Target: Silver surfers

GartnerThe Baby Boomer generation is unlike any other. More technologically advanced, savvy and adaptable, they have been blessed with a slew of technologies and are not afraid to use them — for work and play.

Such is their influence that Gartner has note that silver surfers represent a more important technology market than Generation X and Generation Y.

Gartner Vice President and Fellow David Furlonger pointed out that with an aging population in many mature and emerging markets, technologists, designers and marketers must refocus to seize this crucial opportunity.

“In recent years, technology decision makers have focused their work largely on the perceived wants and needs of younger demographics. They have created and sold products targeted explicitly at an already-saturated market of financially poor “digital natives” in Generations X and Y,” said Furlonger. “This emphasis on the young is unsurprising, since many technologists are themselves part of these younger age groups. However, it is a very serious mistake, because it neglects the most promising technology market demographic of all: the affluent, increasingly technologically sophisticated older generation we are calling the ‘silver surfers’.”

The silver surfers take their name from the eponymous superhero introduced by Marvel Comics in 1966. They are now in middle age or approaching old age, and – although most technologists fail to recognize this fact – they are very interested in using technology and also have the time and the resources to pursue their interests, according to Gartner’s latest “Maverick” research.

Older individuals are increasingly active on social media. According to a research conducted by Australian mobile company Optus, more than three quarters (76 percent) of silver surfers in Australia use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, with grandparents using it as a tool to keep up with their grandchildren. The research found that social media connectivity enables older people to reconnect with people from their past whilst also enabling them to find support in times of poor health and chronic disease.

Gartner’s Maverick research is designed to spark new, unconventional insights. Maverick research is unconstrained by Gartner’s typical broad consensus-formation process to deliver breakthrough, innovative and disruptive ideas from the company’s research incubator to help organisations get ahead of the mainstream and take advantage of trends and insights that could impact IT strategy and the wider organisation.

“The consumerisation of technology has made it far more accessible, especially in terms of usability, to people who may find PCs more difficult to manage,” said Furlonger. “However, technology designers and manufacturers have largely ignored this huge and growing market, and by doing so, have neglected one of their most important sources of future growth and revenue. The younger market has only linear growth potential and decreasing purchasing power, while the silver surfers offer exponential growth opportunities and growing purchasing potential.”

He added that older individuals represent an increasing percentage of the worldwide population.  In many important Asia/Pacific markets, the segment of the population over 50 years of age is already 37 percent. Gartner maintains that these older individuals are healthier and more active, and they lead fuller lives than in the past. In addition, partly because of poor job prospects for the young and because many older people are continuing to work, at least part time, silver surfers also have more disposable income than in the past and typically more than younger people.

Technology can fundamentally improve the quality of life for the older generation, and research by Gartner and many others clearly shows that older individuals recognise technology’s transformative potential for them and their lives. The growth of social media use among seniors, in particular, suggests that technology is widely seen as a means of enhancing communication and reducing isolation. This reality offers technologists an important opportunity to reorient their value propositions and capitalize on a huge, underserved market – but this is an opportunity that most have not yet taken, or even recognized. One important sign of this unrealised opportunity is the failure to design, develop, manufacture and market technologies specifically to address the highly specialized demands of this market demographic.

Many factors are driving adoption of technology and technology-enabled capabilities by older individuals. In many cases, these factors are strikingly different from those for younger demographic groups in terms of use cases. These include:

  • Government policy – many government agencies and nongovernmental organisations – including the World Health Organization and the European Commission – are recognising the growing numbers of older people and are developing policies to improve the lifestyle of older individuals.
  • Improved connectivity  the growing penetration of broadband, Wi-Fi and other forms of readily available connectivity is making technologies more attractive to silver surfers.
  • New technologies – the emergence of assisted-living technologies – for the disabled or those with other medical issues – is proving highly attractive for older individuals, as are widely available video technologies that make it possible for them to keep in close contact with family and friends.
  • Social networks and targeted forums – in many parts of the world, older individuals represent one of the most important user segments for various types of social networks, microblogging services and other forms of online interaction.
  • The desire for social interaction – perhaps the most important factor of all in influencing silver surfers to adopt and engage technology is the need for increased connections with others. Recent generations of older people have increasingly found themselves isolated, living apart from their families, as past generations rarely did. Smartphones, social media, photo-sharing platforms and many other technologies hold out the very real promise of bringing them into closer contact with the larger world, and silver surfers clearly recognize their potential.

“Silver surfers increasingly want technologies and technology-enabled capabilities that fit their changing individual lifestyles and psychological and physiological needs,” said Furlonger. “Where barriers exists to the adoption of new technologies by silver surfers, be they psychological – such as fear of adoption – or physiological – for example, poor eyesight and awkwardness in handling small devices – it is the responsibility of technologists to overcome these barriers by designing products and services that silver surfers will want and be able to use.”

According to Gartner, technology designers and manufacturers need to focus on delivering clean, simple, uncluttered user interfaces, without confusing fonts, colors or special effects. Straightforward navigation and simple check-out processes are crucial for older customers.

It is also important to recognize that the ways silver surfers select and purchase technology are strikingly different, too. Trust, credibility and reputation are paramount considerations. Testimonials and referrals from family and friends are also critical. Many older individuals also place a high value on personal interaction, especially through phone contact, and on perceived value, which is not simply about absolute price, but the overall contribution a product or service can make in enhancing the purchaser’s life.

Technology marketers can address the specific demands of the older demographic in a number of ways that extend well beyond product design. It is critical they understand the different subsegments within the overall silver surfer group, and how their products, services, packaging and messaging need to take these internal differences into account. They should also be prepared to tell “stories” about their offerings, recognizing that older people want to see products personalised and appreciate the utility or value that a product or service will bring. They should recognise that many older forms of marketing – including catalogues, both physical and online – are far from dead. Also, they should not neglect the careful application of new techniques, such as gamification, in addressing the older market demographic.

“The silver surfer demographic is huge and growing, and clearly has both the ability and the desire to spend significant amounts of money on technology,” said Furlonger. “However, to date, most technologists and technology manufacturers have failed to deliver products and services that meet the needs of this market and its various sub- or micro-segments, and marketers have largely failed to target it effectively. To do so will require fundamental changes in their approach to product and service design, marketing and sales”


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