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GUEST COMMENT In pursuit of the geeky greys

Should the art of brand engagement with the older generation change?

Much has been made of the challenges brands experience in navigating the trend-driven culture of millennials. Everyone wants to understand their agile way of interacting with brands and products in an omnichannel environment. Finding out in the process where they shop, why and what really makes them yawn or smile.

All this effort is for good reason – a large part of the growth and direction in digital commerce and the technology supporting it has been driven by this fast-moving, digitally active demographic. By sticking close to their youngest customers, brands are also future-proofing their marketing.

Yet a KPMG global online consumer report, that looks at the online shopping preferences and behaviours of more than 18,000 consumers across 51 countries has revealed it’s actually baby boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1965) who are spending the most online. Followed by Generation X (those born between 1966 and 1981). With millennials actually spending the least.

As a GenXer, and not wanting to be overly smug, I can say a key contributor to this is that much of this comes down to having just a bit more disposable income. The problems millennials experience with saving and housing are well documented. And with mortgages often paid off (or nearly paid off), baby boomers certainly lead the spending charge.

So, while brands hate being jilted by millennials, perhaps there’s good reason to worry less about attracting the adoration of tech-savvy young people, focusing instead on the Geeky Greys from an older generation.

Boomers and brands

Part of what we’re seeing at the moment is the modernisation in shopping habits of the so-called non-digital natives. Indeed, the now “traditional” online shopping channels are not too much of a technical leap for the 40-plus age group.

However, as new technology like AI and in-home voice-activated devices become more prevalent, should the art of brand engagement with the older generation change?

If you consider that an estimated 2.7 million homes in the UK are already actively using an Amazon Echo or a Google Home device, and with Apple HomePod now on sale in the UK and promising to generate new surge of adoption, there’s little doubt that this technology is defining its place in the omnichannel brand experience.

It’s easy to assume that millennials who are highly receptive to new technology trends, are more likely to be early adopters of AI-devices particularly for brand engagement. However, research commissioned by SAP Customer Experience which looked at how UK shoppers used AI to research and purchase gifts during the 2017 Christmas period tells quite a different story.

While a healthy 35.4% of 18 -21 year-olds used voice-activated tech to research and purchase gifts, the percentage of engagement drops to an average of 25% for the 22-40 age group, and then steadily rises after the age of 40. Indeed, the older age groups surveyed were the most engaged with their in-home devices (44.6% of 53-71 year-olds and 54% of 71+).
And here exists an opportunity for brands to identify the right ways of using voice-activated AI to engage with this almost perfect consumer demographic – one that often has time and income at their disposal.

Let’s talk about UX

The appeal of voice devices for the boomer generation lies in the sheer simplicity of the user experience. Unlike having to master the “art” of tapping on smartphone and navigating apps, voice technology is hands-free, unobtrusive and ridiculously easy to use. With a simple trigger word like “Alexa” or “Google”, users can instruct what looks like a dumb speaker to find a recipe, receive wine pairing recommendations, or create a grocery list and get all items delivered to their home – with the added bonus of being able to discuss these details with the family whilst doing so.

This is just one example of the much-coveted frictionless brand experience. Characterised by technology existing in the background, and the interaction with the brand or product becoming more focused on creating the right experience for an individual.

Voice-activated devices also have the potential to dramatically alter the relationship between brand and customer. Voice offers a more conversational and human quality of interaction. Thereby nurturing an element of trust, which is likely to be hugely important for the sometimes wary or unadaptable senior user. Imagine the value for brands who are able to engage with older consumers in a more personal way that reflects the in-store experience of having a real assistant to ask questions.

In the most basic terms, it’s trust and proven performance that will grow usage. And the more someone interacts with AI to shop, the more the brand is able to adapt and offer a personalised experience that can be deeply enriched by data-driven insight.

Brands need to play catch up

While brands might seem a bit slower to respond to this valuable aging demographic, voice-activated devices are already positioned to become ideal digital assistants for supporting senior living in everyday tasks. Certainly, the hands-free experience of voice devices lends itself to catering to people with visual or physical disabilities, regardless of age.

For senior citizens living independently, and perhaps with restricted access, the voice-activated AI could represent a vital lifeline to the outside world. Having the promise of easy access to emergency care, supplies and other people within their virtual support network – as well as managing practical tasks within the home. Likewise, the hands-free experience of voice-activated devices lends itself to catering to people with visual or physical disabilities, regardless of age.
Brands who want to engage properly with the now digitally active older generation must be able to tune into particular behavioural insights in order to create a customer experience that caters to the individual needs of this demographic. Whether offering a product or service, brands need to be able to anticipate needs with timely recommendations, reminders and perhaps even useful offers. A recently booked holiday guided by Alexa, for instance, might be accompanied with an offer from a bank to change currency or tips for preferred holiday activities, or even a reminder to resupply prescribed medication for the trip.

This level of personalisation requires much more than just haphazard data-collection. It requires gaining a level of trust and understanding from users, so that that the data they share with brands helps them construct an ideal experience for themselves, regardless of which channels they use. This single view of the customer provides brands with the powerful ability to demonstrate to consumers that their product or service is not only relevant but will be even more informed with every interaction.

The time is right for brands to recognise the huge value of the voice-activated AI. But what they need to acknowledge is that emerging technology is not just the playground of the younger generation. The world has moved on a lot from when the 40-71 age group were notoriously slow to adopt desktop and mobile shopping. And today’s older and wealthier population have been quick to embrace the power of their voice.

Brands need to address this as part of their omnichannel strategy. It’s only when they get better at harnessing data and using this to understand what their customers want that they’ll be able to grow with their customers regardless of age and technology.

The future is bright, the future is Grey.

Author: John Heald, global vice president of market development for SAP Customer Experience

Image credit: Fotolia

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