Forward on reverse: Insights for marketing to maturity: Part VI: A different kind of customerAtare E. Agbamu, CRMSReverse mortgages,HECMs One of the pearls of marketing wisdom I have taken away from my study of David Wolfe's work thus far is this—almost everything we know about marketing was learned and developed when youth ruled the marketplace. Think about that statement for a minute. If we accept the idea that knowing the customer is the first law of marketing, then we need to ask, "How well do we know aging and aging customers beyond popular stereotypes about age and aging?" This series, which we began in September 2005, was designed to answer the latter question. In this concluding installment, we look at eight traits of aging customers and their implications for marketing to older adults. Trait #1: Grounded in reality The older adult customer is more realistic and more practical about life. He has gone beyond the idealism of youth. This means your marketing communication should under-use shock, novelty and fantasy to grab attention. Use simple and familiar attention-grabbing tactics, such as a picture of a flower, a baby or grandparents picnicking with a grandchild on the shores of an iridescent lake. What is simple and familiar is more effective with older adults than the usual shock and novelty fare that appeals to younger customers. Trait #2: Perceptions more dependent on context Their perceptions are more dependent on background factors in contrast with the more black-and-white view of reality in youth. If you are doing marketing research among older adults, black-and-white or categorical questions will not yield the insights you are looking for. Positioning your products or services in absolutist language will not help either. For example, if you say, "We are the ultimate reverse mortgage company," you will only draw a laugh. They won't buy it. Trait #3: More resistant to change from outside The older adult is more autonomous and more difficult to persuade from the outside. Hyped claims about product or service features and benefits may fall on deaf ears, because they have been there, done that. They have seen more than their share of snake oil artists. Recall the AARP-funded Roper ASW study we mentioned in Part I ("Unlearn 20th Century Marketing," The Mortgage Press, September 2005) of this series. Three out of four older consumers are unhappy with marketing aimed at them. The do-not-call phenomenon of recent times may be telling us something about the mind of the market. Present valuable information about your product or service, and let them make up their own minds whether your product or service meets their needs. Aggressive, pushy and manipulative marketing tactics will backfire. Trait #4: Detached from, not caricatures of their peers With youths, if you see one, you've seen them all. So, one-size-fits-all marketing makes sense. It's not so with older adults. They are more individuated and detached, according to author David Wolfe. Generic marketing communication based on stereotypes of older adults will not get you far. Customized values- and needs-based marketing anchored on a solid, research-based understanding of the aging customer is the key to this market. Trait #5: More comfortable with intuition Let me share a family story to illustrate this trait. A few years ago, as I sat down to watch SuperBowl XXXVI with my sons, Akporefe (then 9 years old) said, "Daddy, the Rams are going to win! You want to bet me?" Awesiri (then 11 years old) promptly threw the same challenge at me. Then I asked them, "Why do you think that the Rams are going to win?" They rattled off a torrent of football league statistics to support their forecast. They knew their football facts and NFL history very well, and they communicated their knowledge with passion and confidence. No football or sports statistics guru myself, I was outgunned, but I was deeply impressed with their command of football history and facts. I told them that I would reserve my choice until the first few minutes of the game. Then the game started. The St. Louis Rams were introduced individually, with star quarterback Kurt Warner and other strong team members getting extra applause. The New England Patriots chose to be introduced as a team. I was impressed. From pure gut feeling, from knowing that challengers tend to be a little hungrier than champions and from ignorance about football and the season's activities up to the Super Bowl, I made my choice known to my eager sons—New England Patriots. Awesiri and Akporefe had football facts and history. I had intuition and life experience. Second-half customers do pay attention to facts, but they look at the facts and draw conclusions informed more by gut feelings or intuition. Trait #6: More focused on experiences than on products The older adult customer tends to want less stuff and more experiences. A marketing plan designed to induce desire for stuff may fail, but one created to enhance an experience will succeed. With older adults, experience is the marketing. Push experience, not product benefits and features. What kinds of experiences will extra cash from a reverse mortgage give your customer? Focus on the experience. Trait #7: More introspective In contrast with younger customers, whose orientation is more outward and social, the older adults look more to the self for guidance. They are more self-directed and self-taught than younger customers who often take their cues from peers. So, a marketing message that says, "Get a reverse mortgage, because your friends are getting one" will not work with this group of customers. Again, try to understand their needs and communicate in terms of their needs. Trait #8: More authentic In the last quarter of life, consumers tend to prefer what is real, as opposed to the ideal. In other words, they know that the perfect cover girl or the GQ man or woman is not real. Hype and mindless self-promotion will not help you bond with these groups of consumers. Tone down the volume and be real to connect with maturity. Now, let's review some key insights from the series: • To market to older adults, we must unlearn hucksterism, the dominant worldview of 20th century marketing. The "aggressive, pushy approach in marketing, which seeks to conquer and overwhelm and manipulate the consumers" is a recipe for failure in the mature market. • Older adult customers are different customers developmentally. We must first attempt to understand why they are different from younger customers if we plan to market to them successfully. • To understand older adult customers, we must understand the season of life that they are passing through. We can safely assume that most reverse mortgage customers are in their winter years. Some may be in the fall years. Knowing the developmental priorities of these years give us potent tools for effective marketing communication. • The general direction of the older adult customer is toward inner growth. They are searching for meaning and purpose. Marketing communication must speak to these deeper yearnings to be effective. Finally, the eight traits of the older adult customer above will help you know your mature customers better, leading to better marketing communication. Remember David Wolfe's sage assertion, "Almost everything we know about marketing we learned and developed when youth ruled the marketplace." We have some new learning to do. My forthcoming book on marketing and originating reverse mortgages offers more insights and strategies for marketing to the new lords of the 21st century marketplace. Think reverse. Move forward! Atare E. Agbamu, CRMS is president of ThinkReverse LLC, a reverse mortgage training and consulting firm based in the Twin Cities and is a consultant with Credo Mortgage. Atare is regarded as an emerging authority on reverse mortgages and is frequently consulted by financial professionals and families across America. His reverse mortgage interviews have been Web cast on MortgageMag Live! He can be reached by phone at (651) 389-1105 or e-mail [email protected].
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