Targeting seniors on mobile begins to make sense
Mature consumers are increasingly using smartphones and tablets, and mobile marketers, including those at the Consumer Electronics Show, are vying for their money and Web traffic.
Tech-savvy seniors send photos to their grandchildren on Facebook and Twitter, monitor their medication intake with their smartphones' health applications and plan vacations and shopping trips on their tablets. Forty-four percent of United States mobile users ages 55 to 64 now use their tablets while watching TV to research content material, according to Nielsen.
"Senior citizens are becoming increasingly mobile-literate, and at an incredibly fast pace," said Sian Rowlands, research analyst at Juniper Research, Hampshire, Britain. "Marketing to them via mobile matters because if this opportunity is ignored, brands are going to lose out.
"The number of computer / mobile-literate senior citizens is only going to increase," she said. "Social media is a great way for brands to connect with senior citizens who have mobile devices, as the demographic is keen to keep in touch with friends and family via social networks."
About 78 million Baby Boomers in the United States, or 450 million worldwide, were born between 1946 and 1964 and are hitting their peak earning and spending years, according to CES.
With that in mind, CES set up Silvers Summit, a tech zone targeting mature consumers and featuring entertainment, health and fitness products tailored toward them.
Also at CES, iSaiSo Inc. introduced its i-SaiSo Wellbeing Monitor, a Web-based subscription service and mobile app that provides real-time monitoring and alerts for aging seniors.
InsureandGo USA's travel policies can be researched and purchased online and via mobile. According to InsureandGo, consumers age 54 and older make up roughly 50 percent of all travel policies purchased from them.
Another company, eCaring, offers a Web-based system that tracks vitals signs, which can be accessed on tablets.
Developers are introducing products to meet mature consumers' every need, from healthcare and medical mobile applications to wearable fitness monitors to large-print and audio enhancing options on mobile devices.
"They're the clipboard workforce, using forms and clipboards to do their jobs," said Bend, Oregon-based analyst Jeff Orr of ABI Research. "Mobile devices would help them collect the information they need to do their jobs."
Mature consumers have found many uses for mobile devices and they are just discovering or becoming more comfortable with others, such as shopping online.
Yet Opinion Matters, on behalf of Kalixa Group, found that only 1.5 percent of Brits ages 68 to 88 shopped online using a tablet, even though 58 percent shopped online on desktops.
Mobile devices meet the needs of mature consumers
Over time that may change as more seniors buy and begin regularly using tablets.
"We can't be sure why seniors are increasingly shopping online, but clearly it's a channel they are comfortable with and where they are aware of the benefits," said Michael Scanlan, account manager at CCgroup, London. "We do know that they are confident shopping online and far less likely to be frustrated by common online problems."
Older Adults Technology Services, or oats.org, and Senior Planet are two organizations in New York City that help seniors learn about and use technology, such as mobile devices.
For example, oats.org offers an "Introduction to the iPad" class, which shows mature consumers how to use tablets to browse the Web, use email, manage calendars, access entertainment and increase social interaction. Senior Planet also offers an "iPad basics for older adults" class.
Today's youth grow up using mobile devices, but the technology may be unfamiliar to mature consumers.
Forty-five percent of Americans age 70 and older say technology often frustrates them, according to oats.org.
The irony is that the same technology that thwarts and frustrates mature consumers also can benefit them tremendously.
Barriers to mature consumers using mobile devices include education, technology, price and usability, according to Stephen Johnston, co-founder of Aging2.0, New York.
That said, mature consumers could be quick to adopt mobile devices once they learn how to use them and become familiar with the technology, pricing, functions and features.
"We hear from seniors all the time who think they're not going to be able to use mobile [devices], but once they get introduced to them, they're hooked," Mr. Johnston said. "This is especially true of tablets, which has a form factor that is easier to use.
"Often the killer app is looking at pictures of grandchildren, but it can also be Facebook, Internet browsing or Angry Birds."
The key is getting mature consumers started using mobile devices and offering them the goods and services they desire.
For example, Fabris Companies, franchise owner of IHOP, Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins locations in 2010, found that mature consumers participated in its SMS and mobile coupons programs (see story).
It should come as no surprise that mature consumers use their mobile devices to redeem coupons for pancake breakfasts and then turn around and use their smartphones' fitness apps to track the number of steps they take to burn off the calories.
"Older people want what we all want, to be connected," said Stephen Johnston, co-founder of Aging2.0, New York. "The other fundamental is personalization.
"Nowadays apps make each phone unique, and mobile [phones] serve as a platform to create a truly personalized tool that can combine their health apps with messaging, games and whatever else interests them."
Kari Jensen is staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York