Aging consumers are more likely to see the gray - less likely to get hung up on the black-and-white. They're more forgiving and less distressed by negativity, making them better candidates for testing new (imperfect) products, services and messaging, and more promising for building loyalty.
Aging. For a lot of people, it sucks. It’s easier to put on weight and harder to keep it off. You don’t move as quickly or feel as attractive as you used to. Your joints hurt, your blood vessels stiffen, and your bones shrink. Aging impacts your memory, eyesight, and hearing.
But aging isn’t all bad. According to research, what you lose in physical health you may gain in emotional well-being. Recent studies have shown that aging comes with the benefits of less worry, stress, and anger. And it’s not generational: one study followed a group of people over 10 years and found that they changed as they got older, becoming less sad, less frustrated, and more happy.
Older people aren’t having better experiences; they just experience the same things differently. With age comes an ability to better manage negative emotions and a greater likelihood to experience mixed emotions (sadness along with happiness). Older people are more ok with being sad, more ok with being conflicted, more ok with complex feelings. They’re more at ease handling emotionally-charged conflict situations. They’re less likely to feel despair – and more likely to feel compassion – in the face of unfairness.
This is largely because older folks are more likely to focus on positive information than negative. This focus extends to memory: older people recall positive information more so than negative, to a greater degree than younger people. This is fascinating given negativity bias – the tendency for people to recall negative experiences and emotions more intensely and for a longer period of time than they do positive experiences. It’s possible, given the research on aging, that negativity bias varies by age.
Businesses very often try to understand consumers by age. We care how Gen Z’ers, Millennials, Gen X’ers, and Boomers feel, think, and behave when it comes to our category and our brand, and we wonder about the ways in which they are different.
But is it typical to ask how different age cohorts process emotions? Probably not.
Does it matter? I say yes.
Purchasing decisions are driven by emotion as much as – and arguably more than – by rationality. Consumers vary in terms of their savviness, but even the most savvy respond to emotional triggers at the time of purchase. Here are some ways in which paying attention to how your older consumers process emotions can possibly help your business.
1. Consider your older consumers as targets for a minimum viable product (MVP). We like to test our product ideas live, with real consumers. But this is risky given the finite and relatively small supply of early adopters. If those early adopters have negative experiences with your MVP, they may be less likely to come back and try your next version, especially given any negativity bias. Older consumers aren’t as likely to hang on to negativity, so they might give your MVP another chance. Younger consumers are more likely to try new things, but their motivations may be less about solving real problems as much as poking around for new experiences. Older consumers are more likely to consider new products that solve meaningful problems for them, so if you can be relevant to them then you’re more likely to be relevant period.
2. Test different messaging for older consumers. Any brand that leans on emotional benefits should consider the ways in which differently-aged consumers respond to negative information in messaging. When we’re choosing between options by evaluating attributes we want to avoid – things that carry negative meanings or experiences – we’re more likely to put off our entire decision. So generally speaking, it’s best to steer consumers clear from comparing negative attributes. But you may not need to be as concerned about this for older consumers. When messaging, be careful to avoid negativity for younger folks, but you might want to explore whether older folks are less put off by negative choice attributes when it comes to your category.
3. Lean on your older consumers to build loyalty, work harder with younger consumers. Customer satisfaction and loyalty are important for any business, but you can’t assume all customers experience loyalty the same way. A big part of loyalty to a company or brand has to do with forgiving that company’s mistakes. Negative experiences may cause younger consumers to switch, while older consumers may not hang on to negative experiences as much and might ride out tough times with brands they love.
Before you commit to anything, do some testing, maybe even some research. Try a survey testing different emotionally-charged promise statements and see how older consumers respond. Try shipping an MVP to younger and older consumer targets and compare their reactions. When looking at customer loyalty feedback data, evaluate how older and younger consumers react. The point is to make sure you’re covering your bases before you dive into a firm strategy. But if you ignore differences in emotional processing by age cohort, you could be missing something important.