RESOURCESThe Importance of Being Age-FriendlyBy: Dick StroudPublish Date: August 20, 2012A quarter of a century ago Charles Scheme published a journal papertitled Marketing to our Aging Population: Responding to PhysiologicalChanges. The paper outlined the implications for marketers as thesenses, minds and bodies of consumer’s age.Since then very little else has been researched and written about thesubject. This is surprising because the median age of consumers in theUSA and Europe has steadily increased.Much has been written about the psychological effects of aging andthe mechanics of segmenting and communicating with olderconsumers. Even more has been written about the apparentdifferences in attitudes and behaviours between the generations.There is one factor that is common across all of the geographies, andall of the social and economic classes, and is shared by men andwomen. With a few small exceptions, the changes to consumers thatresult from their physical aging are universal, as are their implications forcompanies and governments.Yet the most basic of questions has been largely ignored: ‘How docompanies adapt to the relentless aging of their most important asset –their customers?’ Surprisingly, the recession and its effect on consumerspending, is forcing companies to take interest in this question.
Companies in Europe and the USA are desperately looking for growthopportunities. Slowly, often begrudgingly, they are realizing that anygrowth in consumer spending is more likely to come from older thanyounger customers.Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize that adopting a businessstrategy to target older people involves many more things thancreating a new advertising campaign.In its report on Global Aging, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)says: ‘companies should review their channel strategies to ensure thatthey are compatible with the needs of the silver segment’.The task is even more extensive than BCG suggests. To satisfy therequirements of the older market requires companies to optimize all ofthe customer’s experiences and to ensure they match their customer’sphysical abilities.The author defines age-friendliness as an environment in which theunique physical needs of older people are satisfied in a way that isnatural and beneficial for all ages. One wonders why all companiesdon’t aspire to this goal?The importance of age-friendliness is not limited to how companiesengage with their customers. We need age-friendly cities for citizens,we need age-friendly medical services for patients and age-friendlyworkplaces for employees.So, how should companies respond to ensure their marketing andoperations align with the aging population? These five actions are agood starting point.1. Review the total customer journey The following table shows how one of the experiences in the customerjourney, the product, can be further refined into five sub-experiences.One of these sub-experiences, packaging, can then be divided into afurther five touchpoints.
Experience Sub-experience Touchpoint Categories of the customer Intersection between the The specific point journey business and the consumer being measured • Communications • Online • Retail • Product • Support • Assembly • Design • Packaging • Pricing • Warrant 1. Graphics 2. Handling and carrying 3. Information 4. Opening and closing 5. TextMost customer journeys will have over a hundred touchpoints andeach of these might be affected by one or more of the 12 affects ofphysiological aging shown in the following table.
By reviewing each of the touchpoints and ensuring they are capableof responding to the aging minds, senses and bodies of customers,companies can radically improve the quality of the customerexperience – not just for the older people but for all ages.Becoming age-friendly is not about making a few big changes itinvolves making small changes to multiple touchpoints. The devil is inthe detail.2. Adopt Universal Design principlesThe mantra of Universal Design is that products and environmentsshould be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, withoutthe need for adaptation or specialized design.If a company genuinely adopts the culture of Universal Design andapplies its principles to all the interactions with customers then it will bea long way towards becoming age-friendly.These Universal Design principles are basic common sense. Manycompanies "talk the talk" but few have embedded these principles intotheir corporate culture: • Equitable use - making the design appealing and useable by all ages. • Flexibility in use - accommodating a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. • Simple and intuitive use - ensuring the user’s experience and prior knowledge is not a barrier. • Perceptible information – communicating effectively irrespective of the ambient conditions and the user’s sensory abilities. • Tolerance for error – minimizing the consequences of accidental or unintended actions. • Low physical effort – minimizing the physical demands of using the design.
• Size and space – ensuring the user’s body size and mobility is not a limitation.3. Sooner you start the better (less costly)I recently stayed in a hotel that had just completed a majorrefurbishment. It is unlikely that it will now change the design of therooms and common areas for at least a decade. No thought hadbeen given to ensuring the new design was age-friendly.The majority of the customers are aged 60-plus and their importance tothe hotel will undoubtedly increase. Had the new designs been madeage-friendly the additional cost to the hotel group would have beeninsignificant.The moral of this story is that it costs very little to incorporate age-friendliness into the original designs but much more if it has to be doneretrospectively.4. Beware of ‘silos’ and CSRThere are two common mistakes that companies make whenimplementing an age-friendly strategy. The first results from a lack ofclarity for why the strategy is being adopted. The author hasencountered many instances when age-friendliness is put into thesame group of issues as disability and accessibility and is conceived assomething a company is ethically compelled to do.Indeed, there may be an ethical dimension but its adoption is primarilyfor reasons that affect the P&L and Balance sheet.The second mistake is to underestimate the effort that it takes toimplement a culture change that involves so many of the corporatesilos.Age-friendliness is not just a ‘marketing issue’ but involves most of theoperational functions within a company. As with any issue where theresponsibility for implementation is diffused, it requires especially strongexecutive leadership to ensure it succeeds.5. Think sustainability – thinkage-friendliness.For many years the subject of ‘sustainability’ was of interest to adedicated group of activists on the fringe of the business world. In amatter of five years it became the subject that dominates much ofgovernment and corporate decision-making.
A similar change is taking place with the subject of ‘population aging’,which has moved from an academic debate between demographersand gerontologists to become a mega-issue that affects companies,large and small.The greatest mistake that companies make is to underestimate thescale of the changes that population will make their business and thespeed that this issue will move up the list of corporate priorities.Company’s products, processes, channels and culture have to servetheir customers. The one thing we know for certain is that this preciouscommodity is getting older. BCG Global Aging. How companies can adapt to the new reality – Dec 2011