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Selling to Boomers and Seniors: CES Panel On “Cracking the Distribution Code”

For the second year in a row, Immersion Active was invited to speak at the Silvers Summit at CES (Consumer Electronics Show). This year, we moderated a panel focused on “cracking the distribution code” as it relates to getting products and services in the hands of aging boomers and seniors. We were fortunate to have a great panel that included Ed Keller, President of EarQ, Tony Wells, CMO of ADT and Kevin “Mr. Shark Tank” Harrington, Chairman of “As Seen on TV.”

For the sake of our panel, we broadly discussed distribution in terms of two of the four “P’s” of marketing, “place” and “promotion.”

Two of the brands represented on our panel, ADT and As Seen On TV, relied heavily on direct marketing strategies. ADT, one of the nation’s top home security companies, shared how they still find their greatest success reaching seniors (age 70-plus) via two-minute television spots that drive prospects to their call center and, ultimately, to request an in-home sales visit. As Seen On TV is also very dependent on direct marketing via long form or “infomercial” style television spots, for which they are well known.

The growing importance of reaching baby boomers online.

While both spoke to their use of television in selling to boomers and seniors, Mr. Harrington (of As Seen On TV) said that about half of his sales now come from the 14M visitors that search for his products online each month. While ADT places less emphasis on the Internet, Mr. Wells acknowledged the growing importance of the Internet as they introduce more health- and lifestyle-oriented products that are heavily researched online by aging Baby Boomers. EarQ, an emerging marketer and distributor of hearing aids, shared how they have taken a different (albeit nuanced) approach in marketing what has typically been thought of as a senior-specific product. While on one hand, they rely on the same network of distributors that many of their competitors have always sold through, they’ve taken a different approach in terms of how they position themselves online before the customer gets to the local provider.

Through the use of educational and intergenerational online content, partnerships with mainstream organizations such as the NFL Players Association, and the creation of their own foundation, EarQ thrives on a simple principle – remove the stigma of hearing loss. They accomplish this goal by shifting the conversation from one of being an “old person thing” to a matter of independence and dignity that affects people of all ages.

A few takeaways on how brands targeting boomers and seniors are successfully cracking the distribution code:

  1. DRTV (Direct Response Television) + Internet:
    Each of the brands saw a growing opportunity to magnify their marketing efforts through an integrated use of these two channels.
  2. “Share of Shelf” vs. “Share of Search”:
    Where historically brands have paid handsomely for the prime positions on the shelf of the bricks-and-mortar store, they now acknowledge that more attention needs to be paid to how and where they appear on search engines (Sounds obvious, right, but you’d be surprised how many brands are just now taking search engine optimization seriously).
  3. Strategic Partnerships:
    All three brands felt that strategic partnerships were a powerful tool in terms of raising brand awareness. ADT cautioned that partnerships with the likes of AARP (often considered the Holy Grail in selling to seniors), can be very time consuming and resource intensive and may not be a good fit for all brands.
  4. Independent Distributors:
    When it comes to thinking about your channel strategy, don’t forget independent distributors. They offer an opportunity for a national brand to compete online at the hyper-local level among other benefits.
  5. The Customer Experience:
    Think about tailoring the customer experience based on an older adults’ needs as yet another way to drive word of mouth and sales. ADT spoke to the training they provide their call centers on how to handle regular “check in” calls from customers who are often just looking for someone willing to listen to them for a few minutes.
  6. Crowd Funding:
    Mr. Harrington spoke to the opportunity that crowd funding offers new products beyond raising capital. For instance, it can offer a quick and valuable feedback loop and allow you to build brand awareness via a loyal tribe that can later be leveraged as you go to scale up your marketing efforts.

It was exciting to see so many new faces at CES this year. While attendance at the Silvers Summit seemed down, the Digital Summit (of which the Silvers Summit is part) occupied twice the convention floor space as last year and seemed to be getting a lot of attention from buyers. Maybe part of our challenge in “cracking the distribution code” is about to get a little easier?

Some closing thoughts and a prediction:

I find it fascinating how this show, which was started by two guys selling speaker cables from the trunk of their car, has become the largest tradeshow in the world for which much of what is being brought to market is not electronic at all.

My prediction (or should I say, hope) is that we will see much of the useless crap (e.g. acres and acres of iPhone cases) get crowded out by meaningful things such as food (yes, food as technology) and useful robots that do more than wiggle their artificial intelligence to my 80’s playlist. I’m not going out on a limb with this prediction. We’re seeing it already and the driving force is an age wave, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

These are exciting times to be a marketer who has something to offer the boomer or senior consumer. Never before in history have we had more adults over the age of 50, with more needs, more money and a greater ability to connect with products and services that will add to their quality of life.