by David Weigelt
“Switzerland Named Most Competitive Economy, Topping U.S.” This was a headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal International Edition a few weeks ago. Having recently spent a week in Switzerland, this didn’t surprise me, even in a time when the rest of the world is wrestling with the economy. They have their challenges, but there is an obvious difference in consumer confidence among the Swiss. And why not, with a 4% unemployment rate, a relatively low tax rate and, dare I say it, health care for everyone (without a government option)? They have a lot to be confident about.
It should have come as no surprise that Switzerland, St. Gallen University to be specific, hosted the World Aging and Demographic Forum I attended. This event addressed “important topics related to demographic change and its effect on the labor market and social security, on health issues, on the development of new products and markets, and on changing lifestyles in society.”
It was an enlightening mix of thinkers and doers. There were members of parliament from Canada, Lords from the U.K., ministers of health from Africa, and the United States’ leading economist on demography, David Bloom. As a marketer, I was both humbled and inspired to be among such a group.
I attended sessions with topics such as work and welfare, health, and innovation and markets. As the conference progressed, it became clear to me that I, as “just” a marketer, played a critical role in the mission of this group. Without intelligent and consumer-specific communications strategies, these academics, policy makers, and executives would never realize success.
When the time came for us marketers to speak, I was in the good company of 50-plus marketing icons like Dick Stroud, from 20 plus 30 Consulting, Kevin Lavery, from Millennium, and Florian Kohlbacher, from the German Institute on Japanese. To a packed room, we shared stats on why the mature markets were important and the effect the economy was having on them. But these people didn’t need to know why; they wanted to know how.
- How do we segment the most diverse set of older adults in history?
- How do we connect with them via the Internet and social media?
- How do we cost effectively reach them in large numbers?
As we answered their questions, something dawned on me. As someone who looks to market to boomers and seniors for non-altruistic reasons, I had better help these people meet their goal of advancing the state aging if I ever expect you – the marketer of a product or service that could benefit from the increasing needs and wealth of the mature markets – to do the same.
You see, a culture of ageism still dominates most societies (certainly in the United States, even in places you wouldn’t expect, like Japan). But the zeitgeist is changing. For the first time in history, adults over the age of 40 are the consumer majority. What countries like Singapore, Sweden, and Denmark, (ranked among the top five for Global Competitiveness and also countries with an aging population) know is that (to steal the words of Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology) “demography is destiny.”
We have a responsibility as marketers. As targeting boomers and seniors becomes increasing popular, it is imperative that we don’t screw it up. There are all kinds of stereotypes that surround the elderly. Frankly, some of them are funny (and I’ll be the first to acknowledge the value of being able to laugh at ourselves). However, adults in the second half of life are more than a cheap laugh or a fast buck. There are many layers of wealth (beyond financial) that our country’s mature population possesses – something we need to keep this in mind as we increasingly focus our marketing dollars on them.