According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, the life expectancy for women is approaching 80 years. That's six years longer than men, FYI. Furthermore, in 2001, women accounted for approximately 58% of those age 60 and older and 70% of those 85 and older.

As author Dr. Ken Dychtwald, chairman of Age Wave Communications puts it, “During the next 20 years, the number of 50+ Americans will grow by a whopping 40 million people. And as the mature segment of our society continues to shift from being the poorest to the richest, companies and industries that can sensitively and creatively meet their needs are posed for explosive growth.”

Especially in these days of health supplements, stretching classes, elder hostels, and more, you just can't define by age alone those of us who have lived the longest. Like the rest of us, older women (I'm generally referring to those 60+) want to be respected and heard simply as the life-experienced people that they are.

So if you want older women to spend their money on your goods or services...just say no to images of blue-haired people sitting around on a cruise-ship deck, playing cards in polyester and pearls.

What Defines "Older Women"

I went to an expert who has access to roughly 40,000 older women to learn more about the interests and buying behavior of the unfamiliar and often unacknowledged older segment of the women's market.

Tam Gray, a marketing consultant and the publisher of Senior Women Web has found that her readers and friends are all interested in the usual topics of the day, from science, politics, and computing to career changes, gossip, theater, and sports. The difference is that these women have “a group memory that could stretch back as far as the 1920s or further.”

The issues that strike a chord with them, and the cues for their product research and buying behaviors, derive from this broad range of knowledge and consumer experience; so, pegging them as consumers might be a bit more complex than you think.

A few key points taken from the discussions I had with Tam:

  • Leave men out of the picture. Older women are consumers in their own right and want to be treated as such. (And, another key statistic to remember, thanks to Tam: “There are the 10-12% of lesbian partners in the US who are gifting each other and buying home products too.”)
  • Older women like, and assume, attitude. They want to be perceived as “with it” so friends and family don't discount their opinions.
  • Just as for younger single women, older single women are a huge demographic for housing and quite a few other traditionally male-focused markets.

The "Ageless" Approach

Because older women often get overlooked as consumers, when you do include and commit to them, you discover (ta-da!) these women are full of life-wisdom and are hunting for the best places to spend their money.

Here are some clues to an “ageless” marketing approach:

  • Don't assume brand loyalty comes with older age. Realize that they've seen and heard it all and have had to adapt to major societal changes over the years. They can easily switch brands.
  • Market to the grandparent-and-child model. Toys, books, and clothing are all easy products for grandparents to buy, online and offline, for their grandchildren. And with so many women having kids later in life, we need to keep in mind that some in this group may not have gotten to the “grand” stage yet.
  • When they use the Internet, these women are often seeking health information or a sense of community. Their email use is driven by the desire to stay in touch with friends and family. Interestingly, while their grandkids may have led some seniors to the online world, a significant majority (76%) of the seniors (827 males and 1112 females) surveyed by SeniorNet in 2002 taught themselves to use the Internet.
  • Older Americans watch more TV and spend more time reading the paper and combing through direct mail, which may mean you can utilize those channels more effectively than if you were developing a campaign for the younger generation.
  • Stress the benefits of retirement rather than the anxiety (health ills, financial concerns, etc.). Would you respond to an “oh, woe is me” pitch for anything? I don't think so.
  • Provide them with solutions, without reminding them of their age.

Disregard Their Influence at Your Own Risk

Older women are vitally interested in non-wheelchair-related products, yet the market seems to reject them altogether after they've hit a certain age. Why don't their faces, lives, and stories get more media coverage or get used in ad campaigns more regularly? What's it going to take to find brands that appreciate them as consumers?

As we, ourselves, get older, we more frequently notice ad campaigns and marketing approaches falling short of our interests and needs. For example, just what age group does that women's clothing retailer hope to reach with their sexy models in the latest low-rider trousers and short skirts (so practical in the workplace…) supposedly geared for 30-something career women?

Note how twilight-zone/disconnected such an effort feels to you, and learn the lesson. Then, proceed to develop a much more “real world/real women” marketing campaign for your older women's market.

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.