Designing Catalogs for the Senior Market

When several of my clients begin asking the same question within weeks of each other, I take notice. Lately, I’ve heard several variations of something like this. “How do I retain my aging customers and begin attracting a younger market?” When I dig a little deeper, the driving force behind the question is really about slow growth of their older customer file. Often, the knee-jerk reaction is to remedy that slow growth by attracting a younger audience. This is inherently flawed on many levels, but let’s back up a bit. If your brand is not paying attention to the “Silver Tsunami” that represents the burgeoning baby boomer market, then you are leaving silver AND gold on the table. It’s been reported that from now until 2025, someone in the United States will turn 60 every seven seconds. Plus, the average retirement age continues to creep up with every year. So, if your older audience is not growing then perhaps your marketing strategies should be the one to retire.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve heard three reoccurring comments related to this older audience. Each may have been true a decade ago, but must be reevaluated. Why? Because multiple and recent tests have proven these comments to be nothing more than myths.

1. “We can’t say that!” Don’t assume this older market is stuck in a by-gone-era. The truth is the baby boomer of today shops online, uses a smart phone and is exposed to the same content and entertainment as the younger generations before them. They do not act, dress or do the same things their parents did. This does not mean you shouldn’t segment your messaging, but perhaps what you are saying is no longer relevant. Do you really know how they talk, what they find funny or what intrigues them? In order to remain relevant, it’s critical your marketing campaigns take chances by testing bold or even irreverent messages, the same messages they are reading on Facebook and other social sites. Your messages should be just as “hip” as they are.

2. “We shouldn’t change our catalog design for fear of losing customers.” There is a fear amongst most brands to test a new design aesthetic; both online and in print. The fear is that if too much is changed, the customer won’t recognize your brand or might even react negatively. I understand where the fear is coming from; you certainly don’t want to change so much that your brand isn’t recognized. However, a reluctance to move towards better design baffles me; especially if you are not growing your older market. Why? Because within the last 5 years, your customer’s life has changed like never before. Due to the incredible amount of content and information at their fingertips, they have seen more, experienced more and are much savvier to a more advanced design aesthetic. Think about the success of design-type programs like HGTV and the popularity of before and after shots.

So, what do I mean by better design? In recent tests, I’ve witnessed the positive results of a cleaner, simpler, more stripped down presentation that quickly creates emotional engagement using emotive imagery and finely tuned typography. Unfortunately, many designers get caught in the “rules” that worked for decades rather than moving towards a new aesthetic that the aging market now appreciates. I admit I was a skeptic until I saw how great design can truly move the needle.

3. “Let’s sell more of what’s working.” This is a pretty good formula, assuming your aging consumer has not changed their tastes in the last ten years. Case in point, I can point to three different apparel brands that market to older women who severely lost market share because they assumed that 60-year old women still wanted to purchase what their mother wore. Or, even what they wore 5 years ago! Again, challenge your old formulas with an eye towards the changing “senior” citizen is absolutely critical when selling to the new face of baby boomers.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the potential of reaching a younger audience; that’s another blog post. Before you pursue that market, make sure that you are tapping into the full potential of the burgeoning senior market. Remaining relevant in their world requires a new sensitivity, a deeper understanding of what they appreciate and what appeals to them in your messaging, design and merchandise concept. Full disclosure on my part; I just hit the double nickel and am completely enamored by those brands that market to me with clean, simple, straight-to-the-heart messages and imagery that don’t assume I’m done living. I’m not.

By Lois Brayfield; CEO, J.Schmid and Dean of Creative; Catalog University