Is a Chief Gerontology Officer really the best way to give older consumers what they want?
Over-50s account for nearly half of all consumer spending, but many products and services are designed and marketed for younger generations.
Aideen Young explores the idea of hiring ‘Chief Gerontology Officers’ to help businesses deliver for people in later life, and concludes that it may not be the easy fix it first appears.
Someone at work recently shared a blog on a website called Stria, a platform billed as “a media platform for the longevity market”.
“Gerontologists becoming a hotter hire as consumers age”, it proclaims, explaining how some companies have brought gerontologists on board because the potential for brands is huge.
“You’ve heard about CEOs, CFOs and COOs”, it says, “But what about a CGO – as in, Chief Gerontology Officer?”
Sounds sensible? A recent report from IPSOS Mori, produced in partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better, points out that over-50s in the UK make up about one-third of the population, but account for almost half of all consumer spending – a whopping £320 billion a year.
But imagine what that spend might be if companies actually considered the needs of the older consumer!
Companies haven’t given much thought to older consumers, in spite of their potential spending power.
Older consumers want better products and services
Take aids and adaptations that can help people to live independently at home. Why don’t more people have grab rails in their homes? Because grab rails, like other home adaptations currently available are ill-designed and institutional.
Research by the Centre for Ageing Better last year showed many older people with health conditions and mobility issues delay making vital changes to their homes because of the off-putting and stigmatising appearance of products (as well as the complexity in getting support and information).
The same is true of technology that can enable us to keep doing everyday activities as we age. Why is it that just a fifth of people with hearing aids wear them? Appearance is one factor.
And good luck trying to find the “Easi-Grip garden fork for users with reduced grip, hand or wrist function” on Amazon. It’s buried in Mobility and Daily living aids which in turn is nestled within Medical Supplies and Equipment. Medical Supplies and Equipment for a nifty little gizmo to help you do your gardening?!
I’d argue that companies haven’t given much thought to older consumers, in spite of their potential spending power.
A Chief Gerontology Officer is not the answer
But I don’t think a CGO is what’s needed. The Stria blog opines that “specialized knowledge can help colleagues avoid stereotypes and misunderstandings about older adults”. Too often, they go on, “marketers in their 30s think that because they took care of their grandma, they understand older people.”
Stria seem to think that older people are a different species entirely. Research we undertook to find out what older people want at work concluded that they want exactly the same things as employees of all ages.
Well, the same goes for the consumer requirements of older people. They want the same things as everyone else – useful, attractive and well-designed products. Importantly, what this amounts to is better design for everyone.
So, I say no to the CGO, because it perpetuates the notion of difference. Because if we need Chief Gerontology Officers, then surely we need Chief Millennial Officers and Chief Centennial Officers too.