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For tech marketers -- functionality matters more than demographics

Life marches on – at the older end, baby boomers are on Medicare. A few years ago when I began writing this blog, a senior was a senior – 65+, albeit with the potential for a very long life. As boomers stomp into Medicare eligibility at 10,000 per day, they too have something in common with seniors. But we don’t describe them as seniors. (How funny will that be in 10 years when they are 77?) Anyway, in a world in which women outlive men, in which there is so much buying power in the so-called world of baby boomers, shouldn’t marketers get really excited about marketing to boomers? I mean they represent 80 million people.  And according to the Forbes article about the Longevity Economy, the disposable income for Americans aged 50+ was more than $3 trillion. Hint, 50+ is the AARP designation for its membership and spans age 50 through the oldest old. Luckily, the youngest boomer aged 49 turns 50 next year – synchronizing boomers and AARP.

But is there a boomer market that is distinct from the market of 30 to 49-year-olds? The Forbes article quotes that other bucket of data bits, Nielsen: "Boomers are as likely as younger cohorts to experiment with new products." Interesting. And in five years, "50% of the adult population will be 50 and older and control 70% of the country’s disposal income." Most interesting, "the 50+ population represents 40% of customers paying for wireless services and represent 40% of Apple’s customers buying computers." Hard to know what to make of that last one – are we talking about Macs? You would think Apple would show some appreciation of this fact -- and try to at least mention boomers (a picture, perhaps) somewhere on Apple.com.  Why don’t they?  I bet it is because they don’t think Boomers are as an addressable cohort -- unless they need its accessibility features.  Moreover, how are they different from the 60% of buyers of Apple computers that are not boomers. Apparently, what the younger folk like about Apple products also appeals to older buyers.  

Identifying market segments in giant cohorts is impossible.  So one-third of the adult population of 245 million are baby boomers. That is a giant and amorphous non-cohort. The younger aged adults have parents and maybe even grandparents in the oldest age range. Other than a common interest in children, grandchildren, granny pods (or their avoidance) or even iPods (and hearing loss), there is no consumer common ground – perhaps except a possible end-of-life fondness for Motorcycles and Facebook -- that is, at the funeral. Likewise, at the young end, there is no way to really know if a product or service for 30-year-olds may also appeal to 63-year-olds.  Or, as Arlene Harris said about the original Jitterbug design, “The mobile phone is made to serve us, not to enslave us.”

So let’s get over demographic-based marketing – the functionality matters most. Marketers should continue to track usage of tech and products by age, that is, sample all ages, not just an amorphous lump of the 65+ or the 50+ populations.  But it is more important to focus on delivering or improving functionality, utility, and service – basically what it does, rather than who it’s for. With that mindset, now check out venture investment in fitness trackers like Fitbit ($43 million!) or MyFitnessPal ($18 million), neither of which actively associates a target age for the user.  Or look at smarter smart phone designs (hopefully becoming smarter still) like iPhones and Samsung Galaxy. All of these need improvement to meet such a broad range of physical, social, capability and cognitive needs. Marketers have for years been telling me that they are surprised by who uses their products. Duh. That would be because somebody thought thefunctionality you offer was of benefit to them. And the marketers can never be sure about what that is.


..I totally agree that marketing to an age group doesn't work. There are lots of people with the exact same age that have completely different needs. If you focus on the "job" someone needs to do or wants to do, it doesn't matter the age.

It all starts with defining the problem your technology can solve. If there is no problem, regardless of how “cool” your technology is, nobody will buy it. Different problems can occur at different ages, hence the marketer’s trap of building a product for a certain demographic. Technology developers can sometimes get lucky and build something that ends up solving a different problem, completely outside the age demographic or even the industry initially targeted.

During my tenure as an executive at Lifeline (now Philips Lifeline), we had crystal clear focus on who our customer was, what the problem was, and built the product accordingly – 83 year old female living alone taking 2-3 medications, needing help with 2-3 ADL’s, at risk for falling and losing independence. Solution: press a button, get help with a very high level of customer service and culture of caring. There was enough market opportunity in this demographic that we were able to increase the customer base from 100,000 to 500,000 in about 5 years. Keep in mind it took 25 years to reach the first 100,000.

My current role leading sales and marketing for BAM Labs, a developer of smart bed technology, requires weeding through the almost infinite market opportunities and demographics involving beds to identify real opportunities. In the past two years we have locked in on healthcare beds, specifically helping skilled nursing facilities and other long term care communities reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers and falls. Could we have predicted and built a solution to address the $11 billion pressure ulcer problem – which is definitely age related (75+ have highest incidence of pressure ulcers)? Absolutely, but age was not our focus in building the solution. Our focus was on the problem not the demographic.

To Laurie’s point, we really focused on building a complete solution with a touch-free under mattress sensor combined with cloud computing and easy to use applications. Tools, really, to help professional caregivers be more efficient and perform the repositioning of patients and residents consistently to prevent pressure ulcers from forming. Our smart bed solution includes additional functionality customers can use to solve their problems – motion and bed exits, vital sign trends, sleep analysis, and more. In fact, with a complete solution mindset, our technology will solve many problems we have not yet pursued, and perhaps not even identified.

There are plenty of problems to solve in healthcare. Build a solution targeting a problem, not a demographic, and embrace the highly rewarding reality that the technology you develop may solve many problems.

To my humble view your last post about "functionality vs Chronologic Aging " is truly "touching" the core of a Breakthrough Creative concept in the Aging In Place domain.

To my view such a brilliant is a result of being deeply involved, for many years, on a daily basis  in the Global Aging Industry...Functionality is one of the major Critical Success Factor needed to be addressed and solved’ in order to overcome  currently huge unsolved  barriers.

Having done that , you can inspire the  huge disposable 6 Trillion $/€ Global Aging Longevity emerging huge opportunity.!!

With humble and honor I would argue that in Israel we have the ingredients needed to make it happen.

This is what Homage for Life is all about!

Homage   For Life collaborative  innovative 'concept model '  is  about an ICT based   Services platform, a mandatory prerequisite  needed  to deliver " A Sustainable Holistic  Personalized Complementary “Services  Basket”, addressing   “on demand” alike  ,the   Complementary    FUNCTIONALITY  needed to meet expectations of each individual aged 70+.

So far NO one in the Global Aging industry has a clue how to make it happen!  

This is truly  the SOLUTION we are the elderly people are looking for!

We the elderly people are expecting from technology to assist us by addressing and solving only the problems we are currently facing and bothered off.. 

We would  like to get the Services/Product from One Focal Point who will be responsible and accountable to Deliver at the Goods at the  right time’ at affordable cost  at the proper quality .

The elderly customer wish to have the  right service I want to support my  needs & wants  according my personal expectations!

I truly believe that this is almost the best practice way to go,

Our objective in Homage is to convey the On Demand Killer Application to  Global Aging in Place Industry.


Shoshan Shacham Owner & Founder

ShachamI.I.I. Ltd




Tel +97235409101

Cell +972 545 990185


We cannot predict the future. We can invent it - Allen Kay Intel( 1940)



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