The latest subject addressed by Market Research News concerns the target group of the Seniors, about which the Repères teams have developed substantial expertise.
Below is a transcription of the interview with Yaël Bensoussan (Repères Health) and Ariane Lacas (Repères Quali) conducted by Thierry Semblat
Market Research News - The notion of the "Silver Economy" and of consumer growth being driven more and more by seniors is increasingly being evoked.Do you have any figures that substantiate this?
Yaël Bensoussan:There are a lot of statistics available on the question, but there is one essential determining factor.The fact that we live longer and longer, on average 78 years for men and 85 for women.Even if there are regional differences, the French are gaining an extra three months of life expectancy every year.Since the period of life as a senior is extending, this group is becoming more prevalent.Even if one sticks to a restrictive view of seniors by only taking into account the 65 plus, they represent 17.1% of the population and more than half of them are aged over 75.This prevalence has grown by more than one point in only ten years.In France it is estimated that as from next year the prevalence of the 60 plus will be greater than that of the under 20s!
Two of the big questions concern the definition of what is a senior and the best way of breaking up this population.What's your take on these points?
YB:It's true that the notion varies a great deal depending on the perspective.A top sportsman or sportswoman is a senior from the age of 35 or 40!Taking the health perspective provides a good insight.Apart from specific pathologies (metabolic, oncological, infectious, etc.), people experience a first life stage of good health.During this stage they have illnesses of course but they recover from them and these illnesses only have a small impact on lifestyle and consumption.Then there comes the life stage requiring permanent health care.At this stage people are obliged to take medication for the rest of their lives, care must be delivered on a permanent basis with the need for regular medical analyses.And eventually comes the stage during which other health issues emerge and unavoidably lead to death.
The major break is there, when the issue is "extending" life?
YB:Absolutely.We switch to a relationship which suggests an end through death.This greatly contaminates the use of and the imaginary dimension associated with medicines, which also concern consumer products. The scope of possibilities is reduced, and the relation to time is changed considerably.
From this perspective which segmentation do you feel is most relevant?
YB:Generally we identify three main physiological ages:that of the "young seniors", which could also be referred to as "seniors in transition"; then come the seniors "in their prime"; and lastly, the "ultra-seniors".
Let's start with the young seniors.Who are they and what characterises them?
YB:They are aged between 50 and 60, are still working, and may live with children.They don't live as if they were "old", especially since our society focuses on youthfulness and performance.But there is a tension due to the fact that the body starts to fail (pre-menopause, andropause, etc.), but which is denied in order to postpone implementing the prevention strategies of the healthcare life stage we evoked earlier.This tension provokes the so-called "change of life", the middle-age crisis which manifests itself through a certain number of events.Often there is the need to be seductive again, with a sexual potency that is no longer the same, but which can now be enhanced simply with a medical prescription.
Among this age group there is a sort of denial, which can provide considerable marketing opportunities... Is it this denial that disappears when people reach their "prime"?
YB:Absolutely.This second group of seniors in their prime are aged between 60 and 70/75, typically they are recently retired.The children have left home, and grandchildren are now coming into their lives.This group represents a large proportion of the population because they are the children of the so-called post-war baby-boomers.They are sometimes referred to as the "Happy Boomers", or even "Bohemian Boomers".They often have a high purchasing power having benefitted from a long period of full employment.They are very different from the grandparents of the past:They use the Internet and mobile phones, travel, and have acquired a certain moral freedom.And they refuse to break with social life!
Even when retired, they continue to play an important role in society?
YB:Indeed.They are particularly active in voluntary associations and quite naturally play a pivotal role, either in terms of major social changes or simply within the family by helping their children and their parents at the same time.
In spite of their age, do they still project themselves into the future?
YB:Yes, absolutely.Some of them postpone integrating the healthcare stage mentioned earlier, but the majority of them receive good health care.They are the object of major preventive health plans (flu, cancer, Alzheimer, DMLA...).They are well informed about their health care needs and usually have a rather consumerist approach to health care and health insurance. Their prevalent attitude is to continue as before as long as possible, and to get the most out of life.
At what age does this blissful period end?
YB:On average people shift into the ultra-senior stage after 75, when they become isolated or care is provided by the family or institutions.These ultra-seniors represent 9% of the French population today, and this proportion will continue to grow.This age group can be subjected to degenerative diseases occurring at advanced ages (Alzheimer's) and which naturally raise major public health issues (who will pay and what is the cost for society?).They are very well cared for (in hospital or at home thanks to high quality care) and the prevailing approach in France is to preserve life at all cost whereas other European countries have more restrictive approaches.
The question is relatively vast, but how would you define the main challenges when seeking to successfully target these age groups?
YB:When working with this target you need to think and rethink the product mix as a whole.You must work with the actual product, but also with the packaging, the ergonomics, as well as communication and distribution channels.You also have to ask questions such as whether seniors, depending on the segmentation we mentioned earlier, are going to be able to open packaging easily, or be able to carry the products.There is a need to picture being "in their shoes".If one considers health problems, it's obvious that there is a lot that needs do be done in terms of communication.
Ariane Lacas:In relation to a certain number of physiological disorders, the idea is to see how the taboo might be lifted, which requires having good insights that need to be sublimated so the target can hear the message, and identify with it without any sense of embarrassment.
And in the area of consumer goods?
AL: In these universes, as with that of cosmetics, the question is to know how, given the age factor and the new physiological constraints, a certain number of aspirations to consume and derive enjoyment from consuming may be experienced.There's a great quote from Confucius that sums it up perfectly:"We all have two lives, and the second one starts when we realise we only have one life".This means that when we become aware of our limits and of our mortality we start to live our true life, without the possibilities we used to have but with the need to experience enjoyment and pleasure.This is when a new relationship between aspirations, needs, and possibilities must be decoded for the different categories of products and services.Paradoxically, the stronger the need, the more difficult it is to experience the desire and consume the product.The problem needs to be addressed in terms of a new way of consuming, of proposing new uses in relation with a new imaginary dimension, which takes into account declining physical and sensory faculties.The intention is to continue to offer these people useful products for their enjoyment, especially since they are people who in most cases have a life expectancy of thirty to forty years.It is in the interests of brands to deploy a genuine customer loyalty strategy by creating new areas of trust.
What does this mean for the different segments you mentioned?
AL: The young seniors are a rather new phenomenon in the history of humanity.Many things need to be rethought, especially when it comes to communicating to them.There is a prevalent "anti-age" discourse which this group relates to but which they also tend to ignore.They will be receptive to a new discourse which breaks away from stigmatising or being "anti" but privileges a "positive" and a "together" approach.For the seniors in their prime, we undoubtedly need to redefine a discourse including individuation because they are very individualistic and vitality because of the fear of aging.And there is a need to enhance the pivotal status of this generation which is often a generation of reference.As for the ultra-seniors, they have fewer demands or needs.But they are automatically subject to a form of impotence which generates new needs, especially when dealing with the action of consuming itself, because of declining faculties.The challenge consists of helping them to maintain or recover physical enjoyment, namely by working on the sensory aspects.Working on the sensory aspects of products compensates for physical deficiencies reintroducing enjoyment and the feeling of being alive.
Concerning market research on these senior target groups, what are the principle rules that need to be taken into account?
YB:First it's essential to take into account the stakeholders.Concretely when studying general consumer issues this implies getting the seniors to participate, but it also means implicating the people directly in contact with them day to day (the family, friends, doctors, beauticians or hairdressers, health staff...) as well as the experts and specialists concerned:such as sociologists, psychoanalysts, geriatricians, ergonomists... For health issues it's also a good idea to involve health staff and carers along with the seniors.
And what about the methods for gathering the information?
YB:There are no specific constraints regarding the young seniors, the imperative being to avoid making them feel designated as "seniors".There are also few constraints for those we have defined as seniors in their "prime", on condition they aren't afflicted with incapacitating illnesses.As a group they are outspoken and appreciate being able to express their opinion.Concerning the "ultra-seniors", the constraints are often related to their level of capacity and dependence, bearing in mind that the most dependent are rarely interviewed.There is also the geographical dimension to take into account, with a large proportion of this group living by the sea.Online and telephone interviews are to be discouraged. Interviews at home can work very well, except for institutions which pose a problem because of the need to obtain authorisations.
Contacts : Yaël Bensoussan, Ariane Lacas