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Don’t be afraid to try something different

​​Sell: James Ashwell, founder of the innovative social business www.unforgettable.org reveals what he’s learnt so far about marketing to an ageing population and asks other healthcare start-ups to share their learnings.


While caring for my mum who had early-onset dementia I discovered that the right products and services could be truly life changing…but finding them was difficult. That’s why, after Mum died, I set up www.unforgettable.org because I wanted to make it easier for everyone on the dementia journey to discover the best products and service available to them.

I’ve been aware of Aging2.0 for quite some time (I’m part of the London chapter) and find its ambition and breadth of work truly inspiring. So I was delighted to be one of eight start-up companies chosen to take part in the Digital Silver Conference in Helsinki on November 29 last year. After speaking to the other seven fantastic companies in attendance however it soon became clear that we faced similar challenges, particularly when it comes to marketing.

A difficult demographic

The ageing population is the fastest growing demographic group in the world but, as we’ve all discovered, reaching this massive, emerging market can be more difficult than it first appears. It can be very frustrating too, especially when you know you have a great, innovative product or service which could really make a difference to someone’s life…if only they knew it existed.

A cultural challenge

Many Europeans still believe that the welfare state will provide whatever support they need as they age and don’t therefore look for products independently. State provision however is in sad and permanent decline and sooner or later a change of mindset will be necessary. All companies like ours can do is hang on and hope that our brilliant marketing plan will help us stay in business whilst this cultural shift occurs (as it must) and people begin to realise that they will have to play a more proactive part in their future health and social care needs.

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of sharing experience with peer groups as a way of opening up debate. So when Stephen Johnson (whom I’ve long admired as a leader in ageing innovation) asked me to write a blog about our approach to marketing, I agreed. I hope that by revealing our successes and failures, we’ll encourage other companies to do the same. I also hope that the wider Aging2.0 community will get involved, sharing thoughts, advice and guidance on the best ways to reach the ageing population. And if anyone has a secret formula for success please feel free to get in touch!

The trouble with marketing

I founded www.unforgettable.org because I discovered there were lots of products that could make life a bit easier for those with dementia but they were generally too expensive. One of the main reasons for this was that individual manufacturers were spending lots of money marketing their products so that they could reach the people who needed them…and the cost of all this marketing inevitably pushed up the price of the product.

Our idea was to pull all those individual products together in one big marketplace (www.unforgettable.org already has more than 1000 products on our site) so that we could market on behalf of everyone. This would, we thought, make marketing much more cost effective, and ultimately reduce the price of the products themselves (which is, after all, what really matters).

Lessons we’ve learnt

In our first year of business www.unforgettable.org has tested several marketing channels, often with surprising results.

Traditional v non-traditional

We’ve learnt that traditional channels (including radio, inserts in magazines and press adds) can be quite expensive and aren’t immediately effective for our demographic (which is 45plus and female). That’s not to say they don’t work…but they don’t seem to work quickly and aren’t therefore cost effective. However non- traditional channels tell a different story.

What works

  1. There’s a place for social media which has really helped us to grow our audience,
  2. There’s a very strong place for advice and good quality digital content. Unforgettable has hundreds of well written articles about dementia offering advice, inspiration and comfort through which our community has built trust in us as an authoritative brand. This content also provides a compelling reason to come back…and perhaps buy something.
  3. Word of mouth has proven incredibly important too. If we do a good job, and give good customer service at a good price, we can expect to be recommended to others.
  4. Print catalogues work very well. When you’re not sure what you’re looking for (many people don’t even know that dementia products exist) browsing through one of our brochures or catalogues has proven to be a good way to find out.

But what people want most of all is value for money. Offering a unique product at a compelling price, is fundamental to our business– and we’ve already proved it works. For example, when we first launched our two best-selling day clocks (one for early stage dementia and the other for late stage dementia) cost between £80-£100 each. So we combined the two products into one unique day clock…and reduced the price to only £39.99. This has led to a huge increase in product sales as customers benefit from the uniqueness of the product as well as the price.

Future markets

What health care starts ups like ours really need to grow rapidly and secure funding is to demonstrate scalable routes to market and consumer acquisition strategies. For www.unforgettable.org that’s likely to be High Street retail outlets, international sales, and advice (both organic and paid) as well as strategic partnerships.

What works for you?

So how do you market to this growing but difficult to reach demographic? We’d love to hear your thoughts and learnings too. Email us info@unforgettable.org  and we’ll share your insights with the wider community (unless you’d rather we didn’t of course). This is an important conversation in global health care technology so let’s share our ideas and work together so that we can all grow, flourish and have bright futures in this truly exciting market. 

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