Seniors a new breed: Study

The mature market is quickly becoming the trendiest demographic of the decade in market research circles.Aging baby boomers, such as Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Margaret Atwood, have now crossed the half-century threshold, and are giving new meaning to the phrase...

The mature market is quickly becoming the trendiest demographic of the decade in market research circles.

Aging baby boomers, such as Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Margaret Atwood, have now crossed the half-century threshold, and are giving new meaning to the phrase ‘golden age.’

Market researchers, such as Minneapolis-based Strategic Directions Group, are responding to these changes with studies that are designed to reinterpret the aging population.

Once considered a monolithic, frumpy, toothless and inactive group, the 50-plus segment is now being recognized as a heterogeneous target market, says Strategic Directions President Carol Morgan.

The company has recently released a new study of the mature market.

Morgan says more than 3,000 consumers upwards of 50 years of age were surveyed, combining both demographic and psychographic information.

‘The social and financial trends are currently, and will continue to be, shaped by the aging population well into the 21st century,’ she says.

‘When you look at the size, importance and wealth of this market, it’s something that people in marketing just can’t ignore anymore.’

The study shows that 25% of the u.s. population is now over the age of 50. They also control 51% of all discretionary income.

Past research has been too simplistic, Morgan says, relying too heavily on demographic information without understanding the differing psychological dynamics within the mature market – their varying health conditions, values and needs.

She says a successful marketing strategy means targetting specific niches within the segment.

Attitudinal information in the study can be correlated with behavioral data and demographics to create relevant products and services for each category within the mature market.

Morgan says marketers can also use the information to create effective advertising campaigns.

Conducted in early 1992, the survey asked consumers to respond to questions in areas of interest including financial investments, food, pharmaceuticals, travel, pets, cars, housing and leisure.

The study identified three broad categories – self, health and food – and within them, four self groups, four health groups and three food groups.

For example, research in the self segment shows ‘Upbeat Enjoyers’ will be more likely to buy foreign cars than ‘Financial Positives’ who have an affinity for expensive domestic brands such as Cadillacs.

In the health portion of the survey, the study reveals that ‘Faithful Patients’ consume more pharmaceutical drugs as well as over-the-counter drugs, than the ‘Proactives,’ who are more likely to invest in exercise equipment, vitamin pills and walking shoes.

And in the food section, the study shows that the ‘Nutrition-Concerned’ have a greater preference for seafood and cereals, compared with their ‘Fast & Healthy’ counterparts who favor convenience in the form of microwaveable meals and other single-portion pre-packaged dinners.

Morgan says many trends identified in the study are applicable to the Canadian market.

Even within the u.s. there are some geographical differences, but the basic attitudes and trends are the same, she says.

‘The fundamental mind-set translates quite well to the Canadian market,’ according to Morgan.

However, she says the weakest link between the Canadian and u.s. mature markets is in the health segment of the study.

Differences in the health care systems may skew some of the survey results, she says

Vicki Griffiths, president of Seniors Solutions, a Toronto-based company that specializes in market research for the 50-plus market, is skeptical about whether the study can be applied to the Canadian market.

Because the ethnic mixes of the countries are dramatically different, there are likely to be important differences between the survey findings and the Canadian marketplace, Griffiths says.

The results of the study have been published in a book called Segmenting the Mature Market, which is scheduled to be distributed in September by John Wiley & Sons.