by Larry Dobrow
Asked to assess the current state of online marketing to women ages 60 and up, pundits and professionals alike reference a likely subject: their mothers. To hear the experts tell it, Mom got started on the Internet a few years back, when Junior hooked her up with e-mail. From there she steadily increased her slate of activities: Downloading photos of the grandkids gradually gave way to ordering prints online, and product/service research slowly morphed into online purchases, etc. Oh, yeah - and 60 is either "the new 40" or "the new 50," depending on who's doing the spinning.
So the question facing marketers isn't so much, "Will older women embrace the Internet?" as it is, "When will you start to give them a little love?" In "Wealth With Wisdom: Serving the Needs of Aging Consumers," Deloitte Research notes the vitality of older consumers in their online activities as well as in their offline ones. Pat Conroy, vice chairman and national managing principal of the U.S. Consumer Business Industries Practice at Deloitte & Touche USA, notes that 76 percent of customers between the ages of 65 and 74 bought goods or services online during the three-month period of the survey, and that these consumers own an average of five high-tech devices.
The report concludes, "Those that ignore this massive demographic shift and its global impact are likely to miss a significant opportunity." Adds Conroy, "Stereotypes about older consumers not using the Internet are obsolete. They're online more, and for activities other than e-mail."
That's why reaching older women online has become more involved. Until the last few years, pharmaceutical and travel companies put the occasional banner ad on CNN.com or a health-oriented page on AOL, and that was that. Now, with older women doing research, monitoring their financial well-being, and shopping online quite often, media planners have their work cut out for them.
"The first time we did something for this audience, I wished I was working in television instead," jokes Troy Lerner, director and founder of The Booyah Agency. "I'm sure we could easily have picked TV shows that match up well with older women, but we were scratching our heads about online."
News and finance sites receive the most votes as destinations for ads and programs targeting older women, with health and women's-interest sites (especially iVillage and Oxygen's Web presence) not far behind. Anything AOL-related also gets an approving nod.
"The things that the technorati scorn AOL for are the things that make it so appealing to women of an advanced age," says Dave Wilson, president and chief strategist at interactive marketing shop Wilson Relationship Marketing Services. "They wouldn't go over to broadband unless somebody assured them they could keep their AOL." Luckily that's no longer an issue.
Among companies that have had online success with this audience, Conroy points to Fidelity. "They were the first company to realize, 'We need to make it easy for our customers to work with us and hear from us,'" he says. Other media/marketing folks admit that they've crafted campaigns for this market on the fly.
Lerner says his agency "backed into" targeting older women online. "Two clients - a private-residence club and a life insurance company - identified this demographic for us and said, 'Go for it,'" he recalls. He learned that cutting-edge work is scarce, and that co-registration efforts lead to surprisingly strong results.
Playtime for Seniors
Then there are online games. While the perception exists that all players are young men, media professionals claim that older women have embraced online gaming as much as anyone. "Companies should look at a site like Pogo. They've quietly generated a serious audience for casual games, like solitaire and Sudoku, that older women enjoy," says Laura Betterly, president and chief executive officer of In Touch Media Group.
Jessica Rovello, chairman of game provider Arkadium, notes an average playtime of 17 minutes for online games. While she declines to identify recent clients, she mentions a game Arkadium recently created for a large pharmaceutical company. The game, which attempted to link healthy lifestyles (and ostensibly a drug) with the travel older women enjoy, allowed users to pause the game in the middle to request information.
But Rovello cautions marketers not to ask for tons of personal data up-front. "Let them play as a guest and get a level of comfort before asking them to register, and ask for as little information as possible," she advises. "Older game players tend to be a little suspicious when somebody's asking them a bunch of questions."
Online communities could eventually pop up as well, says Lance Podell, chief executive officer of Seevast Corp. "Let's say these women go on vacation with a tour group. Afterwards, maybe the tour company gives everybody a URL where they can share pictures and stay in touch and have chats, maybe even plan other vacations together."
Other tips with this audience are just common sense. Never prompt older computer users to download an attachment or plug-in. Avoid pop-ups or anything that creates a separate window.
Make sure your communications to older women should boast larger fonts and easy-to-click links. Always present a phone number for further assistance; real-time Web chat hasn't yet connected with the 60-plus set. And finally, calls to action shouldn't be unnecessarily complicated: A simple pitch might work, but a simple pitch accompanied by three other offers will not.
Most importantly, don't talk down to older women or assume a lack of knowledge and sophistication on their part. "You'll find more success by treating them like any other savvy audience, and not like they're in their first online experience," In Touch's Betterly notes. "If they're online, they're obviously comfortable in that environment."