The days of senior citizens being overwhelmed by technology are over and it's creating a new set of opportunities for PERS companies.
We caught up with several PERS industry leaders to get their reactions to a recent AARP survey titled "2021 Tech Trends and the 50-Plus: Top 10 Biggest Trends."
The survey included responses from more than 2,000 individuals over the age of 50, and found that not only is technological adoption growing among members of that demographic, but that COVID-19 made it far more urgent than ever before.
Among the findings:
• 40% of respondents have a more positive feeling about using technology than they did before the pandemic
• 70% of respondents had used video chat by 2020 (less than 50% had used it as of 2019)
• One-third of respondents now use video chat weekly
This massive behavioral shift echoes the experiences of PERS industry executives.
“The survey quantified what we’ve seen in the past year and a half as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ray Spoljaric, CEO and co-Founder, Aloe Care Health. “The need to stay connected and engage with the world while maintaining physical distance has many older adults reconsidering the role of technology in their lives.”
The survey notes that four in five respondents “rely on technology to stay connected and in touch with family and friends,” and that text and email, like video chat, are being used by a significantly larger percentage of seniors than before the pandemic.
All of this is encouraging news for the PERS industry, said Jeff Hilton, Chief Marketing Officer, MobileHelp LLC.
“It’s great news not just for the industry, but for our customers as well,” said Hilton. “This gives us the ability to offer new, higher-tech medical alert products, like voice-activated PERS as well as next-generation advanced PERS wearables. It also revolves around the capability for our customers to conduct more extensive research around PERS products online – in numerous different digital settings – when they are ready to invest in a life safety product.”
Matt Guerrieri, Chief Marketing Officer, Medical Guardian, notes that given the state of the world, the AARP survey results come just in time, as technological advancement will be essential for seniors in the coming years.
“With the aging tsunami [on the way], we're going to have to find a way to keep people in their homes longer, especially with things like COVID and [other] situations where it could be unsafe to bring them to a community,” said Guerrieri. “A lot of people are insecure about moving to that type of living situation, as they want to age independently in their home. Now that these products are becoming more similar to an Apple watch or something that sexy and sleek that they feel comfortable wearing, I think there's going to be higher adoption and penetration rates.”
SENIOR SPENDING INCREASE
Not only are older adults using more technology, but they are spending more to ensure they have the latest and greatest. According to the survey, “Tech spending increased exponentially (adults 50-plus spending is up 194 percent from $394 to $1144) to modernize, update, or create a better experience online.”
As a result, PERS-industry companies have responded by adding tech-savvy components to their marketing efforts. Hilton said that MobileHelp has “dramatically altered the mix of our marketing over the past 5 years,” shifting from majority offline advertising, including television, print, radio, and direct mail, to campaigns that now consist mainly of digital advertising, utilizing SEM, SEO, and affiliate website relationships.
As Hilton and others have concluded, it’s essential that PERS-related companies meet their target audience within their technological comfort zone when it comes to marketing outreach.
“The 65-and-older population grew by over a third - 34.2 percent, or 13,787,044 - during the past decade. It is a massive consumer segment that is considering new products, and we should be rising to meet them on the platforms they’re beginning to explore,” said Spoljaric. “Based on the 2021 tech trends survey, that might include more outreach on social media and streaming platforms.”
Guerrieri notes that the vibrancy implied by the ability to use complex technology must continue to become a regular aspect of how the PERS industry perceives and markets to its elder demographic.
“We started pretty early on using visuals and lifestyle branding to paint a picture of successful aging: being able to remove limitations in your life and living the life you love,” said Guerrieri. “It's not about health. It’s not about laying on the floor, being a helpless person who's not able to take care of themselves. We have to stop thinking of our end-user as an 85-year-old person who's ready to go into a senior living facility. It's more about aging successfully and having the ability to live your life to its fullest.”
Companies are experiencing this change in the nature of today’s seniors first-hand when their current and potential customers interact with their sales and customer service professionals. Hilton notes that seniors who contact MobileHelp are more confident in tackling product set-up and delving into the full range of product features and benefits than seniors of the past, and that their now-regular requests for enhanced tools such as online account management and increased connectivity have impacted the company’s approach to customer service.
But while seniors are far more tech-capable than their equivalents in past decades, there are still many in the demographic struggling to figure it out. AARP writes that of the seniors surveyed, “Half want to learn more about using tech (54%) and two in five (39%) say they would use technology more often if they knew how.”
Here, too, lies the opportunity for PERS industry companies, but only, said Spoljaric, if they begin integrating it into the initial design process for new products.
“While we have this demographic’s attention, we can’t just expect them to accept technology for technology’s sake,” Spoljaric said. “In our experience with older adults, even while they’re open to new technologies, these tools and services can feel overwhelming without the proper introduction, and the cost may seem like an unnecessary expense. We need to be innovating and developing tools that look great and meet their needs.”
That said, there are many ways marketers can make products more user-friendly in ways that benefit seniors. Guerrieri points out that tools such as video and infographics can assist older adults in getting the best and easiest information on how to use PERS-related products.
“Older adults are going to start using their smartphones to scan a product and have a video pop up that shows exactly how to install it,” he said. “Products themselves are becoming more verbal, in that they're built more like a Google Home or an Alexa, where they can actually explain how they’re to be used. The manuals themselves need to be more clear, and those can be digitized as well. You've got to be able to provide something that all people can use.”
While the industry insiders we spoke with agreed that this shift in seniors’ tech-capability could allow for the charging of upfront equipment fees, all were hesitant about the notion of raising prices based on the increased demand.
“As we listen to calls from older adults, we hear that though they are willing to use and spend more on technology, and they are highly tech-savvy, many of them are on fixed incomes and watch what they spend,” said Hilton. “Value plays a front-and-center role in every pricing decision we make to ensure seniors have access to our technology solution at the price points we know will fold into their budgets.”
“As 60 percent of adults 50-plus say the cost of high-speed internet is a barrier, it would seem many older adults are still acclimating to technology as a standard household expense,” adds Spoljaric. “Rather than increasing prices, this is the time to offer new features to existing users and focus on outreach to new customers.”
While the information in the AARP survey is a vital tool for helping PERS-industry businesses focus on the current needs of their target demographic, Guerrieri points out a further advantage that will result from seniors’ growing comfort with technology.
“I think it's going to help people live in their homes longer,” Guerrieri said. “PERS is a commodity. It's always been a button push. If we can start to evolve it to being less commoditized and more about, this is something that helps do a lot more than just the button push, that's going to help to scale. We've always had the mindset of, how do we get everyone thinking that this is going to be a multibillion-dollar industry in the future. How do we make it become more of a service that people use for 10 or 20 years instead of just three to four? [Thanks to this increasing tech-savvy among seniors], we’re going to have a lot more data to paint a richer picture of who our consumers are.”