By Neel Desai
As an entrepreneur developing a service for the 50+ plus demographic, I have struggled, as have many others to find a name for this group. After all, marketers and businesses alike have created distinct customer segments with infants (birth-12 months), toddlers
(1-4 years), children (5-10), pre-teens (11-12), teens (13-17), and young adults (18-25).
So naturally, by extension, I thought someone over 50 years of age would be called an ‘older adult’.
But we’ve also heard terms such as seniors, elders, the elderly, mature adults, retirees, Boomers, and Zoomers used to refer to the same group of people, which then begs to ask a number of questions: Where do these other labels fit? Are they interchangeable? Are any of them offensive? Surely someone who is 50 years of age, wouldn’t want to be called ‘old’. I doubt anyone over 90 would want to be called ‘old’ either. Unsure of any of these answers, I found myself back to the beginning, scrambling for a label to describe people over 50 and soon found myself using all of the labels interchangeably to ensure I was covering everyone; needless to say, not a great strategy.
Unpleased with the outcome, I then thought to try a different approach by finding common characteristics of this age group. I first looked at their interests: some enjoyed reading, watching movies, taking classes, while some enjoyed snowboarding, swimming, rock climbing, water skiing, or travelling.
Next, I looked at personal relationships: some had always been single, some divorced, some widowed, some re-married, some were parents, some grandparents, some were in long-term relationships, some had many friends, and some needed more. Then I looked at health: some were in wheelchairs, some used canes, some were bed-ridden with medical problems, but some were healthier than they had ever been, both mentally and physically. Lastly I looked at career: some were starting new businesses, some were working, some were retired, some worked reduced hours, some were looking for work, and some had given-up looking for work after dealing with age discrimination.
After this entire exercise, the only thing I COULD find in common was that they all had naturally graying or white hair. In fact, if you Google the word ‘SENIORS’ a commonly used name for this group and click on the ‘IMAGES’ tab, what you see almost exclusively are pictures of people standing, smiling, and – you guessed it, with white hair.
So then it started to make sense, that with decades’ worth of interests, hobbies, relationships, memories, and multiple-careers it was impossible to think of them as one group. Unlike tots, children, teenagers, young adults, in trying to speak to a group with so much diversity, I was in fact, not speaking to anyone.
For businesses and innovators, it is however, easier for us to compartmentalize and segment to help our understanding and control our outcomes. In fact, there already exists large organizations with ubiquitous influence that have branded themselves as a destination for people over 45 or for people over 50. For myself and many business owners small, medium, and large that regularly pitch to investors looking to secure funding, there is a distinct advantage to having a large target market. If you’re looking to raise money, and there exists an accepted convention of labelling a people as 50+, why would you under-state your market size and make the investment less attractive? There are other challenges, but it brings us back to the question if you’re not able to speak to people as individuals, how much value is your product or service providing?
So instead of creating a valuable product or service ‘for people over 50’, maybe just focus on creating value. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand the characteristics of your customer, it just makes a point of questioning what ‘age’ has to do with it.
Neel Desai is co-founder of a Chumbuggy.com, an online global book-club for people over 50, older adults, seniors, boomers, zoomers, elders, empty nesters, retirees…..and everyone else outside and in between. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @bugsomeone, Facebook: Facebook.com/chumbuggy