Mature market fast becoming prime target for online marketers

Grandma has time on her hands - plenty of it, now that she's retired. And money is no object anymore. She's hungry for knowledge, reading more now than ever, both off and online. And she never falls out of touch, always chatting to the kids and grandkids over the phone, and more and more via e-mail.
Increasingly, Grandma's lifestyle is representative of maturing Canadians everywhere. And as Canada's hefty 50+ market becomes more comfortable with the Internet, they are becoming prime targets for marketers.

Grandma has time on her hands – plenty of it, now that she’s retired. And money is no object anymore. She’s hungry for knowledge, reading more now than ever, both off and online. And she never falls out of touch, always chatting to the kids and grandkids over the phone, and more and more via e-mail.

Increasingly, Grandma’s lifestyle is representative of maturing Canadians everywhere. And as Canada’s hefty 50+ market becomes more comfortable with the Internet, they are becoming prime targets for marketers.

The perception that the Internet is too advanced or complicated for the older age bracket, and better suited for the younger tech-savvy generations, still exists, and has perhaps shooed away many a marketer – much to the dismay of Web publishers targeting this demo.

‘The mature audience is now empowering themselves with the information available online,’ says Raquel Hirsch, senior VP, managing director, at the Vancouver office of relationship marketing agency Proximity Canada. ‘Marketers can leverage that. But it’s still something many haven’t clued in to. This is a perfect example of an opportunity marketers might be missing because they’re not doing the research. The data may be the boring part, but that’s where the gold nuggets are.’

Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research reports the online senior market grew 3% over 2001 – marking an end to ‘the meteoric growth’ of previous years (72% during 2000). But the more than 17 million online North American households headed by someone age 55 or older form a unique online segment, according to Forrester – ‘still lagging in transactional activity, seniors account for one in five online buyers, and their selective use of Web activities makes them easy to spot.’

Of the nine million Canadians aged 50+, about 25% to 30% are regular Internet users, says Jason Tafler, business development manager for Toronto-based Fifty Plus group of companies, whose offline and online properties serve in part as the voices for CARP (Canada’s association for the 50+). ‘This is a huge market,’ he says.

Recent in-house numbers lend further credence. Traffic to the 50plus.com Web site, launched in 1996, has tripled in the last 18 months to 150,000 unique visitors per month and 1.5 million page views per month, Tafler says. The site also boasts a community of about 35,000 registered users, who by registering gain access to e-newsletters, contests, chat rooms, etc. Tafler says 74% of those registered are between 50 and 65, with a slightly male skew, and 50% are from Ontario.

Fifty Plus also has a travel, health, and money e-newsletter (in partnership with MSN.ca’s Hotmail) that currently holds 80,000 subscribers. And 50plus.com offers advertisers an opt-in promotion list with 10,000 registrants.

For its part, CARP now sees the Internet as one of the biggest sources of membership. This year it is projecting it will bring in over 10,000 new members through the Web site – a 100% increase over last year, says Mike Daigneault, GM of 50Plus.com.

The site is just starting to experience great success with advertisers, especially in the three main areas of travel, health and finance. ‘It’s taken time for advertisers and marketers to focus on this demo because they still believe that the 50+ are not online,’ says Tafler. ‘We have met with some resistance.’

But those who have hit the market, have reaped the rewards. The Toronto-based Hong Kong Tourism Board, for example, has done a series of contests to build awareness of Hong Kong as a destination for this audience, but also to build its database and get permission to market to consumers via e-mail in the future, says Aliana Ho, director for Canadian operations of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, noting that travelers 46+ accounted for approximately 40% of all the leisure travelers to the city.

The Board employs integrated consumer marketing campaigns using the Web as a component. It has aligned itself with Web properties like 50Plus.com to run banner ads, Vokens and contest microsites, in addition to the e-coupons and information offered through www.discoverhongkong. com.

‘We normally always run a sweepstake to learn about who the audience is and build our database. We’ve found that the mature audience seeks out promotions and contests – the response rate is higher than other groups.’

It is currently holding a Mega Hong Kong Sale contest on 680News and its Web site, and print ads and a Web promotion through Reader’s Digest’s offline and online properties. The latter – launched three weeks ago – which offers the prize of a trip to Hong Kong, has already garnered 4,980 total registrations.

The 50Plus.com promotion that ran last year, she says, attracted about 3,000 entrants. It was designed around content because this group has much more of an interest in learning and reading, as well as more time to do it, says Ho. Contestants were asked five questions about Hong Kong – the answers for which could be found in the content on the site.

Advertisers do particularly well with sweepstakes and incentives, concurs Tafler, adding that research shows 70% of the 50+ market likes free offers, discounts and contests.

The mature market also clicks on banners twice as often as students, says Hirsch. And once consumers are driven to a Web site using a banner or any other mechanism, their awareness and interest is compounded: if an advertiser can get someone to a Web site for a particular drug, for example, the likelihood of that person actually using the drug increases seven fold.

Older people are initially confused by the bells and whistles – they just want e-mail and simple surfing, she adds, so usability needs to be a key component: larger, clearer fonts, along with clearly labeled and easy-to-get-to content.

Tafler says this age group mainly uses e-mail, browses and uses search engines extensively to find information on relevant topics, especially health, finance, and travel. They are just beginning to test online buying, still afraid of a lack of privacy and security. However, he adds, 50% are more likely to buy or interact with a trusted or recommended source.

‘A couple of rules of thumb are: you must provide multiple contact points by combining the Web with the phone, for example. They want to be able to book travel online [we booked about $1 million of travel through the site last year] or at least get a quote, but to be able to call someone to request more information or do the final transactions,’ says Tafler.

Frank Tomaino, senior marketing manager at Toronto-based Lombard Canada, which markets exclusively to the 50+ market through its Zenith Insurance firm, says while it has invested some time and effort into Web marketing, the company looks at the channel as merely a complement to its offline marketing.

‘We get a healthy number of hits to the site, but it’s for quotes and information purposes only – there’s little sales volume. Our call centre, on the other hand, generates killer sales,’ he says. ‘We don’t want to lose any opportunities, and the cost of advertising online is minimal, but there are just no sales yet.’

L’Oreal Paris Canada has been a repeat advertiser in the 50plus.com ‘health’ newsletters – promoting and branding its AgePerfect skin care line, launched last summer to 50+ women online – in combination with its offline advertising.

It did a test by sending e-newsletters via 50plus.com as well as e-newsletters to its own database, encouraging them to register on the L’Oreal site to receive product and give feedback. Subsequently in December, it drove the same consumers back to the Web site to view the testimonials, says Stephanie Leduc, manager of relationship marketing and Internet projects for L’Oreal Paris in Montreal.

A 1-800 number was also set up for that campaign, she says, because many consumers in this particular age group still prefer to pick up the phone. However, participation was as great through the Internet as it was via the phone. ‘We went to our existing database. And when people are predisposed to receiving things over the Net – specifically your marketing materials – it will be well-received.’ L’Oreal, she says, usually garners a 40% to 75% response (registration) rate from its e-newsletters.

In May, it is launching a sampling campaign for the AgePerfect product that will be also driven by online registration.

Proximity’s Hirsch believes marketers owe it to themselves to understand a little bit better who they are going after online – how baby boomers and seniors are using the Net and what their aspirations are toward it. ‘In my experience, it’s easier for most marketers to market to themselves or friends than to do the research to understand the behaviours of their target market.’