Silver Surfers Shredding Up The Technology Market
November 11, 2013 Jenny Thomas
In surfer lingo, to shred a wave means to surf aggressively. And while “aggressive” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when many of us think of our silver-haired elders, according to researchers at Gartner, the older generations who are hanging ten all over the technology market. In fact, Gartner says these silver surfers represent a more important technology market than Generations X and Y.
That term, silver surfer, harkens back to the Marvel Comics superhero, of course, and the members of this elder group of Web users also have powers of their own. Gartner’s research reveals that overlooking this growing group of individuals is a big mistake that the creators and manufacturers of technology gadgets continue to make.
Older individuals represent an increasing percentage of the worldwide population. In many important Asia/Pacific markets, the segment of the population over 50 years of age is 37 percent. Gartner maintains that silver surfers are healthier and more active, and unlike their younger counterparts, tend to have more disposable income.
Gartner vice president and fellow David Furlonger says that with an aging population in many mature and emerging markets, technologists, designers, and marketers must refocus to seize this crucial opportunity.
“The silver surfer demographic is huge and growing, and clearly has both the ability and the desire to spend significant amounts of money on technology,” Furlonger said. “However, to date, most technologists and technology manufacturers have failed to deliver products and services that meet the needs of this market, and marketers have largely failed to target it effectively. To do so will require fundamental changes in their approach to product and service design, marketing, and sales.”
Furlonger says is it the perceived wants and needs of younger demographics that has driven product design in recent years, which he says isn’t surprising since many technologists are themselves part of these younger age groups. But it is the silver surfers who can make the greatest impact on sales of technology devices in coming years.
The details that matter to a silver surfer when purchasing new technology are strikingly different than what your average Gen X-er is looking for. According to Gartner, technology designers and manufacturers need to focus on delivering uncluttered user interfaces, without confusing fonts, colors, or special effects. Simple and straightforward navigation can be crucial for older customers who may be resistant to current technologies because of things like poor eyesight and awkwardness in handling small devices.
“It is the responsibility of technologists to overcome these barriers by designing products and services that silver surfers will want and be able to use,” Furlonger said.
Gartner researchers are not the only ones who have seen the trend of older individuals becoming increasingly active on social media. According to a research conducted by Australian mobile company Optus, 76 percent of silver surfers in Australia use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, with grandparents using it as a tool to keep up with their grandchildren. We also recently reported on findings from Pew Research Center, which revealed people aged 65 and older have roughly tripled their presence on social networking sites in the last four years, from 13 percent in the spring of 2009 to 43 percent in 2013.
Gartner researchers identified many factors that are driving the adoption of technology by older individuals. Improved connectivity, new technologies for the disabled or those with medical issues, and the desire for social interaction are all key reasons cited by silver surfers for joining the digital age.
Gartner’s report emphasizes how important it is for technology manufacturers to recognize that the ways silver surfers select and purchase technology is a far cry from what the youngsters are looking for in their devices. Trust, credibility and reputation are paramount considerations. Testimonials and referrals from family and friends are also critical. Many older individuals place a high value on personal interaction, especially through phone contact, and on perceived value, which is not simply about absolute price, but the overall contribution a product or service can make in enhancing the purchaser’s life.
Gartner’s research also offers advice on how technology marketers can address the specific demands of the older demographic that extend beyond product design into services, packaging, and messaging. Gartner says many older individuals place a high value on personal interaction, especially through phone contact, and on perceived value, which is not simply about absolute price but the overall contribution a product or service can make in enhancing the purchaser’s life. Testimonials and referrals from family and friends are also critical. Marketers should be prepared to tell “stories” about their offerings, and realize that for this group many older forms of marketing, such as physical and online catalogues, are far from dead.
Gartner’s research was part of its new “Maverick” project, which is designed to spark new, unconventional insights. Maverick research is unconstrained by Gartner’s typical broad consensus-formation process to find new ideas that help organizations get ahead of the mainstream and take advantage of trends and insights that could impact IT strategy. More information is available in the report Maverick Research: The Future of Technology Belongs to the ‘Silver Surfer’ on Gartner’s website.