Some days I think marketers have forgotten that many people older than 50 have way more money than those in the younger demographic.
Consider the example of tablet computers. Many seniors love their touch screens, ease of adjusting font size and light weight. Yet nobody has thought of marketing campaigns for them.
According to web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, the number of older people on the web has grown by 16 per cent each year over the past decade, compared with an annual growth of three per cent for those in the 30 to 49 age group.
Even more important are print, television, radio and personal communication.
In many cultures, people show great respect for the wisdom of their elders. Not ours, unless you are Betty White, though that may change once us boomers start to work less and impart more.
Because I’m working on a project that involves communicating with seniors, I’ve been researching how to communicate better with people who are climbing, but not necessarily over, the hill. Not only am I finding few surprises, but also many tips that would enhance communication for the rest of the world too.
Take my friend Donna Papacosta, a sharp communicator a hair older than the coveted demographic. The other morning, broken-footed Donna was lamenting on Facebook about the lack of information she received about her “walking boot,” a cast she’s been removing when she’s in bed. As in, not walking.
Turns out she was supposed to keep it on all the time, despite the ease and relief of removal. Now she’s worried she might have messed up the healing. Why did nobody tell her?
If Donna could not figure this out, how are older people supposed to understand? As confirmed in this study discussed in Forbes magazine, this kind of poor communication is the reason why so many older people end up back in the hospital.
If healthcare people, who should be preoccupied with the aging population, don’t get it, what hope is there for other marketers? The onslaught on digital marketing jargon may explain why more seniors are not buying tablet computers.
I have many simple tips on how to improve your communication with people older than 50 and seniors. First let me rant a little more.
Because aging can involve unpleasant realities and difficult conversations, healthcare professionals sometimes distance themselves with big words. For example, in a recent meeting with me and my 86-year-old dad, the nursing home director talked about “risk management.” Why didn’t she just talk say “my dad’s safety?”
And why does the gerontologist spell out the medical term for my dad’s problem? Instead of explaining it in plain language my dad can understand, he expects me to search and explain it to him. At least that’s better the mumbo jumbo some specialists dish out.
And here’s a question asked by everyone who lacks microscopic vision: why can’t anyone over 40 read government-mandated ingredient lists on drugs and food?
If the information is important, then people should be able to read it. For most, vision starts to decline after 40.
Although memory and dexterity start to go down hill later, they don’t suddenly plummet on a specific birthday. Aging is individual and usually gradual. To be on the safe side, marketers and communicators start adjusting as soon as the reading glasses appear.
Of course many of the dwarf-font companies have help lines to call. But too often these numbers send people to phone hell, the unending buttons that lead to more confusion and time on hold. When, and if, they get a live person, seniors often have to repeat the information to a stranger whose first language is not English. This bothers people younger than 30 too.
Why can’t they do better?
The answers are out there. Most would improve communication with people of almost any age.
This advice is aimed at making it easier to understand, see, hear, follow instructions, keep pace and connect with the people who are moving onto bifocals or canes.
Provide details. Don’t assume people understand. Questions may arise later. To get answers, don’t send us to phone hell or the web equivalent.
Express yourself in plain language, not healthcare, tech or other jargon.
Offer communication options, for example a choice of text, images, audio and live communication, where body language and personality also speak.
Employ larger fonts, 12 points or more, in simple, sans serif fonts. Avoid italics and ALL CAPS.
Use sharp color contrasts, more black on white backgrounds with green or blue, less reverse type with white on black, rarely red.
Redesign screens for less glare, especially on card readers, bank machines and mobile phones. I’ll bet that company with the non-glare screen tablet would sell more if they’d tailor a campaign to seniors.
Allow people to crank up the volume higher.
Eliminate background noise and sounds that may be difficult to distinguish.
As people age, they become less adept at multi-tasking and more methodical in their thinking. Seniors’ error rates have declined dramatically in the past 10 years, probably as a result of better web design and increased online experience. Still, error rates, which have a big influence on who makes it to the checkout, are more than double those experienced by people in the age 21 to 55 group. Older adults are also more likely to give up than to continue trying.
Use detailed but simple, step-by-step instructions. Don’t expect older people to think of more than one task at a time.
Make forms and fields easy to complete. For example, if you want somebody to enter a date, give them a calendar to click or show how you want the numbers recorded.
Slow down the speed. As Jakob found in his latest seniors’ usability study, people older than 65 are 43 per cent slower at web tasks. They are frustrated if a page times out before they have figured out seating and purchased their pricey theater tickets.
Marketers also need to avoid artificial deadlines and high-pressure closings. Give them alternatives that will allow them to ask questions and decide later.
Seniors prefer face-to-face communication. If you can’t meet them in person, try simple, quick videos, Skype, your photo on your brochure or site so they can picture who they are communicating with.
Seniors can be more in tune with their intuition, emotional cues and shared experience and insight. So tell stories that support the point you want to make. Ask questions about their experience.
Metaphors work well too.
Remember that the biggest fear of most seniors is losing control. Remind them of how your products or services will help them stay in charge of their bodies, finances, homes or lives.
As people age, they also become more concerned about leaving a legacy, whether it’s money for grandchildren or wisdom to pass on. If you can help, show them how.
After you’ve tried these techniques, remember to test, improve, then test again with many demographic groups. You’ll find that many of the improvements you made for older people are a hit with those in the coveted demographic too.
Let me return to my rant, this time about what people older than 50 are called. The first time I was offered a seniors discount, I was offended. Sure, the deal was for people older than 50, but I don’t like to be called a senior. And of course I look much younger.
I can’t call myself middle aged any more, unless I plan to crack the triple digits. Older middle aged or baby boomer is fine. Seniors should be restricted to people closer to my dad’s age, or at least retired.
And don’t call seniors patients, unless they are sick in the hospital. That’s not how healthy people see themselves, even if their eye sight, dexterity and memory aren’t what they used to be.
What suggestions can you add?
Yesterday I hiked up Dunder Rock, scampering along granite, inhaling trilliums and marveling at this spectacular vista. My inner batteries are recharged.
That brings the challenge of concentrating on work when you’d rather be out there cycling, reading on the dock, playing beach volleyball or whatever outdoor activity you adore. Your readers are distracted too.
So here are 10 tips, to keep your writing hot and your readers happy.
1. Plan for vacations, extra-long weekends or impulse days off. Your writing improves when you’re refreshed.
2. Work flexible summer hours, if you can. For example, I am starting earlier but taking longer a longer midday break so I can garden, swim or walk my dog in the ravine. When I return, I usually have a second wind. Or I could be spirited away by the call of the patio. I will make up for some lost weekday hours on rainy weekends.
3. Draft an editorial schedule, based on your priorities. This way, you’ll make sure the important stuff is covered when you get sidetracked by that can’t-miss cottage invitation.
4. Break your schedule. When another topic or inspiration comes to mind, go for it.
5. Build others’ holidays into your planning. Remember that many clients and bosses will be away, so interviews and approvals may take longer. There’s nothing worse than smacking your head against an urgent deadline, only to discover that the key person is away for another week.
6. Prepare in advance some posts and other content so you’re able to publish when you’re on holidays or spontaneously opt for a day on the trails.
7. Play. Because your readers are laid back too, often you can take a more light-hearted, entertaining approach. You—and your readers—want to have fun.
8. If you have bosses or clients away on vacation, or bad weather ruins your plans, catch up on learning, bookkeeping, clearing out files or anything else you’ve been procrastinating on.
9. As your readers head outdoors, they’ll stay connected with mobile technologies and social media. So make sure everything you do can be easily shared.
10. Use your inspiration and downtime to lift your content to the next level. As search algorithms continue to tilt more to quality content and away from crass manipulation, you need to create your best yet.
Rise to the challenge. Seize the season. Enjoy.
Any hot, happy writing tips to share?
This week I had a smashing good time in a workshop I led with members of the Halton Peel Communicators Association — freelance writers, photographers, web strategists and related experts who wanted to take their writing “to the next level,” a concept I borrowed from video games.
I say “smashing,” not to mimic my British friends, but to stress how we often benefit from blowing up the templates that usually guide our daily work. Templates are a necessary force of both good and evil. They give us a model to follow, based on techniques that have worked well for others.
As soon as a video goes viral or a business strategy succeeds, people develop the template, telling you how to do it. These templates are useful. Like you, I frequently follow them. Sometimes I try to create them.
But templates can confine. They can keep you at the same level. They can wear out. They may reek of laziness and mediocrity.
If you’re serious about reaching the next level, try smashing the template first.
Destroy then rebuild
Many would call this “thinking outside the box” or “disrupting.” Aside from my aversion to tired jargon, I prefer “smash the template” because it implies the energy required to demolish the old wall.
The workshop participants talked about the popular media they enjoy most: hockey, mysteries, video games, talk radio, Twitter, classical music, internet surfing, Bollywood and more. Then they formed groups, clustered around their shared interests.
I asked them to apply techniques from their favorite media to rewriting a news release about an art student who slowly killed a chicken as a performance art project. I picked a topic that was controversial, with many possible angles. To my surprise, no one was so grossed out to insist on my vegan alternative.
At first, a few people clung to the standard communication templates, but soon joined in the fun. The results were impressive, from a court room drama where the victim was revealed only in the last scene, to the artist and the fowl protector who donned chicken costumes to duke it out in a pay-per-view fundraiser.
The woe of status quo
Early in my career, my suggestions for fresh approaches were often met with “but we’ve always done it this way.” I was elated when globalization and other pressures heated up competition and innovation.
Even in our constantly mutating media, it seems to be human nature to crack the code and develop best practices and templates. But touch screens, disposable mop heads and other game changers go way beyond best practices and templates.
I love the freedom to play with new approaches that blogging can encourage. Although I often follow templates, I also seek out opportunities to adapt novel techniques from popular media, such as advancing levels from video games or the story structure of crime dramas. I’ve started another blog and a Facebook page, where I can wander off topic, get personal or experiment with my web cam or other things that do not always go well.
When you rely on templates, you reduce the risk of failure. But you raise the risk of getting stuck.
Smashing the template is no guarantee that you’ll go viral or even make it to the next level. But it can be the first step.
You might not consider yourself a writer. But if you spend your days tethered to a computer or smart phone, chances are you write. A lot.
Especially if your business is based on knowledge that is in your head or driven by a passion that’s deep in your DNA.
Like Deanne Kelleher, owner of Kaos Group. As a professional organizer, Deanne loves sharing her passion for imposing order, from de-cluttering kitchen cupboards to streamlining digital files.
A born talker, Deanne has always been comfortable with live presentations and TV appearances. But the newsletters, posts and other written communication she relies on to attract customers do not come so easily.
One night, after a long day with clients and kids, she fell asleep at her desk writing. The next morning her young daughter found her slumped over, asleep. Deanne vowed to change.
She knew there had to be a way to organize her ideas and her writing. She found it in my book Write Like You Talk Only Better. Soon she was using the worksheets to guide her.
No longer did Deanne fall asleep in front of the computer. Her readers stayed awake too.
Although I was happy with how the book was helping small business owners like Deanne, I realized that many of you don’t have time to read how-to books. So I took the key sections and turned them into an online series that you can fit into your schedule and apply directly to what you’re doing. That way, you can learn and cross a task off your list at the same time.
I’m a small business owner too, so I understand just how busy you are. From my small business clients, I understand many of the writing challenges you face. Getting started… rambling … not sounding like yourself… mixing up words …standing out from the crowd… using time productively… getting results.
If you want to grow your business, you need to inform, persuade, influence, coach and inspire others. Often this is often accomplished through the written word. Even when you’re preparing a spoken presentation, you begin by writing.
On the web, there’s lots of fantastic copy writing advice. Too much, it sometimes seems.
Borrowing from this advice, and tested through my 30 years’ experience writing for businesses large and small, I’ve broken this powerful knowledge into steps. This way, you can cover the main areas, build your skill and track your progress.
You may not be a Margaret Atwood or a David Ogilvy. But if you connect with people online, you write.
Update your power
So sharpen one of today’s most important business skills.
Because they learned to write in school, most people figure they know how. But the rules have changed in the online world. Maybe they’ve picked up some bad habits.
So start updating your knowledge today.
This post is based on the first section of uLearn, Write Like You Talk Only Better, small business edition.
I’ve heard countless motivational speakers, but through listening to seven speakers an evening at many MoMondays in Toronto, I have figured out the magic formula.
The MoMonday events, which are spreading to other North American cities, mix people who earn their livings as keynote speakers with folks who look they have never before held a microphone. Between acts, the old friends I bring and the new friends I make at our table chat about who we like best.
Secretly, I think most of us would love to be reality talent show celebrity judges or at least phone in our votes. But impresario Michel Neray knows that turning motivational speaking into a competitive sport would deter people like to the teacher who moved us about the joy of amputees in Rwanda or the young wrestler who let us feel her jubilation at winning an Olympic medal.
Still, it seems natural to compare when you hear so many speakers back-to-back. Because they talk for only 10 minutes each, I can pay close attention. From several MoMonday evenings, here are the six tips I’ve come up with for aspiring motivational speakers:
- Tell a story. Lists, acronyms and other presentation techniques do not work in motivational talks. Your point, the motivation, will flow from the story.
- Include enough details so that we can relate but not so many that we are grossed out. For example, the speaker who disclosed his childhood sexual abuse told us just enough that we could feel his pain and marvel at his forgiveness. The woman who complained generally about her crappy year did not win our sympathy or entice us to follow her formula for success.
- Be funny. Almost all the best speakers have opened my heart with laughter, then punched me in the gut with their truth.
- Paint pictures. I can still see the woman who talked about making a successful sales call in a cat woman costume. Seeing as PowerPoint is not available and props are seldom used effectively, the speakers chosen by my judging panels rely on their words to create lasting images.
- Avoid “early Oprah,” as fellow judge Leslie called it this week — woo-woo words, pseudo scientific jargon, meaningless certifications and other high-fallutin’ terms most of us are reluctant to admit we don’t really understand. Plus “early Oprah” does not mix well with alcoholic beverages and macho men.
- Be yourself. Often the professional speakers are not as compelling as the amateurs. Our judging panels set the bar higher. We usually roll our eyes, shake our heads or mutter “too slick.” We don’t want to hear a canned talk you have given to thousands; we want an intimate conversation with you.
Of course, it’s easier to judge than do. So today I submitted my speaker application for MoMonday.
From my first ballet recital at four to my recent gigs motivating people to write like they talk only better, I love an audience. But can I win over this crowd? What will those celebrity judging panels say?
Got any advice?
My post on alternatives to the most overused word in the English language runs again today at Ragan.com. Join the fight against awesome, a tired, lazy, stupid word.