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16 lessons from 12 years working with the 50+ demographic

man reading paper

In very late 2004, a friend & I decided to offer a free community-based website for the 50+ demographic in NZ.  We were aged 27 & 31 respectively and our aim was to never suggest that we knew best.  How could we – we did not and still do not wear the shoes of a 50+ year old. The best idea was to write some articles that aimed to help people make the most of each day and be inspired to do more with our time.

Eventually, our site, specifically this site, went live in June 2006.

Fast-forward and I’m finding myself in a reflective mood. Many of the same issues that the demographic faced, in the eyes of younger members of the population, remain.

So here are some thoughts that I put together originally on a blog, but republished here for your interest.  Please feel free to login and comment at the footer.

Although I can’t speak from the point of view of a 50 year old quite yet, the last 12 years spent building up GrownUps to a place where we’re really proud to call 140,000 people ‘members’ and to welcome up to 200,000 visitors a month – there are a few themes, myths, stats and general points of interest that I’d like to share.

Whether it’s been speaking one on one, observing GrownUps groups around the country or from the countless surveys and research conducted via the site, this has taught me that if you think anyone aged 50+ is old, past their use by date or is simply boring, consider that our view is that 50 is only halfway and there is a heck of a lot of life left.  Just think about anyone that you know aged 50 and over.

Forget 70 being the new 50. 70 is whatever you want it to feel like!

If you own a brand or work with a brand, then although you may not want to admit that the 50+ market accounts for a large % of your business in case it somehow tarnishes your brand, then check out your sales data, look around the shop, heck just look around the street when you’re walking.  Who are the active ones?  Is everyone aged 50+ sitting around reminiscing or are they getting busy living?

It’s true, the 50+ demographic are not buying every single product or service available, but maybe, just maybe, if you think more about it, they play an important part in the purchasing funnel by influencing other generations both up and down their family tree.

So without further adieu. (Please note that stats are published GrownUps audience stats, unless otherwise noted).


1) Not just one but 4 generations

The 50-69 years old group not only look after themselves (buying everyday items, traveling, taking care of their health etc), however they often look after their elderly parents (think a roof over their heads – retirement villages, downsizing, legals etc), increasingly assist their children (first homes, cars, education) and they help kick-start their grandchildren’s lives (clothes, bank accounts, health insurance and again increasingly pay for their often private education).

business 2) Are generally extremely tech savvy

After all Steve Jobs designed the iPad with the more mature market in mind. 78% use Apps, 41% stream TV or movie content, 97% have the Internet at home.  AARP (US) research shows that 70% of people 50+ use a smartphone.

3) Buy Online
Yes, there is a tendency to think that older people are very conservative with spending habits online. Many are, particularly given the scammers that do exist out there who unfortunately tend to target older people.  However, 75% do buy online.  Specifically 54% buy gifts, 43% buy clothes/footwear, 31% buy health & wellness products, 26% purchase entertainment & 26% buy electronic goods online.

4) Are well-connected social media participants

Whilst it’s difficult to get a specific breakdown, around 18% of global Facebook traffic is from people aged 45+.  Interestingly in NZ, the latest stats suggest 32% for the same age range. (Source: 80% of GrownUps people use social media.

5) It’s not about age, but rather stage.  Everyone is an individual.

It’s best not to group everyone in a bunch.  Having said that, by using your data, much like any other age group, there will be trends and specific groups within.  Therefore, it’s key to personalise your advertising wherever possible and don’t whatever you do, speak with the audience as if they are ‘old’.  Be positive and tactful.

6) Are a key demographic running & selling private businesses

These individuals often have not only cashflow, but can be cashed up and wish to reward themselves.  Do not judge a book by the cover when a person walks in off the street or contacts you and especially not if you are made aware of their age.  You absolutely never can tell.  Just visit a Motorhome expo near you and observe.

couple walking sunset 7) ‘Own’ the travel market

A recent British stat from talks about a 9% increase in the overall percentage of travel expenditure by those aged 50+ in a few short years.  The 50+ demographic now accounts for 58% of the overall travel market.  For GrownUps, 93% take at least one holiday per year, with 65% travelling 1-3 times internationally each year.

8) ‘Own’ the health market

60% on GrownUps purchase health supplements. According to the Natural Products NZ Survey 2014, the natural products market alone was worth $1.4b.

9) Are for the most part fit and healthy

94% take part in some form of sport/exercise. Having participated in local triathlon events, there are countless competitors into their 60’s who having looked that their split times are often quicker than those in their 40’s.  If you witnessed the Masters’ Games in Auckland last year, one athlete was 101!

10) Own assets
Yes, it is very tricky and indeed scary to contemplate needing to survive on the pension alone, without other cashflow options or capital reserves.  Despite this, 76% own their own home & 24% own investment properties.


11) Have a lot of disposable income

According to a NYTimes article by Braden Phillips ‘Marketers Take Second Look at Over-50 Consumers’, US Consumers over the next 20 years will control 70% of all disposable income and inherit $15 Trillion.


12) Are not necessarily loyal (ie they like to try new things)
Don’t bank on the fact that if a person aged 50+ has spent with you before, they’ll do it again.  The market is more than capable of finding the best deal, the best service and at the same time like anyone else, need to be wined and dined.  Do not take them for granted.  Know your customer!

I heard a story once, when some people in their 70s who had purchased from a luxury car brand several times over a decade or so, were invited to a new car launch which ended up being in an open air car park, on a cold winter’s night.  There were mostly 20-somethings in attendance (must have been friends with the marketing assistant as I don’t know too many 20-somethings who can afford a luxury car? These older people were largely ignored throughout and as a result, have never bought from that car brand again.

13) Don’t view themselves as old

So….don’t advertise to them or speak with them, using old looking people.  In fact, speak with them not at them.

Couple Car14) Like to dream and make the most of everyday, just like everyone else!

So offer the demographic a chance to dream!  Your customer may not be able to buy today but they will work out a way and add it to their bucket list if nothing else.  Whether taking up cycling, entertaining friends, planning their next overseas trip, meeting new people, wanting to learn new things (you can teach an old dog new tricks!), we all have dreams and we’re all motivated to do more.

15) Can’t stand the word Seniors or the old idea of Retirement

These are descriptions from 20 years ago.  Please think of something else.  Retirement in the old definition, meant that once you stopped work, you often stopped truly living.  Now it’s a transition period that never really ends – it simply evolves into the next thing.

16) Are starting & running amazing businesses.  (And are in fact more successful on average than younger entrepreneurs.)

Now I’m not suggesting that you delay starting a business until you are 50, however it’s a fact that on average, older people have more success per capita at starting and maintaining a business. (To be fair, there are a lot more people under 50 starting businesses and giving it a go but the fact remains). Regardless of age, building businesses is extremely tough, takes plenty of hard work & unwavering persistence.  However, when you think Colonel Sanders, Ray Croc, Ray Dalio, Sir Richard Branson, Warren Buffett etc, you get the picture.  It’s never too late.

With around 1.65m New Zealanders alone aged 50 and over out of 4.5m of us, it’s a good percentage to be speaking with, who are getting busy living!


Are you looking to target the valuable 50+ market? Click here for further information.



First published by Richard Poole on Co-Pilot.

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