Marketing to Seniors: They Are Not All Alike

October 2, 2023


A book that should be required reading for anyone marketing products or services to older adults is Stage (Not Age), by Susan Golden. Older adults have historically been defined – culturally and as a market – by their age. Ms. Golden points out that longer lifespans and healthspans have created an environment where older people cannot be lumped together as a single age-based cohort.

Sixty-year-olds are not the same as eighty-year-olds. For that matter, all sixty-year-olds are not the same. There are sixty-year-olds that act like they are forty, and others who act like they are eighty. Not to mention, there are eighty-year-olds who act like they are sixty!

As a general rule, no singular marketing approach can effectively address all consumers of a certain age – and certainly no approach that can address all adults over 65.

Many Ways to Identify an Older Adult’s Stage of Life

While there are a number of ways to segment older adults by life stage, two seem to be especially instructive:

1. Health & Functionality

As people age, their ability – or inability – to do things impacts their overall lifestyle. Those with excellent health and functionality do not tend to feel or act “old.” With few limitations, they continue to live their lives as they always have. In fact, seniors who remain relatively unimpaired after fifty, sixty, or seventy are less likely to consider themselves “old” when compared to their peers. But as health declines or seniors become more limited with regard to their general activities of daily living, their lifestyles slow and their ability to continue doing many of the activities they love is impaired.

2. Attitude

While marketers tend to focus on the effects of aging when they communicate to older adults, many of those older adults do not necessarily feel the same urgency to find ways to make aging easier. Many (maybe most?) enjoy a positive outlook about their lives and their futures, and are ready to continue their journeys of personal growth.

Don’t miss the big takeaway here: there is no numerical age associated with either of these segmentations. One poll cited in Stage (Not Age) pointed out that only 16% of adults, 60+, consider the age 65 as “old.” (This same poll also noted that an overwhelming majority of younger adults, 18-29 years old, did consider 65 as old.) Another take on this comes from pollster, Frank Luntz, who pointed out in his book, What Americans Really Want, that people over seventy feel thirteen years younger than their chronological age, and thought they looked it, too!

Three Things to Consider When Marketing to “Stage”

First, throw out any vocabulary in your messaging to seniors that is based on age – it is no longer relevant. Your language needs to focus on whatever stages people find themselves in, because it is likely that older adults of similar age will reside in completely different market segments. Language should aim to describe stages, not ages.

Second, efforts to sell products and services in the longevity space need to recognize a multigenerational customer base. Depending on the purpose of a product or service, the potential customer base can span decades – not to mention, the end user and the purchase decision maker may be two different entities.

Third, seniors want to live the best quality of life possible. To assume older adults are “needy” simply because of age is a mistake! Your marketing efforts are likely to be more successful when you address seniors as younger and more vibrant, because that’s the way they see themselves at whatever their life stage might be.

When targeting the senior consumer, it’s all about stage.