By 2035, for the first time in American history, people aged 65 and older will outnumber those 18 and younger, and it’s time for entrepreneurs to take note. We’ve entered a time that I call the New Life Curve, where longevity has increased to the point that our generative years have extended by up to 30 years. That’s a long time! You can’t look only at age, though; you also have to look at "healthspan," meaning how long we stay healthy. While the Silent Generation isn’t known for its use of smartphones, the majority of boomers are tech friendly. One of the senior products I worked on, in fact, utilized tablets and smartphones. No one wants a huge pendant around his or her neck announcing to the world, “I’m old!” If you’re designing for fall detection, make your product stylish. According to a survey conducted by AARP, the vast majority of seniors (91 percent in that particular study) use technology to stay connected to friends and family. Focus on health. For seniors, age is sometimes only a number.
You know those images of meek old ladies sitting in their gardens? Uh-uh. That’s not reality.
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We see a lot of headlines about how our population is aging, but we don’t see what businesses are doing about it. By 2035, for the first time in American history, people aged 65 and older will outnumber those 18 and younger, and it’s time for entrepreneurs to take note. As someone who has worked in innovation in the senior space, for AARP and elsewhere, I can offer some predictions for what I see as the path forward, and what entrepreneurs — of any age — can do about it.
1. Understand your target audience.
Entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that all seniors are the same. How often do we see marketing material featuring little old ladies wearing straw hats, smiling meekly from the comfort of their gardens? Those stock photos are rampant because no one is taking the time to understand the phases of aging, nor are they recognizing that seniors are just as diverse as the rest of the population.
We’ve entered a time that I call the New Life Curve, where longevity has increased to the point that our generative years have extended by up to 30 years. That’s a long time! As health improves, adults 55 and up are working longer and have considerable more buying power than millennials, but many simply haven’t gotten the hint.
You can’t look only at age, though; you also have to look at “healthspan,” meaning how long we stay healthy. When I spent time in seniors’ homes for a client in the senior living industry, I saw a vast range of abilities. There was a man in his 50s who struggled with memory to the extent that he could no longer work or be on his own. But there was also a woman in her 80s who was chopping firewood in her backyard.
These diverse illustrations of aging should come as no surprise to anyone with senior parents or grandparents, but when people go about creating products and services for seniors, they often decide that one size fits all.
The only brand I’ve seen that breaks through is Viagra. Men and women in those ads are younger, more stylish. They’re enjoying life, they’re dancing, they’re out and about — much like the seniors I have gotten to know through my work.
As I said in a book I co-authored earlier this year, you have to get curious about your audience, to do rapid research. Pilot your product. Start small and keep iterating. But if you think all seniors are identical, you’ve already lost.
2. Don’t assume all seniors are low tech.
While the Silent Generation isn’t known for its use of smartphones, the majority of boomers are tech friendly. According to this study from the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of boomers own smartphones, 52 percent own tablets and 57 percent use social media. Although millennials make…