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Ten Steps for Vendors In or Approaching Aging in Place Technology Market

The SilversSummit at CES in January, 2009 was the first-ever track in this giant consumer product show that focused on technology for boomers and seniors. To one observer, there were as many vendors at the event wondering about market entry as active. Based on my surfing of boatloads of websites lately, to those in and considering entry – here are 10 steps to take:

1.    Create a boomer-and-senior aware website.  Mention the target audience by name – “how this product can make seniors feel safer” rather than hoping prospective customers will figure this out.  Make sure the site is friendly to those with diminished vision.
2.    Test usefulness with the target audience. These seems like silly advice, but so much of the R&D efforts in technology firms and university programs fail to produce a viable product. Consider free trials with senior centers, area agencies on aging, or health centers.
3.    Narrow scope, but broaden messaging. Products that serve a narrow purpose can still be described in holistic context as well as a day-in-the-life scenario.  
4.    Be wary of box obsolescence.  Avoid being part of the back-room junk pile of products-gone-by.  As products like e-mail appliances age and disappear, customers benefit from referral and resale of newer products (like low-cost PC’s).   Find a way to sell something to them, like offering new software as an online service.
5.    Give away device and sell service.  Device prices are a barrier to entry to lucrative and long-term service to boomers and seniors. Yet too many vendors have devices that cost over $100 but the monthly service fees appear to be a very affordable. 
6.    Offer the free trial.  Try with option to buy is such a time-tested strategy, it is interesting to see how rarely it appears to be used.
7.    Add related and useful value.  Finding an independent living assessment on Philips Lifeline (Lifelinesys.com) website is a useful surprise to a baby boomer worried about a parent. 
8.    Add the community to the product. E-mailed customer testimonials are nice but inadequate to build buzz from early success. Videos of customer testimonials or moderated communities (or blogs with comment) are living organisms for product feedback. (Dell's response to its exploding laptop video is instructive.)
9.    Monitor reputation on consumer websites.  Vendors should be wary about deteriorating service reputation with regular online searches -- tackling prospective service issues early (again Dell's laptop is instructive). 
10.    Cultivate members of other markets early.  Be the first in your space to actively seek out continuing care communities, home renovation, assistive technology, and health care providers.

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