Time and the open road.

I recently received a LinkedIn message from an old friend who knows we specialise in market research and communication strategy for reaching older consumers. I’m going to share it:

“Having just spent 4 days camping at a caravan park in Nagambie with the kids, I found it a very interesting insight into the social fabric of our society. Two different groups of people were clearly identifiable, with a couple of things in common. First group: young families, with kids up to the age of 10 or 11 (definitely no teenagers in sight!). They just love any place (like us) where the kids can safely wander off and you can be spared at least 20 mins from their incessant whining/demands/crying.

Second group: the grey nomads. This group outnumber the former by at least 2 to 1. They seem to hunt in packs, building friendships that move from one location to the next…god knows how they access the medical care they obviously would need as they are all at least 65 to 70! The obvious thing the two groups had in common are the love of the ‘outdoor woods’ and seeing as much of this great country as possible before the nomads are parked in one of your nursing homes and the kids turn into zombie teenagers. The second, is the amount of money on show in a caravan park! Brand new RV’s, latest dual axle Jayco vans, ski boats, $100k+ LandCruiser 4WDs towing the lot…the list goes on…all to stay in a place where you share a crapper and have to wear your thongs in the shower.”

First let’s admire the irony! He has a fine command of it.

From a marketing perspective, the ‘grey nomads’ are an interesting cohort. Despite appearing homogeneous, they are not. The dream of hitting the road is shared by rich and poor. It is a dream that sees couples save well before retirement, in preparation of the adventure. The journey brings them together in a simple environment “where you share a crapper”! Sure, a 30 foot caravan with Jacuzzi isn’t exactly roughing it but it isn’t the Intercontinental either. As Jack Kerouac so energetically and philosophically put, the road is also freedom. Freedom from a life’s work. Freedom from the maintenance of a home and the polite societal rituals of the neighbourhood.

This is a reminder that grey nomads, baby boomers, are defined more by interest, aspiration and experience than their age.

Now, look at the analogy my friend makes. Yes, there is a bit of stereotyping in there, some misconceptions about the age at which we need (or don’t need) healthcare, but some truths as well. The older group have more time and more disposable wealth than the younger group. It’s reflected in the lack of parental duties and expensive toys. They also outnumber the younger group 4 to 1 – somewhat representative of the age profile we know our population is moving toward.

If we are to define them by age then let it be this. They are confident and have plenty of time. There is not job to go to in the morning which means the news of cut backs doesn’t mean restless nights. They will spend money on interests and those interests are what bind them together. Shared experience is important.

If you are providing a service, selling products to or attempting to reach this group with a political message, you need to look first to experience and interests, and the networks formed around them. A major group of voters and shoppers who also don’t mind influencing the public agenda, older people are a force to be reckoned with. It pays to think deeply before making common assumptions.

Ellis Jones provides market research, engagement, strategy and creative services to organisations that want to reach the older consumer.

image credit: MGSpiller