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Who are the new ageing?

Letting go of tired old assumptions of what it means to age.

Published on
August 1, 2017

We've all heard the headlines. The population is ageing; the "silver tsunami" is on its way. The demographic view of ageing paints a compelling picture.But how well do we really know the "new ageing"? Taking a generational view, we know that older Australians of the future will have a very different set of expectations to their parents. The new ageing are pioneers. They have redefined family life, working life and the role of women. So how radically will they redefine the ageing experience, and are we ready?

Let's take a look at some common mistakes companies make when designing services for those in the second half of life:

A one-size-fits all approach

Too often, services are designed and managed based on an underlying assumption that older Australians belong to a homogenous grey-brigade with a single set of needs and behaviours. The result is a one-size-fits-all proposition that often alienates those consumers who don't identify with traditional views of what it means to grow older.

Geo-demographic segmentation is not enough. What are the attitudes, behaviours and aspirations that distinguish one segment of the ageing population from another? What makes some people stay engaged, active and adventurous into their 90s while others curl up in corner? And is it really age that matters, or could I (at the ripe 'old' age of mid-thirties) have more in common with an adventurer in her 80s than we think?

The "'oldies' don't use the internet" myth

Despite persistent stereotypes of 'oldies' struggling with, or resisting technology, the reality is that over 90% of those aged 50 to 75 years are active users of the internet. Do we need to consider the design of interfaces to cater to various physical limitations such as failing eyesight? Yes. Is there opportunity to design more targeted social platforms that cater directly to needs in later life such as travel companionship, health and wellbeing? Absolutely. But making assumptions about channel preferences based on age does a disservice to both the consumer and the company looking to capitalise on their digital capability.

Assuming positive ageing is the domain of health and care providers

When we talk to people about what a 'good later life' means to them, physical and mental health is only part of the answer. In fact, other needs such as social connection and lifelong learning rank as far more important enablers of 'a good life'. So why then do we assume that positive, active ageing is the domain of retirement living and care providers? A range of sectors are beginning to turn their attention to the design of products and services that delay the onset of chronic disease, create financial freedom in retirement and generally enable people to thrive across the course of their life. There's far more that can be done to break down sector boundaries and rethink ageing based on a holistic view of what customers need (and want) to live fulfilling later lives.

What can companies do to prepare for the new ageing?

1. Walk a mile in your customers' shoes

Move beyond assumptions and stereotypes. Invest in deep understanding of your customer base - the people currently accessing your services, as well as those who you want to access your services ten years from now. Will your offering still be relevant to them? Or does it reinforce old notions of ageing that the future customer will fail to relate to - or worse, outright reject?

Customer insight is no longer a nice-to-have. It should sit at the heart of defining and designing future services, and act as a rudder for day-to-day decision making in business. Companies that truly understand ageing consumers' needs will be the ones to create relevant propositions and gain a larger share of the ageing wallet.

Are you currently making decisions based on evidence, or on assumptions?

2. Co-design‚ and not just by name

The future ageing are savvy, discerning and informed consumers. Unlike their parents, they're accustomed to being in the drivers' seat as service users, and they'll expect to take charge in the design and personalisation of services to keep them healthy and independent.

Take the time to recruit, build relationships and facilitate a genuine co-design process. Product testing is not co-design. Using customer research to inform service features is not co-design. Bring your customers (both current and future) to the table and have them actively participate in defining solutions to address their most pressing unmet needs.

3. Collaborate across sectors

We know that some of the most creative solutions to wicked problems emerge when we bring together unlikely partners from sectors that haven't traditionally joined forces. Population ageing (and indeed, individual ageing) is complex and multi-dimensional. It needs the attention and expertise of collaborators from sectors as diverse as health, financial services, travel, insurance, consumer goods, education and technology. Look beyond the boundaries of your own organisation to re-imagine your role in creating healthy, positive ageing experiences. What unique assets and capabilities can you leverage, and where does it make sense to partner?

The upshot? Let go of tired old assumptions of what it means to age. The new ageing will redefine later life, and we need to be ready to design with them, not for them.

We believe in bold, positive ageing and we'd like to share what we've learned about the diverse experiences of ageing with companies willing to take new approaches and create breakthrough solutions.

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