By 2017, one out of every two adults in the United States will be 50 or older (Nielsen 2012a).
Let’s take a moment to absorb what this means to you and your business.

By next year, half of your potential customers will be 50 or older. That’s a very large number. Are half of your current customers in that age group? Gaze at the people on your exercise floor. If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to explore how to maximize this demographic opportunity. Given that this age group accounts for seven of every 10 dollars that could be spent with you, it is well worth your time and effort (Nielsen 2012b).

But before you invest time and energy in older adults (or reinvest in them if you have been working with this group for a while), you need to commit to becoming a student of healthy aging. For example, research from the United Nations shows that lack of interest in the older consumer stems from ageism and a limited understanding of the market (UNFPA 2012). Are you or staff members unconsciously avoiding older adults, even though they are loyal and appreciative, and many have money to pay for services?

If you want to fully understand older consumers, you must first remember that just one word describes the 50-plus population: diverse. After all, no two people experience aging in the same way. Our life experiences, families and social surroundings, plus our physical and cognitive abilities, make us unique. And we differ by health; age; work and marital status; gender; sexual orientation; race and culture; child rearing; access to transportation; and income levels (Larkin 2011) .

Your job is to identify the people you can serve, based on the demographics and socioeconomics of your area, and to figure out what skills and tools you need to serve them. Don’t limit yourself to masters athletes. They are great clients, but so are people with physical limitations or less enthusiasm for exercise. Planning a program for one of these clients can be just as challenging as planning for an athlete, and it will keep you interested while benefiting the client.

Refining Your Message

Running a marathon at age 100 is one example of how older adults benefit when they embrace their potential, irrespective of age. If you can help older clients enhance their physical, cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual potential, how should you shift your marketing message to reflect that? Let’s find out.

Start with a blank piece of paper. Draw vertical lines to form three columns, and label one “Words,” the second “Models” and the third “Story.” Use this framework to choose appropriate terminology, the people you will use as models, and the story that will send the right message. Add one element at a time. No matter what marketing tools you use to deliver your message, make sure you present these three elements in an authentic, compelling manner.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Focus on what’s in it for them. As the research shows, older adults want to be visible (95% of all marketing dollars are spent on people below the age of 50 [Nielsen 2012a])—they don’t want to be an afterthought. Design your marketing materials so they are easy to comprehend, and gear information and images specifically to this audience.
  • Eliminate stereotypes. GlynnDevins, a marketing company that specializes in older adults, recently found that 60% of the people surveyed (all over 70) thought advertisers portrayed older adults as aging stereotypes, both positive and negative—either “too good to be true” or “too bad to be true” (GlynnDevins 2014). Unfortunately, using stereotypes can come back to haunt you.
  • Strive for substance. Substance is not boring. Arouse your clients’ emotions with a compelling personal story. In creating that story, consider comprehension and reading levels, as well as the ability to track long copy versus short. Use succinct paragraphs. Have a focused message that speaks to this group’s diversity of life experiences, cultures and values. Always remember to say what’s in it for your consumers. Use your copy to convey the value of exercise—the reason to buy, the reason to visit and the reason to call.
  • Target their aspirations. You may have seen the Toyota advertisement that shows Boomer parents out riding their mountain bikes while the kids are at home using the Internet. The message is aspirational, targeting older adults who envision themselves dispelling myths and living life while the world tweets by. This advertisement builds people up instead of breaking them down. Of course, it targets adults with a higher level of function. Yet an equally strong story could be told for people who are moderately active or need more assistance. It is important to target the potential client you wish to reach.
  • Get feedback. To create the most effective marketing approach, ask your older members for advice. Do they like the message, story and images? How easy is it to read, watch and understand—can they follow it okay? If you ask such questions, your members and clients will tell you if you are on the right path, or if you need to start again.

For suggestions on facility design and programming, please see “Marketing to Older Adults: Finding the Right Message” in the online IDEA Library or in the July–August 2016 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7