Communicating With Mature Age Consumers – Word of Mouth Vs Word of Mouse

A truism as old as the concept of advertising itself is that “Word of Mouth” is the most effective, most credible, and therefore the most valuable form of advertising.

That belief went unchallenged for all of the 19th and 20th centuries, whether applied to communications between consumers, or between supplier and consumers, particularly when the mature age market was targeted.

Before the emergence of today’s media options, or even yesterday’s, advertising was a one-to-one, face-to-face activity, with one supplier representative literally talking to one potential customer. As media options developed, the supplier could initiate “one-to-many” customer communications, with the hope their initial customer audience would pass on the message by word of mouth.

The question today, with the emergence of social networking via the internet, is whether a successful presence in the online social networking world, will make obsolete the worry about customer relationships based on face-to-face, word of mouth communications.

While research suggests younger consumers have abandoned every form of communication other than electronic, a recent study of Boomer women, aged 43 to 62, again confirmed face-to-face, word of mouth communications were regarded as highly credible, worthy of passing onto others, and often lead to seeking more information, and ultimately a positive purchase decision.

The publisher of Prevention magazine, who commissioned the research, concluded:-
“In this era of less trust in our institutions, marketers would be wise to pay attention to the power and influence of Boomer women talk.” While this research was restricted to females, the results would be replicated if both genders were involved.

The world of online social networking, with monthly traffic counts in the hundreds of millions, is growing exponentially, and if there are still any doubters, most definitely now involves the market of web-savvy Boomers and beyond.

Just as consumers in this lifestage overcame a slow start in the adoption of previous breakthrough technologies such as mobile phones and email ( Boomers are now acknowledged as the internet’s largest constituency), the 50+ age cohort is putting aside its initial apprehension about security and privacy issues, and social networking activity is becoming as “normal” as Boomers’ reliance on mobile phones and email.

However, marketers need to remain conscious of the different lifestages and outlooks of leading-edge and trailing-edge Boomers.

Two strong messages emerged from recent research by Millennium Direct in the UK, firstly to drop the stereotypes in mature age marketing by treating seniors as intelligent and discerning consumers, and secondly confirming the influence of online marketing:-

-Less than a fifth of mature adults believe marketers understand them
-More than half feel advertising targeting 50+ individuals is patronising
-A third think ads stereotype them as being old fashioned and adverse to technology
-More than a quarter claim web advertising or email most influence their purchasing decisions, versus one sixth of respondents who nominated TV, an eighth nominated Newspapers and Magazines and less than 1% nominated Radio.

Social networking has three major categories of activity relevant to mature age markets

(1) Sites for all ages, with huge traffic volumes, such as:-

-Facebook, the Google of social networks

All of these sites have developed their own Boomer groups among their users, and while not specifically targeting the mature markets, their prominence and traffic growth dictate they must be considered in the communications mix for all businesses, increasingly so for those with an eye on our ageing population.

(2) Increasing numbers of international social networking sites specifically targeting consumers in the Boomers and beyond age bracket.

Here is a list of trail blazers who are literally booming:-

(3) The most relevant category contains the commercial sites created by mature market suppliers who have established an ongoing online dialogue with their target consumers:-

· Dove ProAge has successfully engaged their customer base in discussion on society’s views on ageing and beauty.
· The weight loss product, alli has developed an authentic conversational feel.
· Kleenex’s Let It Out campaign recommends the emotional release that helps ease our load.
· Charles Schwab feature a survey tool to help users start thinking about retirement.
· Health and wellness site LiveElated is one of several who understand the appeal for mature age consumers to seek health related information via the anonymity available online.

On the question of the speed of adoption of social networking activity, Mary Brown, partner of JWT Boom predicts, “over 50% of boomers will join online social networks by 2011 as they become more familiar with them, and they become part of our culture… It’s just a matter of time and comfort zone.”

Brown also offers several “rules of the social networking road,” including:

-Don’t talk at people. Do talk with people with trust and respect.
-Don’t fail to listen and respond. Do keep your content fresh and relevant and provide 24/7 interaction.
-Don’t underestimate the resources needed to create and sustain an online community. Do recruit the unique talent needed for the job.
-Don’t think that traditional media with a social face is really social networking.
-Do readjust your notion of traditional return on investment in terms of reach and frequency.
-Don’t think of social media as a channel. Do see it as a conversation and a living organism.
-Don’t hog the sandbox. Do be democratic, play well with others and share the space. Don’t hold onto the notion that you have total control of the brand conversation. Do empower influencers to tell your story.

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