Reaching Seniors in the Digital Age

The majority of older Americans might not spend every waking moment online, but they are far better connected than most think—which is all the more reason to make sure you don’t underestimate their media consumption habits when launching a senior-targeted marketing/advertising campaign.

As far back as 2017, 50% of Internet users between the ages of 65 and 74 had at least one social media profile.  In a survey by Pew Research Center in 2018, it is noted that 82% of those aged 65-69 and 75% of 70-74-year-olds are online. These trends haven’t gone away or dipped—solidifying the fact that senior living marketing should incorporate a variety of digital advertising tactics as part of its marketing mix to stay relevant to its audience.

“There are a number of reasons why someone gets online. It could be to stay connected through social media, shop or research an upcoming purchase, or to follow the news.” says Hayley Gurtler, director of digital media and advertising at LifeStar Living, LLC. “Seniors definitely use the Internet for all of these things—and when you’re trying to appeal to an older adult demographic within your defined markets, you can’t deny the opportunities that exist through programmatic digital tactics.”

“With these types of strategies, you are seeking quality over quantity. You may not generate a large volume of calls from your display ads or millions of impressions, but you are able to get in front of consumers that match the audience you are targeting through branding and messaging, and reinforcing your campaign’s calls-to-action.”

Knowing seniors digital habits

There are characteristics unique to the digital usage of Americans over 65 that marketers and advertisers are well advised to keep in mind.

For instance, unlike Millennials, who are known to be digital-first when it comes to marketing efforts, seniors typically utilize a broader range of mediums—everything from the Internet, Connected TV (via Smart Televisions), Cable, and radio to printed materials like direct mailers, and newspaper and magazine ads.

It’s important to know what to expect out of each tactic, and how they work together. Paid search might be the last touch point attributed to most web leads, but what drove them to that online search?

Whos your target audience?

It’s all about understanding who your target audience is and where they consume media, so that you can determine the best marketing mix.

“There are so many more ways to reach our senior living audience today, and the impressions are there,” says Gurtler. “You can target by age, ZIP, income, and/or net worth in combination with interests, domains, keyword and contextual targeting.”

“We can run ads to audiences within select ZIP codes, that have a household income of  $100K+ per year, have a net worth of +$500K and who have a high interest in “senior living” or who are likely to have ‘long-term care insurance,’ These are just some examples mirroring our basic direct mail list demographic targeting, which allows us to layer on real-time online indicators to reach a more qualified prospect and reinforce our message.”

“Different tactics, channels, ad units, and devices can have varying success measures,” she adds. “But knowing that many markets no longer have strong print news outlets, and that factors like COVID have added additional barriers, it does make sense to incorporate highly targeted touch points into your senior living marketing efforts.”

A multi-channel approach not only boosts brand awareness and interest but will enable senior living communities to get in front of the right people on an ongoing, consistent basis.

“The ideal strategy is to continue with your workhorse channels while also trying new tactics, whether that’s programmatic display, online video, prospecting email, or native to see how that improves your bottom line,” she says. “You can’t just be in one place – the senior population demands greater sophistication and integration of digital strategies.”

What’s more, Gurtler cautions that senior living organizations should not assume that tactics used five or 10 years ago will still be effective today or next year. Marketing strategists have to remain up-to-date on trends in order to avoid spending money on measures that are no longer effective.

With the pandemic, seniors have been forced to digitize their world and interface with new technologies to communicate, shop, exercise, and enjoy other aspects of life.  They are more robust consumers, and you must constantly evaluate new tactics and techniques to reach your audience and achieve your sales goals.

Variety presents challenges

Of course, variance brings challenges.

“You have to be more mindful of how you gauge the senior population’s media usage,” Gurtler notes. “Their consumption can differ for many reasons – age bracket, urban vs. rural markets, certain levels of care being targeted – but overall, their media interaction is rather diverse.”

“They are one-foot-in and one-foot-out of the traditional media landscape and just aren’t as “new” to the digital arena as they were a decade or so ago.  They might not always be as savvy with their smart TV, email, or phone as their children or grandchildren, but they buy and watch their new TV (most of them smart TVs), and they know how to get on Facebook and how to search for things online.  This shouldn’t render the audience as non-users, but instead should challenge marketers to create easier opportunities to navigate and engage.”

You might not be guaranteed the same return on display or social media ads with older Americans that you would be with Millennials, but senior living advertisers would be remiss to assume that they’re wasting their time attempting to reach seniors electronically.

Follow the data

Above all else is the significance of tracking data. Understanding how your particular audience engages various forms of media is crucial to knowing where to put your advertisements.

“Taking the time to implement a variety of tracking methods is really important when delving in to how a particular audience is using media,” says Gurtler. “We can better track our senior living prospects because they do use digital. It’s not just about using call tracking phone numbers anymore.”

“In fact, it would be strange to see a call tracking number in a digital display ad. UTM parameters, QR codes, vanity URLs, third party pixels, analytics data – offer a greater of how your audience is engaging, with both online and offline media and users are more likely to click than call from that type of display ad.”

Gurtler says she’s seen print inserts run and get only a handful of calls—but when they include CTAs that give users the option to go online to fill out a form, she sees site visits and form fills that can be directly attributed to the vanity URLs and QR codes placed in the print insert.

A constantly changing landscape

Regardless of the strategies chosen for a specific senior-targeted advertising campaign, the reality remains constant. Older Americans are more wired than many people think – and this trend will only continue to grow.


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