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Monday, May 31, 2010

Is anybody listening – yes – but not understanding

Part of this title comes from a very interesting blog posting by Jerry Shereshewsky.

Like me he was an early convert to the power of the Internet. He relates how in the mid 90s he would speak at conferences, talking about the business changing power of this wonderful technology. In those days the people attending the conferences were Internet people. We were, in the main, talking to ourselves. I know the feeling well.
The rest is history.

What started with a small band of Internet converts soon went mainstream.

Jerry then speaks about a similar start to things in the 'baby boomer marketing' space. To begin with the attendees at conferences about the ‘grey’ market (and other daft names) were a small band of people who "got it".

Unfortunately, the transition from the niche to general has not happened. Sure the list of companies, who are picking away at the edges of the older market, is increasing but not to the extent that it should.

I have written more than I like to think about why companies are so loathe shifting their vision to older consumers. That said, I thought I would relate a short (true) story to express another set of reasons why I think companies are so slow to change.

Standing in a reception area the size of Terminal 5 at Heathrow I see a couple of young guys bashing away on their MacBook Pros. They looked friendly so I asked if they had come to talk about the Youth Market. Yep, that’s us. You must be the bloke talking about the oldies? Yep that’s me. We then went through the mandatory exchange about how they thought the older market must be so large and how their parents spend their life on holiday and buying stuff etc etc…..

Soon we are collected by a nice young lady who was staging the event. As usual the day was running late and after a quick snack we are on feet speaking, with our time cut back to bring the event back on schedule. How many times I have been here before?

I was speaking in one room my youth marketing specialist chums in another. We exchange cards and good wishes that our sessions go well. The audience, who are the great and good of Mega Corporation Inc, are soon in place. I rattle through my session that covers the full spectrum of what the ageing population means to a company like Mega and some of the things they should be doing. The session ends. A couple of polite questions. Audience departs to samplethe delights of one of Mega’s new products.

One week later the nice young lady, who arranged the event, sends me the feedback. Amazingly, my youth specialist friends and I get the same score. The scores are OKish but clearly the audience thought they got a lot more value out of product sampling session and a presentation about sustainability.

So what do I learn from this experience?

Mega’s great and good were clearly a bright and senior bunch but essentially powerless to react to most of what I was talking about. If Mega ever does anything about the older market the decision will taken by an even brighter bunch of people somewhere on the Executive Floor of Mega Corporation HQ - not by their local country management. Multinational's country brand managers might have all the swagger but exercise little power.

I was talking about things the company should be doing that would require real change – my audience wanted to receive a few ‘tips’ about selling more of Mega’s products to older people. I was explaining the details of what is required; they wanted a handful of magic bullets.

Mega Corporation has a reputation for navel gazing and introspection. Their management’s reaction to both consumer related sessions (young and old) makes me think that the rumours are correct. Having worked for IBM, during its dominant era, when the writing was on the wall that it must change, I have witnessed at first hand the extent that big companies will go to not to have to take big decisions. Instead they fiddle about whilst steering the same course hoping a few minor adjustments will solve their problems.

So the bottom line is this. The reason why companies don’t “get it” about the older market is nothing to do with facts but about their inability/unwillingness/fear/laziness to change. Dick Stroud

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