The proportion of the world’s population over 60 years old is expected to rise from 12 percent in 2015 to 22 percent in 2050, according to the World Health Organization. The burning question is whether technology companies’ approaches will keep pace with the increase in the aging population.
The bright, shiny objects in technology development tend to be focused on younger generations. More youthful consumers have greater buying power, and historically they have been more vocal in their desire for technology advancements.
But as the over-60 population doubles around the world, technology companies would be smart to align with that demographic despite their buying power arguably being less. There is an opportunity to be not just “gray-facing,” but instead to integrate into their operations an approach that serves the elderly in a more subtle and indirect way.
For example, while many of the elderly do not have the same level of disposable income as millennials, the costs of the healthcare goods and services they consume, subsidized through insurance providers, are exponentially higher than younger generations.
Beyond specific healthcare-related products, is your company looking at “gray” lifestyle services that may be a stretch from your current product portfolio?
This is more than gray being baked into your product set; it’s whether gray is baked into your corporate culture. Do you have employees who bring over-60 thinking to strategy? If your company is global, do you have the diversity of thinking that will enable you to build products that not only appeal to the elderly universally, but also take into account cultural differences in different markets? Other than language, how are Japanese grays different than British grays?
One area where products or services could help the elderly is in addressing loneliness. Research – including a survey by AARP – shows that loneliness now rivals obesity and diabetes as the top cause of premature death. But it goes without saying that developing “anti-loneliness” products for older adults would be a diversion for most consumer companies.
I have personally experienced instances where the mere customer engagement with consumer companies has created a reason for the aging to keep their spirits high. Many senior hoarders have battled loneliness through very frequent interactions with TV shopping network call centers. While these networks do not purposefully trap the elderly into buying, their phone engagement training creates a very comforting environment for the elderly to have “telephonic friends on demand” for only the cost of a piece of costume jewelry or pair of suspenders.
At the risk of being overly dramatic, just that amount of conversation, in addition to that with the delivery service driver upon arrival, could be the difference between life and death. On a more depressing note, many of these senior buyers never open their packages since they consider the interaction as the “product.”
I am by no means saying that enterprises should adjust their strategy to lure the elderly into buying things they don’t want. But companies should adjust their technology to be friendly to grays even if there is no physical product transaction.
This is challenging in an environment where the economies of balance between engagement time online (or on the phone) are being weighed against customer satisfaction metrics. But it is clear that the ability to provide a “gray accent” to those customer experiences can have payback in terms of customer acquisition and loyalty. The proliferation of voice-enabled devices like Alexa will make these interactions more immediate and more personalized, as what I’ve called “artificial emotional intelligence” algorithms become more widespread and reliable.
As the the “gray tsunami” pushes huge numbers of more contemporary, digitally engaged seniors into the marketplace, the previous stigma about the elderly being “digital immigrants” falls to the wayside. The greatest insurance for riding this new digital wave is to embed seniors into your organization, not as focus groups but as invaluable internal resources.