psychological and social dimensions, as well as life events and life circumstances, rather than biological age alone.”

Prof Natalia Yannopoulou, a marketing expert from Newcastle University, added: “The main variables key in any discussion of marketing to this group involve chronological age, health and self-perception of age. It is also important to identify a range of consumer behaviours, such as their decision-making processes.”

Researchers have noted a distinct change in consumer behaviour in the over-80s, whereby relatives and carers may be involved in the consumer decision-making process. The younger, mature consumer is often still in control of their decision-making and therefore displays different consumer behaviours.

“Mature consumers, when viewed as over-50s, are not a single market, and more precise segmentations are needed, such as 50 to 65, 65 to 80 and over-80s; although age alone is not enough,” said Prof Manika.

“It is even more useful if chronological age is used alongside other dimensions of ageing, such as physical and cognitive health and self-perception of age. The latter two are likely to have a larger predictive ability on consumer behaviour than chronological age.”

The researchers also found that a mature consumer’s self-perception of age and how they want others to perceive them also have an impact on their consumerism.

Prof Yannopoulou said: “Self-perception is socially constructed and influenced by an individual’s experiences and life events.

“It can also vary depending on context. Biological factors, such as a chronic pain, can make people more aware of their age on a day-to-day basis.”

Practitioners should be careful not to make assumptions about the use of digital technology among over-50s. Although some mature consumers find technology challenging, recent research shows that mature consumers are increasingly using social media.

“Future research must explore how mature consumers use technology and social media. This is under-explored, as is their inclusion within digital society. A further segment that requires future research is that of consumers who are less affluent and educated and poses little financial or social capital. Cultural segmentation aspects must also be considered. Also, little work is available to suggest how mature consumers define themselves,” said Prof Manika.

Prof Yannopoulou said: “Our review paper redefines the mature consumer and highlights the importance of segmenting over 50s. We hope our guide will change the way organisations view mature consumers and help marketing practitioners to understand the specific needs of mature consumers.”

Reported by:

Nadine Palmer, Media Relations
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