7 Tips to Market Apps to Baby Boomers

[Note: This is a guest post by Suzie Mitchell (@suziemitchell), who runs MitchellPR and blogs about technology for the AARP. This post first appeared on Business2. It raises the interesting topic about guidelines/  standards for designing web and mobile sites for seniors. I know there are some technical specs (such as these), but do designers currently know or care? Are these specs iPhone compatible? Would be great to create a guidebook with designers for creating products for this space. Let me know if someone is interested in this topic. - Stephen] 

Recently, I joined several hundred entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that converged in California to attend the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit.  We discussed the huge impact that the largest cohort in America—Baby Boomers -- is having on the technology market. Baby Boomers are defined as the 78 million Americans born from 1946-1964. They control 77 percent of the nation’s wealth.  They buy 45 percent of all consumer goods and they spent $2.5 trillion in 2010, according to the Pew Institute.

The Pew Internet Project, concluded that 80 percent of Boomers are online and 46 percent of them own smartphones.  They spend 15 hours per week online doing research, emailing, shopping, reading and socializing about their hobbies like gardening and travel. The entrepreneurs attending the conference thoroughly understood the importance of meeting the online needs of Boomer generation.  They were offering many options in health care and caregiving technology targeted to the wealthy group. So, why do so many app developers sill tag Baby Boomers as laggards in technology?  The facts just don’t support that theory.  Baby Boomers are early adopters of technology and their immense wallets should demand respect by the Millenials who are developing and marketing websites and apps.

Conventional wisdom amongst website and app developers is that early adopters are young. Wrong! Age and early adoption are independent.  Plenty of Boomers would love to be early adopters. But when an app is designed to appeal to the young early adopter, it limits the ability of the Boomer early adopters to participate.

Early adoption is a behavioral characteristic.

While youth has been a convenient demographic proxy, it’s a poor one. Boomers have a unique historical perspective about technology.  Developers who understand Boomers will open the floodgates to their wallets.  For example, early adopters to health and wellness products are Boomers.  Each month 10,000 people in the US turn 65.

Understanding Boomer technology history

Boomers were in their early teens when the first IBM PCs and Apple computers appeared. They were early adopters of that era.  But they also recall a time when telephones had wires and there were only a few television stations, and when friends moved to another state they lost touch with one another.

Boomers ideals were developed during the Vietnam War years in an era when human rights and individual freedoms were primary concerns.  Their apprehensions about privacy and security are still paramount to their actions.  According to a study conducted by AARP and Microsoft in Oct. 2009, among people ages 18-24, 67 percent said they were concerned about online privacy  The number increased to 86 percent for people 55 and older.

Boomers want technology to fit into their lives and meet their values but they expect technology to adapt to them.

How to reach Boomers

So if app developers are serious about tapping into the Boomers $2.5 trillion wallets, here is some advice.

  • Make the site clear and easy to read—Designers always want to use a thin font in a small point size that looks cool.  However, it’s too hard for Boomer eyes to read.  Use a sanserif font like Tahoma, Calibri, or Arial.  And never use a point size less than 12 point.

  • Try to limit reverse type for headlines only.  Again, it’s too hard on Boomer eyes.  Use a lot of white space.  Primary colors are a plus a well.

  • Use large buttons placed in areas that are easily recognizable.  Don’t make them search for the save, print, or help button.

  • Make the help section and home page accessible from every screen if possible.  Boomers absolutely hate being lost in a maze of a website and not being able to get help or get back home.

  • Make sure your help section uses easy to understand terms in its FAQ, not technical ones.

  • Make the navigation simple.

  • Name your site a name that explains what it is.  Try not to be too cute by half.  It doesn’t work, it’s confusing.  Some good examples are Fooducate, Flikster, Lose It--; the name explains what the site does.  An app called LonelyPlanet doesn’t cut it. It’s a travel site, but it sounds more like a sad therapy site. Yes, Amazon and Skype have names that don’t explain them, but unless you have the marketing budget of those companies it’s best to go with a more descriptive I’d approach.

If you follow these simple steps, you are destined to delight Boomer users.  Boomers have always thought of themselves and eternally young.  That’s why they want to stay relevant by having the latest tech toys and equipment.  Stop thinking of them as a static demographic, but rather as users of your product.

- Suzie Mitchell, MitchellPR


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