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Direct-to-consumer -- a viable strategy or a distraction?
Whoopee -- consumers might buy some products... With the announcement that Best Buy may have 'mHealth' devices ready for shopping in up to 500 stores, one might become just a bit excited that a tipping point has been reached -- and that it might encompass the full range of technology for aging in place. Well, it all depends on what you mean by tipping point. The Best Buy list of devices may include blood-pressure monitors, pedometers, and fitness watches -- devices, ideally, that will transmit information to a local or Internet-accessible network. Nice, but frankly, Best Buy has been experimenting for years -- 'up to 500' sounds good, doesn't it?
But they won't pay for remote monitoring. A recently published Parks Associates survey found that 20% of consumer caregivers would pay out of pocket for home health monitoring of individuals in their care, but only 10% of those surveyed would buy for their own care. Juxtapose that thought with the other published percentage -- 70% of those caring for an elderly person are worried about an accidental fall -- and rightly so: according to the CDC, one-third of the 65+ population is at risk of a fall. Yet only 1 in 5 would actually pay for something that could monitor those individuals they are worrying about. And as PERS vendors note, PERS purchases are generally incident-based -- that is, the person has already fallen.
Meanwhile, seniors are probably not surfing the net looking for products. Taking a look at the recently published PEW survey, broadband usage among the 65+ population has inched one percentage point from a year ago to 31%. Non-users were queried this time as to reasons for non-use. The responders were not segmented by age, but one could imagine that the 69% of seniors who don't have broadband would have cited the most popular response of 'just not interested.' They would likely have explained that lack of interest as as relevance (48%) followed by price (21%) and usability (18%). Given that the average cost of a broadband connection is now $41.18/month, that is no surprise. And although this survey didn't address it, only 20% of those 65+ connect wirelessly. Call me crazy -- but I bet those folks are a subset of the 31% who also have broadband. And in case you're wondering, they're not buying iPads either.
Limit online marketing efforts and cultivate referral and resale channels. My conclusion from this mish-mash of surveys is that we are not yet at a time where spending money on direct-to-consumer online marketing makes much sense if the product requires an out-of-pocket purchase. Even when the caregiver is worried, the vast majority (according to Parks) wouldn't buy even if it would help a family member. So what most vendors already grasp -- if the product you sell would benefit a person age 65+, target the channels that already have access and who provide service to those people. That includes referrals by local members of the senior value chain (social services, geriatric care, senior centers, councils on aging, etc), and then cultivate resellers -- dealers and integrators who can follow up referrals and otherwise can find caregivers and seniors who need their help.
But of course, to use that Mark Twain disclaimer, "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics." Your analysis of the above may vary.