David B. Wolfe is the author of "Serving the Ageless Market: Strategies for Selling to the Fifty-Plus Market " and Principal of Wolfe Resources Group of Reston, Virginia.
Many products and marketing campaigns designed for older consumers either do not achieve expected results or they fail altogether because they have been age stigmatized. Success is more certain among older consumers when they are marketed to in terms of their values rather than in terms of how old they are. In this keynote address, Mr. Wolfe will outline the basic rules of ageless marketing.
Mr. Wolfe has gained a reputation for looking at the older adult market differently than most marketers. What separates Wolfe from many of his counterparts is his knowledge of what makes consumers act a certain way, based on behavioral patterns rather than statistical data.
"Our needs and motivations are much more linked to stages of personality development than generally recognized in marketing"
Colin Milner (CM): Why is it important to know consumers' behavior patterns? And can't we get these from statistical data?
David Wolfe (DW): We depend heavily on customers telling us about themselves in surveys, focus groups and research. This is where the problem starts. We know from recent brain research that people are quite limited in knowing the roots of their motivations. Customers often tell researchers one thing in research that is later contradicted in the marketplace. Companies frequently make decisions based on misleading customer research, because relatively few people in research or marketing have a behavioral foundation underneath their belief systems.
CM: You utilize Developmental Relationship Marketing (DRM) as the foundation for your books and business. What exactly is DRM?
DW: DRM is the first marketing model built on a bona fide behavioral foundation that recognizes the idea that our needs and motivations are much more linked to stages of personality development than generally recognized in marketing. For example, research indicates that older people consider sex as important in intimate relationships as younger people, yet they tend to be turned off by crude treatment of sex, while younger people can be titillated by it. Think about the Calvin Klein ads.
The Seasons of Life
CM: How does personality development lead to changes in our behavior over time?
DW: Our basic needs are determined by the season of life in which we live. We pass through four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. Each season has a primary developmental objective, survival focus and characteristic life story theme.
Spring's developmental objective is initial development in preparation for adulthood. Its survival focus is play, because that is nature's device for enticing the young into modeling life and trying things. The life story theme is fantasy: everything will ultimately work in a person's favor.
Summer's primary developmental objective is development of the social and vocational self. The survival focus is becoming someone, which is usually dependent on showing promise to others; thus, everything we do has that in mind-from what we wear to how we dress, the friends we keep and the activities we do. We subordinate much of ourselves to the external world to increase our opportunities for securing the social integration that makes us successful in relationships, and for gains in social status, getting jobs, job promotions and so on. The life story theme in summer is romantic, heroic: I can do anything I set my mind to.
Fall's chief developmental objective is development of the inner self. As we come to the end of summer, we may feel empty because either we haven't done what we thought we were going to do or we have done even more, yet still feel empty. We now turn inward to perhaps examine our life purpose in a quest for fulfillment. The survival focus in fall or midlife is about being somebody. Becoming somebody has become less important than being somebody. This shift from an outer world focus to an inner self focus accounts for the infamous midlife crisis. We hear the inner voice knocking, Let me out, but get confused as to what to do about it.
In winter, we move to the final states of psychological maturation. Our survival focus is reconciliation-making peace with it all. We begin to look at life retrospectively to make more sense of it, seeking to resolve the yin and the yang of life, the sweet and the bitter. We may ultimately conclude that there is usually a bit of good in every bad and vice versa, and thus find the peacefulness in our souls that we have long sought.
Incidentally, a lot of people talk about life stage marketing, but I mean something different than how that term is usually used. For example, insurance companies build marketing around such events as people getting married, having kids, kids leaving for college, empty nester status or retirement-those are all social stages. I am talking about psychological or maturational stages. No one has brought this perspective into the marketing area before.
CM: Why do you think that is?
DW: Marketing has been driven by the idea that it's essentially a numbers game. People who have supreme confidence in the laws of statistics often believe they don't need to understand behavior. This is idiotic. Marketing is about attracting the attention of minds and influencing those minds to action. It's not a game of statistics; it's a game of psychology. Statistics don't buy; people buy.
CM: What do you think will have to happen for things to change? Or do you think change has already started and it's just a matter of time?
DW: It is more the latter. Most people don't change until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of changing. Right now, there is a lot of pain out there. Advertising, print media and television networks are all suffering. Madison Avenue is in its second year of recession-the first time since the Great Depression it has had back-to-back losing years. Yet the recession did not hit the consumer economy. Consumers kept spending. Marketers are scratching their heads trying to figure it out. Sooner or later, they will start getting it.
CM: Has the maturing of the market had an impact on this situation?
DW: Yes. You cannot take as statistical an approach in older markets as you can in younger markets. Young people tend to move in tandem with their peers. If we know the behavior statistically of a group, we have a good chance of knowing what the individual will do. However, all that changes in the second half of life. People become much more individuated. Take Jim Smith, for example. Jim belongs to the Bud Light segment. From that knowledge, we can predict what magazines he reads, what car he drives and what music he listens to. When Jim moves into midlife, he is going to fit into one group in one context and into another group in another context. So we really can't pin him down and say he's this type or that type without identifying the context.