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© Copyright 1999,
American Senior Fitness

 American Senior Fitness Association

 The experts in older adult fitness

How to Market to the Older Adult  

By Colin Milner

Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), has 18 years of fitness industry background including club management, consulting, and publishing. Previously he served as President of IDEA©,  Chief Operating Officer of the Keiser Institute on Aging and the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Keiser Corporation. He sits on the advisory board of the American Senior Fitness Association, Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals and Assisted Living Success Magazine. He has authored over 60 industry articles and has been interviewed extensively in leading publications such as The New York and Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. He also presents throughout North America on the topics of "How to attract the aging market" and "How to eliminate the barriers to entry for the older adult." 

To learn more about Mr. Milner and the International Council on Active Ageing please click here: icaa.cc

For the past 50 plus years, society’s method of marketing to the older adult has been to offer senior discounts. Having originated during World War II when money was scarce, the tradition continues today - even though the older adult now has 80% of the nation’s wealth and 55% of the discretionary income.

So why are clubs continuing to offer them the cheapest rates?

The growing legion of older adults has come of age bringing, with them a lifetime of experiences and wealth. Marketers worldwide are discovering that to gain the business of these seasoned buyers - who account for 50% of total consumer demand and internet purchases but only 13.9% of the fitness industry’s business - one has to change.

The first step is to embrace this market and its values - starting with the recognition that the older we become, the more unique we become. In gerontology they call it ‘variability,’ which when translated means what worked for the younger adult will not work for the mature market. Their values have little to do with sex appealand ego and more to do with maintaining their functional ability and independence. By customizing your facility, staff, assessments, equipment, sales and marketing message to them, you will been seen as speaking their language and sharing in their values - making you an appealing choice.

But how do we get them to buy into our message? Change the message.

Let’s take the first step by looking at 10 easy ways to create more age-friendly marketing.


1. Know your market. In the same way that every restaurant isn’t a McDonald’s, every member of the mature market isn’t a ‘senior.’ Those over 50 are part of a multi-segmented group, with each segment having its own wants and needs. Plus, each age segment can be defined further by income, ethnic status, health, discretionary time and more. Is your target market in its early 50s, possibly with children still in college and likely still part of the working force? Are you talking to those in there early 60s who may have an impending retirement and health concerns? The point is, when it comes to the mature market, one size does not fit all. It’s important that you identify the segment to which you are marketing, and take the time to incorporate that knowledge in everything from your copy and design to your choice of media.

2. Just the facts, please. "Been there, done that," may well be the mantra of the over-50 set. The most effective sales messages to this group may be to simply explain in a clear and straightforward way exactly why they should be interested in what you have to offer and exactly what benefits they will receive.

3. Build relationships. As a whole, this market values personal ties, and will take the time to get to know you and your product or service. Experience tells them that few things require an instant decision. They are unlikely to respond well to pressure tactics.

4. Use life-stage marketing. Life-changing events (a child's marriage, retirement, moving, health problems, etc.) are defining moments for this market. Use these events to create connections. For example, focus on the parents’ free time now that the kids are gone, or focus on prevention for health issues.

5. Educate the market. Some of the most successful campaigns educate the market about real-life concerns while subtly slipping the product message between the lines. This is all part of a whole-person wellness program - where you use elements other than just physical to get a person to see your facility and hear your sales message. Example? Create a seminar series that each month deals with a different chronic condition, such as osteoporosis. By educating the customer, you’re showing that you care about them and speak their language. What club will they choose to belong to now?

6. Design with their eyes in mind. No matter how young they may feel and act, diminished vision is a fact of life for most people over the age of50. Set type in a readable size (12 point minimum is recommended, depending on the font) and use plenty of white space, bold headlines and subheads to make copy a pleasure, rather than a chore to read. Similarly, consider column width when designing. While long copy is acceptable to this group (which overall prefers a strong rationale for buying), shorter columns are easier to read than type set across an entire page width. In photography and graphics, full color is preferable to black and white. Choose models with some sensitivity to your market. Clearly today’s over-50 group is not confined to rocking chairs or to the golf course. Use photography and art that reflect the lifestyle of the people to whom you are speaking.

7. Avoid Scare tactics. Scare tactics and discouraging news about aging won’t motivate this group to act or buy. Direct marketers who recognize the joys of aging stand a much better chance of reaching this market than those who use fear (like the insurance industry sometimes does).

8. Don’t call them names. Probably the quickest way to turn off the younger members of the over-50 group is by offering them ‘senior’ discounts, or products designed for ‘seniors.’ When speaking to those over 65, it pays to avoid labels such as ‘old’ and ‘elderly.’ About the only label this group likes is ‘grandparent.’

9. Demonstrate your credibility. If your company has been in business for25 years, say so. If you’re new on the block, emphasize your commitment to customer service. Testimony from satisfied clients, research results, professional endorsements, documentation and evidence are all key copy elements. Example, 49% of all hospital fitness center members are 55-plus - as opposed to 13.9% for clubs. Potential members may have a credibility issue with your club’s goal to minimize or ignore this gap.

10. Remove the risk. Offer a money-back guarantee, free trial period or lifetime warranty. Reassure the reader that there are real human beings at the other end of the correspondence. Use names in your copy as you talk about the people who will be making the product, handling the account, or providing the service you offer.

A marketer’s dream occurred January 1, 1996, and will continue to do so every eight seconds for the next 20 years. The demographic movement society now calls the ‘Age Wave’ is cresting. It’s up to you whether you ride it or not.