Monday, May 7, 2012

Harnessing the Market Opportunity of an Aging Population

As baby boomers age, advances in medicine and technology have dramatically increased average life expectancy, resulting in 98 million Americans who are more than 50 years old. While many people tend to focus on the problems that this demographic transition will cause, a Milken Institute Global Conference panel focused on the opportunities. Because of the huge purchasing power of this age group, why aren’t new products, services, and markets emerging more rapidly to address the needs and aspirations of this population?

Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of Age Wave, started the conversation by pointing out that this demographic shift is unique in human history: “People in the past did not live long enough to worry about the effects of an aging body.” Osteoporosis, arthritis, lost vision, and other maladies that come with age offer a “wonderland of opportunity” for innovators and entrepreneurs who are willing to pour time and capital into helping elevate these problems.

Other sectors that present huge opportunities for growth by targeting this age group are:
  • Financial services
  • Entertainment (the top six highest-grossing musical tours last year were bands that were popular in the 60s and 70s)
  • Premium services (first-class flights, high-end cars, vacation packages, etc.)
Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of thought leadership at AARP, pointed out that advertisers have been particularly slow to pick up on this opportunity. The overall purchasing power for the 50+ age group is much higher than that for Generation Y, but only 10 percent of advertising resources are focused on this age group while a disproportionate amount of resources go to advertising to younger adults. Holtzman pointed out that ultimately “Demographics are destiny,” and advertisers and wealth managers that have not adopted an aging strategy are missing out on a massive and seemingly obvious opportunity. Moderator Paul Irving, senior managing director and chief operating officer of the Milken Institute, asked the panelists why advertisers still focus on the younger demographic. Dychtwald pointed out that this is based on a myth that people make brand decisions early on in life and stick with them permanently.

Doug Busch, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Intel-GE Care Innovations, pointed out that there is a huge “competitive advantage of simplicity.” He discussed the example of the iPad, which is simple to use whether you are 5 years old or 75 years old. Many products cut themselves off from the older demographic by making products that are too complicated. He said that most members of this age group don’t want to “muddle through or fuss with low-quality or unwieldy products and services.”  

All panelists agreed that the 50+ age group is an incredibly underutilized resource. The combination they present of purchasing power and leisure time offer huge opportunities for those businesses and entrepreneurs who thoughtfully target them with products and services that are designed specifically to their unique needs and are marketed in a way that keeps these needs in mind.

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