A new book was published in June. It lays out again the argument against companies accepting the stereotype of “old age”. A stereotype for their consumers. It does not argue that old age stereotypes are ageist : consumer ageism. Instead it makes the case again that they are bad for business. The essence of the argument is that the stereotype, by definition, implies a homogeneous group called “the old”. They are “Needy and Greedy” and thus not an attractive market.
A marketing person looking at the over sixty five market could not accept that this was one huge homogeneous group. Almost everything about them screams diversity. They have had long and very different life journeys. They arrive at this age in very different financial and medical states . Their experience, attitudes and needs will be very different.
Ageing is not a homogeneous process. Even if they have no major medical issues their bodies, minds and senses are each in a different place. Mentally we know that their intelligence is changing with age. We also know that “decline” does not start for most people until their eighties. Their job , family and the amount of exercise will all have brought them to a different cognitive place. Many types of intelligence are sustained at high level by practice. If you stop doing something you ability to do it declines. They will have practiced more or less.
"Stage Not Age"
This is the title of the new book by Susan Golden. Her proposal is to replace the single stereotype with a combination of different “life stages”. The difference in her model is that the stages are not linked to chronological time. For example, one of her stages is “caregiving”. This can take place at any point in ones life. It can take place during her “Growing” period from 25 to 55 or her “Renaissance” from 55 to 85. It can be grandparents taking care of children or children taking care of grandparents.
A chronological life can have multiple stages of “continuous learning”. If we are to live to 100 we will need to rethink the old - learn, earn, retire - paradigm. Some of her stages such as “Legacy” and “End of Life” are chronologically bound. Parenting is only available during certain periods. Despite this there are a huge number of different paths through her eighteen stages, especially if we can repeat steps. Better to focus on a stage. Her argument is that these stages are common.
Each life stage creates opportunities for product and service firms. Each stage creates entrepreneurial opportunities. Those entrepreneurs can and should be from any age. She gives many examples of how focusing on a stage can generate businesses . For example, one of the most stressful stages in caregiving is the transition. The transition from living “at home” to living “in a home”. Despite this, there were no services designed to help. She highlights a US company called "Wellthy". It provides help with moving a loved one into a home. They help to find suitable facilities. They help with the move and help with the psychological transition.
Marketing people have long segmented markets based on occasion. Toy purchases can be for many different occasions. We buy a toy spontaneously in a supermarket to pacify a child. On other occasions we are buying carefully chosen toys for Christmas. We may be buying toys for a child to take other peoples birthday parties. Those customer journeys are the basis of a modern bottom up approach to marketing. Her model takes a higher level approach. Many of her examples are of occasions within a stage. Not “ Caregiving” but transition within caregiving. The stage might provide a tool to think of groups of occasions.
Clearly her model is not just a replacement for the arbitrary separation of young, middle aged and old. It represents a new model for the whole of life.
A New Map of Life
Her stages idea can help people to think through their “maps of life”. How do we decide on which of her “Stages” to do next? Each combination represents a different life lived. In earlier Newsletters I have argued that we need a script. We need a script for the extended Third Age that we all face. The old script is the existing age stereotype. New stereotypes are not emerging quickly enough. The old one can become a self- fulfilling bad prophesy and “The Enemy Within” (see Newsletter #017) . Prof Laura Carstensen at the Stanford Centre on Longevity is working on “A New Map of Life”. It envisages new and different lives that can last 100 years. As she says;
“We inherited 30 years of extra life in the last century. The best idea we have come up with to use it, so far, is to tag it on at the end “
She and Susan Golden both believe that firms and Society need to reimagine a new life journey. Carstensen’s group is working on many of the same building blocks as Golden’s book. They have worked on re-inventing education. They have looked at financial security and work, lifestyle and fitness and much more. Their “map” looks at different ages and on the vertical axis the probability that an individual will be engaged in a particular activity.