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Market research & the over 50s – five things Wiki won’t tell you

Posted on by nanda
Over 50s market research

Market research and the over 50s

I’m surprised more market research isn’t done among the over 50s. Having now crossed that threshold myself I have an increasingly vested interest. Maybe it happens, but judging by the lack of understanding of our needs by some brands, I have my doubts.

Take just one example – washing my hair the other day. With two blue bottles on the shelf, there I was in the shower with water blurring my increasingly short-sighted eyes, squinting desperately to try and see which was the shampoo and which the conditioner, due to the impossibly tiny writing. A task made harder when, funnily enough, it’s the one place I don’t tend to wear my glasses! Were I ten years older with a bit of arthritis, I’d also struggle with the hard to open lid, a second basic design flaw.

Sadly, as we get older, our hair starts to thin, and this product boasted ‘age defying properties’ so was definitely targeted at people of ‘a certain age’. Yet having failed on two basic counts, it struck me that the company must do little market research to understand our needs. I’m now tempted to jump ship to a brand that does.

This lack of understanding is surprising, as surely taking time to explore the needs of the older consumer can pay dividends. I imagine the 50-plus market can be a lucrative one, as we’re likely to have more spending power, and have reached a time in our lives where we feel we’ve earned a few small luxuries so don’t mind splashing out occasionally.

I’m also flummoxed, as interviewing this audience is not a dark art – it requires a few extra considerations, but an experienced interviewer shouldn’t find it difficult. For those who haven’t tackled this kind of market research, here are a 5 tips and pitfalls that may not appear in the guide books or on Wiki:

DO factor in plenty of time: The older/retired respondent often has time at their disposal and enjoys a visitor or a chat on the phone. They can be happy to talk for England, digressing into tales of their grandchildren, holidays or other irrelevant stories.   A business person can be more succinct – realizing time is money and you both have a busy day – but this audience may not, and can find it rude if you keep chivvying them along or cutting them off. Clients can have a long list of questions and short timescales, putting you under pressure to race through the discussion guide, yet with this audience it’s particularly important to build in sufficient interview time for building rapport, explaining the process and allowing for some digression.  Where timing is tight, it can be good to outline the ‘rules’ up front, explaining what’s expected, apologizing in advance if you have to bring them back on track, due to a busy schedule or a desire to hear from others (if it’s a group setting).

DO consider any special needs: Some might be hard of hearing, sight impaired or unable to get up long flights of stairs etc. Ensure any focus group venue is user friendly, and that, again, you allow enough time to go through questions slowly and have stimulus material in a readable size

DO give lots of reassurance: These days many of us are ‘marketing savvy’ and understand the concept of focus groups and research. But more elderly participants sometimes don’t, or may lack confidence and understanding of what you are after. So they can feel they aren’t providing the kind of riveting nuggets you’re looking for. In such cases it’s good to give lots of encouragement: ‘That’s really useful … that’s exactly what I’m interested in, thanks’ …

DON’T assume all over 50s are the same: There’s often a massive difference of opinion depending on life stage, upbringing and circumstance. Eg: an active retiree of 60 could well feel very differently to a 75 year old in poor health. So it’s important not to lump all over 50s together and assume they all have the same needs, yet this is often how a research project is designed. Instead your focus groups or range of interviews should factor in some different subsets by age and/or other important demographics depending on the subject.

DON’T ignore an important audience: While many older people are now confident internet users, an online survey can sometimes exclude an important subset of non-users. If considering online, decide whether it’s appropriate for your particular target audience, or if going this route alone may risk missing out a vital body of opinion. Sometimes a multi-mode approach can work well here.

Bearing in mind these tips should help you get the most from your market research. And if my shampoo makers are reading this, please take note, then I can hopefully enjoy a much better hair washing experience in the future!

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