How to appeal to older audiences online

There is one group in society that has a particularly bad reputation online.

References to old racist uncles and confused grannies on Facebook are the stuff of legend in many jokes and memes.

Undeservedly so.

The over 50s are a force to be reckoned with online: according to research, 71% look for health advice on the internet, 77% shop online and 72% have social media accounts. And let’s not forget demographics. An ageing population means the size of marketing directed towards seniors will increase dramatically in the future.

So it’s in the best interest of brands to pay more attention to what senior consumers are talking about and interested in online. Their motivations, preferences and values. The way they see their world. To be truly inclusive to your older customer base and avoid misrepresenting or alienating them, you need to know them inside and out.

So how can brands use social, e-commerce platforms and marketing to better reach their more senior customers? Here are the three most common mistakes we see brands make when marketing to the over 50s.

Meet seniors on their turf

While young people tend to use a wide variety of social media platforms, in particular Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, the overwhelming majority of social users over the age of 50 only use Facebook. LinkedIn trails far behind, at a distant second. With Facebook dominating, brands would be wise to focus on it when marketing to older people.

Using Facebook, in particular, for marketing gives businesses more credibility with older audiences as they see their younger friends and relatives interacting with posts. This is powerful stuff for senior Facebook users: studies show they primarily use the platform to network and participate in conversations. Brands that can cultivate marketing content that gets older people talking and bring the opinionated out of the shadows – stand to gain handsomely.

Accommodate seniors’ online needs

Rather than just scrolling through updates, studies show older groups tend to use social networks in a more purposeful way than their juniors.

As the Economist shows, online shopping, in particular, has become mainstream among the over 50s. The trend exploded with Covid-19. Higher risks forced older audiences to become more internet savvy to avoid potentially life-threatening interactions. Industry reports from around the world reveal considerable growth in the number of purchases, frequency of shopping and the amounts spent by older consumers. Older consumers are now more likely to have made an online purchase in the last week than younger consumers (41% vs 39%), and just as likely to have made one via mobile. This trend shows little signs of changing: some research suggests that seniors will drive eCommerce growth in the years ahead.

So, marketers, get ready. Brands should be cautious not to prioritise the needs of younger groups on e-commerce sites. Make the shopping experience easy for senior consumers by:

  • Simplifying the login and checkout processes. 27% of older online shoppers abandon their shopping cart because the payment process is overcomplicated. You can include a progress bar to help them navigate the checkout process. Brands can also consider clearly labelling each form field so the customer knows what they are required to fill and use different colours to show when they have filled in their details correctly.
  • Use large fonts. Using large fonts will help seniors to easily read your marketing collateral and any links should also be big to encourage older consumers to click on them.
  • Make your site tablet-friendly. Research shows that around one-third of seniors use tables for their online activities.
  • Bring a human touch to the online experience. Older demographics are used to experiencing face-to-face customer service. To build a senior-friendly e-commerce site, incorporate a human touch into their online purchase journey. You can, for example, add a live chat option on your website, have AI personalisation that takes them through your website or have a conversational tone across the website.

Represent seniors in your online advertising

Older consumers are effectively snubbed by marketers. A study of advertising found that the over-50s represent 33 % of the US population but only 5% of ads are aimed at them. This has led to a whopping 89% of older people reporting that brands aren’t interested in them.

Just as most seniors feel that they’re overlooked in advertising, they really don’t like the ads that are currently aimed at them. They’re more likely to describe ads on social media as excessive than their younger counterparts – and there’s a lot of research to back this up. A study of British magazines revealed four groups based on their portrayals of older consumers:

  • frail and vulnerable
  • happy and affluent
  • mentors
  • active or leisure-oriented

Being an incredibly diverse lot, many experience a disconnect between how marketers portray them and how they see themselves.

Another problem is when brands over-emphasise the downsides of ageing – leading 31% of older people to believe that ads tend to be ageist. Many are angered when brands use older celebrities but then airbrush them to look younger.

So clearly, an age-diverse ad doesn’t always mean inclusive. Marketers can strengthen their brands by appreciating the difference and representing older consumers in the way they themselves want to be portrayed.

Now is the time for action.

Brands must work quickly to harness older consumers who have been driven to social media and e-commerce in recent years.

It’s a critical strategic focus – both for the number of over 50s online today as well the dramatic rise in the future.

To appeal to older audiences online, brands should try to reach them on the social media platforms where they spend their time. Facebook, for now. Brands would also do well to accommodate their online needs by making e-commerce as accessible as possible, as well as mimicking in-store experiences. Lastly, brands can reconsider their marketing, to make sure seniors are fully and accurately represented.

Above all, don’t undervalue senior customers.

They’ve grown wise enough to go elsewhere if you do.


By Louise Alestam 


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