The digital landscape for senior citizens

Which of the following words seems out of place: Tablet, mobile, grandparent, or internet? Though “grandparent” is probably the obvious answer, many seniors might disagree. In a Pew Research Center study, 59 percent of seniors said they are internet users and many already use social media platforms or technologies like FaceTime to keep in touch with families and grandchildren. At the same time, of those who are not regular internet users, 77 percent said they would need guidance on how to navigate the digital landscape. Clearly, CMOs looking to increase product adoption for a variety of online platforms have the potential to unlock a new pool of users within the senior market. And these opportunities reach across a diverse set of applications.

Three ways to introduce the digital landscape to senior citizens

​​​Online banking might seem to be a natural fit for seniors. With online banking, older individuals can conveniently deposit a check from the comfort of their home rather than navigating through a winter storm to accomplish the same task (in addition to the increased consumer protection that online banking affords). Yet only 18 percent of adults ages 60 and over take advantage of online banking services. Or take gaming. Though gaming is often associated with younger generations, grandparents might be open to using gaming, whether online or at home with a Wii Fit, to interact and connect with their grandchildren in a manner never before afforded ... yet few do.

Why is this? Older individuals cite similar reasons for not adopting new digital habits. The Pew Research suggests that one in three users simply do not perceive a strong benefit to regularly using these technologies. The research also finds that these types of tasks and associated mental shifts often invoke an emotional reaction that digital adoption is simply too daunting, and can feel similar to asking someone to learn a new language after a lifetime of speaking only English.

However, a look at the behavioral design field can shed some light on seniors’ reasons for staying put. In her article, “Frozen: Using behavioral design to overcome decision-making paralysis,” Ruth Schmidt provides an explanation for this: As humans, we fall victim to what is known as the status quo bias. That is, we prefer to stay on our current course rather than making a change—even when that change is in our best interest. This tendency can manifest in highly important decisions, such as enrolling in a 401(k) plan, or mundane choices like picking a jelly at the grocery store. Yet simply receiving more information that tells us about the benefits of a new offering or service rarely comes off as persuasive—and, in fact, it often invites information overload, rather than motivation and clarity.

To combat this decision-making paralysis, Schmidt offers a framework that focuses on “consumers’ mindsets in defining options, their perceived ability to make both confident and smart choices, and finally, ways in which they can be prompted to take action.” Following are three ways this behavioral design framework can be used by CMOs to potentially influence elderly users to adopt digitally immersive behaviors:

  1. Mindset: Help consumers define their options. We see that seniors sometimes freeze due to feelings of ineptitude in accomplishing a digital task. CMOs can design programs that match goals with an objective that aligns with seniors’ values, such as highlighting the opportunity to connect with their grandchildren on a daily basis. Rather than simply providing information about what technology can do, marketers may be better positioned to step back and speak to users’ motivations to take on digital activities—particularly by highlighting what they might be missing out on by not doing so.
  2. Perceived ability: Increase consumers’ confidence in their ability to make smart choices. For many older individuals, the “how to engage” comes with high levels of uncertainty. Designers can offer short video tutorials to model these new behaviors and make the task feel more manageable. One company, Ready, Set, Bank has partnered with banks to offer web-based programs that include 44 “micro-learning” videos that demonstrate activities like banking app navigation. Marketers can also look to position digital activities as “too easy not to do,” providing seniors with “one-click” ways to join online communities that match their interests (e.g. exercise, golf, or cooking).
  3. Take action: Prompt consumer decision making and encourage action. The application of positive social pressure has a demonstrated track record of nudging individuals to take action. Program designers may consider highlighting success stories of seniors who successfully made the transition to digital services and the new benefits they unlocked, or explicitly indicating the number of “people like them” who have already joined.

A wonderful benefit of behavioral design is that CMOs can embed these insights in their own marketing campaigns without completely overhauling their existing processes. Whether it’s uploading a short training video to YouTube or sharing other seniors’ success stories, CMOs can develop campaigns that unlock new benefits to a population that has been long underserved. Behavioral design tactics like these may be just the nudge seniors need to break away from old habits and gain confidence with new digital behaviors, activities, and communities.

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