The invisible woman revisited.

Older women still have the most purchasing power. Why have so few marketers gotten this?

A guest posting from BrainPosse's cultural anthropologist, Teresa Bowman.

Two years ago, I wrote a post about how marketers were neglecting the most influential, most affluent demographic in the country: women 50 and older. Since then, I've seen scores of blog posts, mainstream media articles, books, and other reports on this same issue.

There seem to be a lot of voices crying in the wilderness. The amazing thing is that they're still falling on some very deaf ears.

Let's recap for a second: Women not only disproportionately decide where a family’s funds will be spent, they control or influence 80% of all purchases of both consumer and business goods and services. They have sole or joint ownership of 87% of homes and buy 61% of major home improvement products. They account for 66% of all home computer purchases and 80% of all health-care services. They start 70% of all new businesses.

New research also shows that even during the downturn, per capita spending in 50-plus households is 2.5 times that of younger people. And because women outlive men, the market will just keep getting bigger.

Yet many marketers still fall victim to the "youth is king" mantra. When asked recently why he targeted 18-34 year olds with a new fashion shopping website targeted at women, a former Fox TV executive said "It felt right because it's what I've been doing all my career."

But--the data shows that 65% of online apparel sales go to women over 35, and the fastest growing age group is women between 55 and 64. In commenting on the executive's quote online, a blog reader noted that "'I'm 56, want to look hip, but not as if I'm trying to pass myself off for a 21 year old. We have to find an up and coming young designer who loves his mom to design just for us. He or she will make a fortune!"

As I pointed out in my previous post, however, reaching this market is not necessarily easy. It's not homogeneous, and it doesn't have the same motivators as other market segments. Women over 50 have seen everthing marketers have had to throw at them, and they're not easily duped. Moveover, they sense that marketers have neglected them for younger consumers, and that puts another barrier up. To reach them, you have to play on their terms.

That means:

1. You have to be straightforward. Any hint of duplicity on the marketer's part, and it's over. These women are smart, and even if you're not transparent, they'll see right through you.

2. You have to do your homework. Expect questions, and if you don't have the answers, forget it. Before making a buying decision, these women will dig deep. They expect information to be available, and if it's not, they move on.

3. You have to be online. The fastest growing segment of Facebook users is women 55 and older. They use technology for research, to connect, to save time, and to shop. According to U.S. News, online sales to women aged 25-34 fell 8% in the year ended in March, but sales to 55-to-64-year-olds rose 11%, even with the recession.

4. You don't have to promise miracles. This is a pragmatic group. They don't believe that cosmetics are going to return them to their 20s. They do, however, expect the beauty products they buy to make them look better and (perhaps more importantly) feel better about themselves. Who'd have thought that 50-year-0ld Ellen Degeneres would be a good Cover Girl, but the elements for success are there: Women in this demographic may not want to look like Ellen, but they do want to have the same level of comfort within their own skins.

5. It's not necessarily about them. Classic communications strategy suggests that you find a connection with the prospect that offers a personal benefit. Women in this group, however, are more likely to make buying decisions to benefit their children, their families, or even someone else.

6. Take them seriously, especially for serious products. Financial products sales to this group are expected to rise dramatically. But to connect with them, you have to speak to them, not at them. Marti Barletta, who has authored several books on marketing to women, explains this well in a four-year-old Ad Age article, and how Mass Mutual Financial Group successfully reached older women. But look at the bank and financial institution ads around you, and you'll see that a lot of marketers still don't get this.

7. The details count. Women see things differently than men, because their eyes have more rods than cones. This gives them better peripheral vision, and they take in lots of details. If they see something that's off, it throws up a red flag. And it diminishes your chance of making a connection.

8. And ultimately, it's about making a connection. This market will ask you for all the details on why your product or service is better, but that's not what drives them. They'll also be asking if they can trust you, if you understand them, and if you have their interests at heart.

If you can make this connection, then you'll be visible to this huge (and still surprisingly invisible) market. To learn more about reaching older women, click here or call 865-330-0033.


  1. Anonymous says

    A really good starting point would be to negate the 'job' of costume-wearing (in 86 degree heat), sign-juggling human billboards. And now they have to DANCE at the mall??? I always wonder just how bad the food is, how harmful the tanning bed, that they have to dehumanize (not to mention endanger) a human being to this extent. Anyone who would take this job would probably be the best employee ever...INSIDE. If this is what they're willing to do for a paycheck, put them in charge of counting your money! Who is the marketing genius who came up with this? Something is SO wrong here...