A lot of businesses find themselves drooling over the profit potential of the over-50 set. After all, those 55 and up have 41% of the buying power of all consumers, according to an article in Insider Radio. That amounts to $3.2 trillion annually. Yet, this article reports, consumers feel “shunned” by advertisers.

It’s not just big business. If you’re a financial planner, life coach, accountant, real estate agent, organizer, you’re among the many independent professionals who frequently target buyers in this age group or even older.

5 Ridiculously Common Mistakes Marketers Make When Targeting The Senior Population

As a copywriter, I’ve discovered that many people in those fields actually make marketing decisions that work against them in trying to reach this “senior” market.

(1) Making vast, unsupported generalizations about “older” people.

As people get older, they become more diverse, although they’re often lumped together as a target marketing segment. But you don’t need an expensive research study to figure this out.

You can make a lot of accurate predictions about teens based solely on age. A 15-year-old will be able to achieve very specific levels of fitness unless she’s been injured or seriously ill. She’s almost certainly attending school, living at home, and not concerned about having a heart attack.

You can make far fewer predictions about a 45-year-old. He might be retooling for a new career or in the prime of his current one he’s almost certainly working to earn money. He might be single, married, or divorced but rarely widowed. His kids could be anywhere from toddlers to college age. He could be in perfect health or seeing the first signs of chronic illness. But he could be a couch potato, in shape to play a pro sport, or anywhere in between.

Don’t bother making age-based predictions about a 65-year old you’ve never met.

If you go to any gym you’ll see people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who are training to run marathons. In the same gym, you’ll find people in the same age group who are decorously walking around a circle slowly in time to music. Some work at demanding jobs; some have retired. Some understand the complexities of the Internet; others can’t send an email.

There’s a common saying among geriatricians: “If you’ve seen one eighty-year-old, you’ve seen one eighty-year-old.” That applies to ages 50, 60, and 70 also.
Unfortunately, when you assume you’re writing to one type of “senior” audience, you’ll thoroughly alienate the others who will resent the identification.

(2) Confusing age effects with cohort effects.

We often hear things like, “Older people can’t use technology.”

Someone who’s turning 70 this year will have grown up with computers. She’s using social media, building WordPress sites, and texting.
Someone who turns 70 in another ten years won’t remember an age before smartphones.

A local magazine introduces a “resources for seniors” section with a photo of a gray-haired lady clutching an old-fashioned desk telephone. I don’t know where they found one to use in the photoshoot.

(3) Don’t refer to sixty-five as a retirement age.

Many people want to keep working their whole lives. When you assume an “older” person is retired. You can’t make assumptions about work status based on any age above twelve.

(4) Assuming your offer won’t appeal to people a lot older than you are.

Assume people of all ages will be interested in your offer, unless you have a good reason to exclude them overtly. I know a number of business owners, fifty and over, who work with coaches half their age. These days people of all ages look for recreational activities based on their interest, not their age.

(5) Referring to an older woman as “grandma.”

They’re everywhere, and they’re truly cringeworthy: “the kind of sweater your grandma would wear,” or “language you can use in front of a grandma.”

Not all women above a certain age have children, let alone grandchildren. All too often, they’re wearing the same clothes as your disreputable teenage daughter. And more and more of them are swearing like sailors.

The “senior” market can be extremely lucrative, especially for certain categories of travel and finance.

But a number of independent professionals could find happy clients among this population. There’s often no need to target them, as more and more people over fifty see themselves as ageless. The key is to avoid giving offense by stereotyping and stigmatizing.

Cathy Goodwin is a copywriter and marketing strategist, helping small businesses find and tell their story. She’s working on a book, When I Get Old, I Plan To Be A Bitch.