Knowing your customers is a fundamental pillar of any successful business. However, the journey to figuring this out is not always clear-cut.
I am co-founder and C.E.O. of EVELO, an electric bike company with a focus on the “longevity economy” — the 50-years-and-older demographic.
However, that age group wasn’t always our focus. In fact, it took nearly five years for us to realize who our target customers are.
We became interested in electric bikes because we believed (and still do) that they represent a viable alternative to cars and public transportation for commuting and getting around. Everything that we’ve done on the product and marketing side of things reinforces this message.
But as we ramped up our sales and began to analyze our customers, we were surprised to see that most were 50, 60, 70, and even 80 years of age. This contrasted with our original expectation of appealing to a young, hip, urban commuter who wanted to eschew the car for a more sustainable and green mode of transportation. So, we pushed back and tried to recalibrate our marketing and product efforts to entice the younger, commuter-focused audience. That only backfired.
First, there was a disconnect. We would try to showcase younger, urban commuters on the website, yet the people that kept calling us with questions and sales inquiries were older folks looking for a way to stay mobile and independent.
We would try to accommodate them, but in the end we realized that both demographics — young and old — had different needs. Our brand message was confusing and we weren’t serving either demographic well.
Embracing older consumers
There came a point, however, where the evidence was clear. While the commuting market was growing — albeit slower than we expected — we found that the older demographic was becoming bigger than ever. So, with 75 percent of our customers already falling into that category, we decided to embrace it fully and focus on that segment.
Why did we and so many other startups ignore the “longevity economy”?
After trying to understand our own approaches and biases, and after talking to other business and marketing professionals, I think it comes down to three things.
First, some business owners feel that the longevity economy is not “on brand” for them; they’d rather target younger consumers with a hipper marketing message, and with product photos and content that follows.
Second, many businesses, especially those in the tech sector, believe that older folks are resistant to change and are uninterested in trying out a new product. I’ve found that to be the opposite of the truth, as baby boomers bring a lifetime of expertise and knowledge to a buying decision, making them eager to try out new products, as long as those products are useful or solve a problem.
Third, many ecommerce storeowners and marketing professionals focus on the younger crowd. We all see the world from our own perspectives. So if a 35-year-old is running marketing for an ecommerce business, it will require more work and effort to understand a 70-year-old consumer.
A growing audience
So, why should a business care about the longevity economy?
Purely from a numbers perspective, it’s only going to be growing worldwide. AARP just recently released a report covering the 111 million 50-plus U.S. consumers and their impact the economy. According to the report, “the 50-plus age group generates $7.6 trillion in economic activity (a $500 billion increase from 2013). This increase reflects the shifting demographic and spending patterns of this group due to longer life spans and prolonged employment.”
It’s a category that’s not getting nearly as much attention as it deserves in terms of product and service design. It’s wide open for entrepreneurs and business owners.
But there’s a bigger reason than numbers alone. It’s a real opportunity to develop products and services that will have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. It’s also an opportunity to build a thriving, successful organization.