Marketing to the Senior Brain

Marketers know that older buyers frequently behave differently than younger ones. They tend to experiment less with new products, and often exhibit strong loyalty to the brands they have used in the past. Conventional wisdom would say these individuals are “set in their ways.” That may be the case, but a new study by Karen Faith Berman and researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health may provide a clue as to why it occurs. This shift in behavior may well be linked to a change in their brains’ reward system:

The researchers found, perhaps not surprisingly, that fMRI scans show that activation of dopamine-triggered brain regions differs between older and younger adults. They measured the effects on the brain of anticipation and the receiving of a reward through a video slot machine, rather than the receiving of a wrapped gift, the team explains. They found the effect was stronger in younger subjects with an average age of 25 years, compared to their older counterparts, with an average age of 65 years. [From MRI Spectroscopy - Anticipating Excitation by David Bradley.]

In simple terms, it seems that the brain’s reward system, which drives a variety of behaviors and may affect things like trying new brands, is dialed down as our brains age.

Long before this neuromarketing insight, those marketers who target seniors have no doubt understood the behavioral difference and adjusted their approach accordingly. Perhaps too much so… Seth Godin is critical of current marketing to seniors and points out that the conventional wisdom may not apply to the graying boomer generation: “Open people are seeking out things that they believe will make their lives better. Experiences and products and styles that will open doors, cause growth, save time and money and increase status… Closed people are trying to maintain the status quo.” Godin believes that boomers will stay “open” long into their senior years.

Are boomer brains different? Probably not – it’s important to realize that the brain’s reward system doesn’t shut down with age, it’s just toned down a bit. It’s equally important to realize that many other factors affect senior marketing, and, of course, individual seniors are no more alike than individuals in other age demographics. With more than two thirds of the disposable income in the U.S. controlled by seniors, it’s worth taking the time to understand their similarities to and differences with the rest of your customer base.

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— who has written 959 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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4 responses to "Marketing to the Senior Brain" — Your Turn

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Rocky Bishop 26. October 2008 at 5:10 am

Interesting. I am currently trying to market “HEALTHCARE” to seniors, they do like the word FREE, but I haven’t been to successful as of yet. Any suggestions anyone.

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Erik du Plessis 9. May 2012 at 10:20 am

I know that my brain is now a bit smaller than what it was when I was 20. But, that is not the issue.
Other parts have also diminishing functions and affects my choices.

I cannot read without my glasses. My wife has conditioner and shampoo in the shower where I cannot wear glasses. The marketers believe they should have the brand name big and bold, but that they need only small letters for the product description. They also make both containers look similar.

Occasionally, when I remember, I buy the no-name brand that has ‘shampoo’ written in BIG letters.

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
9. May 2012 at 10:47 am

I’ve never understood why manufacturers fail to entertain the idea that all their customers have perfect vision and use the product in a well-lit area. My personal bane is the use of embossed black plastic to identify ports on the back of electronics gear. Working at an awkward angle in a dark corner, it’s impossible to tell which plug is which without hunting down a flashlight.

You could always take a waterproof marker and put a big “S” on the shampoo, Erik!

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Erik du Plessis 9. May 2012 at 10:53 am

Seniors do not want to turn the whole house over for a waterproof marker – only households with young children have these.
The computer problem is easy to solve: wait until one of the kids are around.

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