When I'm 64

Let’s say you had a potential customer base of, oh, about 40 million Americans with an average per capita worth of more than $230,000. And then you ignored it.

Those aren’t my figures. They’re U.S. Census Bureau data for 2010 covering Americans 65 years and older. That doesn’t even include the vast majority of boomers; the 70 million of us not at the top end of our age bracket will create huge opportunities soon enough for marketers who care.

I don’t mean to sound cynical; as a marketer myself, I wonder if we’re just too busy to pay serious attention to this demographic elephant in the room. But I’ll admit that there’s also a personal driver behind my growing frustration: my mom, now in her early 80s. She’s lived an active, accomplished life; and while she’s still in good health overall, macular degeneration is causing her eyesight to fade. Knowing her love of music, I recently decided to find a CD player that would enable her to play discs from her collection when she tires of radio programming.

The results were dismaying. My extensive search turned up exactly two models with some “simplified” features for older users. That might be enough, except that the very same features were sabotaged by—guess what—tiny buttons on a jam-packed remote. Usability testing during the design process? I wonder. So back to the radio (one power button, one tuning knob) for now.

This discovery has made me sensitive to the many other household devices not even remotely designed to accommodate the vicissitudes of aging. Thermostats with teeny-tiny buttons and panels. Appliances with user manuals that happen to disclose on page 37 the all-too-clever location of the “On” switch. I could go on, but then I’d sound like, well, an old curmudgeon.

So back to another interesting number: the $224 billion that the 55- to 64-year-old boomer bracket has saved. Do the 35 million of us in that age group plan to put all that moola into nothing but ergonomic appliances? Of course not, but every camera, car or cruise ship that incorporates smarter design for the older end of the human life span will soon start taking significant market share from those that don’t.

As marketers and businesspeople, we face a huge opportunity driven by a fast-growing need. So let’s get on it. And personally, by the way, I plan to spend much of my own little sliver of that $224 billion on the products and services that fulfill rather than frustrate, when I’m 64.


by Pete Healy
Vice President, Account Planning

Follow Pete on Twitter @PeteHealy

Cross-posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network