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May 21, 2003
How To

Special Report Part II: Emailing to Seniors

SUMMARY: This highly practical article features 10 specific copywriting and design tips to get a better response rate to your email campaigns and newsletters targeting the Senior marketplace (folks aged 65-74).
Some hints: Do not bother with colorful HTML pictures and do not ever use the term "elderly" in your copy.
Email marketing to seniors (consumers aged 65-74) can be tricky.
They are getting older but do not like to think of themselves as
old, they do not like to be told what they do not know but they
want information, and they span the spectrum from the techno-
genius to the completely uninformed.

Though statistics vary, some 25% of people over 65 are currently
online, with an estimated 33% by the end of 2003. This is the
fastest growing segment of Internet users—and a whopping 70% of
these go online primarily for the purposes of email.

While it is a tough market, it is not one you want to ignore.
“The latest figures say that people over the age of 50 control
77% of resources in the US,” says Steve Hardman of
“Any group that has that much control of the financial resources
is a market to be looked at.”

The profile of online seniors looks different than the senior
demographic as a whole: They are more likely to be married, are
more educated, and have a higher income. Half as many wired
seniors are widowed than those offline. One in four have an
income of over 75,000.

You can increase your chances of your email campaign getting
through to seniors (roughly defined as 65-74 years) and the
elderly (75+ years), says Hardman, by taking the following
factors into consideration:

Tip #1. Construction is key.

Seniors often have problems with their eyes, and it is even worse
when they are staring at a computer screen. That means 3 things:

a. Lines should not be longer than 50 to 60 characters in
length. Any longer than that, and their eyes will start to
b. Paragraphs should be no longer than 4 lines. Senior eyes
need a point of reference, which is the top and bottom of
paragraphs. If they do not have that, they become frustrated
and quit reading.
c. White space is crucial, whether you are doing text or HTML.
Have lots of it.

Tip #2. Stick with text.

According to Hardman, sees a 90% preference for

Nancy Cathey, VP emarketing/investments for Phillips Investment
Resources, agrees. Their readers, she says, “favor text-heavy,
letter-like messages, rather than splashy images.”

Tip #3. List your contents.

If you do a miniature Table of Contents at the top, your readers
are more likely to reference something they are interested in and
scroll all the way through the email to find it.

If they do not know what is included, they are far less likely to
read it all the way through.

Tip #4. Be lifestyle-oriented rather than product-oriented

“Very few readers will click on something that sounds very
senior-oriented or old,” says Hardman. “They may be interested in
a story on incontinence, but if you’re offering an ad for adult
diapers in the email, they won’t click on it.”

HOWEVER, if you can get them to go to the story online, and there is
an ad on your site for adult diapers, you will have a much higher
clickthrough—as much as 40 to 60%, says Hardman.

“I almost wonder if it’s a concern about anonymity,” he says.

If an ad is lifestyle-oriented—like something on finding a senior
friend—clicks will be much higher, even on the newsletter itself.

Tip #5. Choose your words carefully.

Do not talk down to your readers, and DON’T use the word

“It’s synonymous with old fart,” says Hardman. Instead, use
“retired” or even “senior.”

Tip #6. Be conversational.

Email is still a medium that seniors are not exactly comfortable
with. You have to walk a fine line between being chatty and being

Instead of writing, “something most seniors don’t understand
is...” use examples and analogies to describe it.

Seniors also like traditional letters, says Cathey, with a “dear”
at the top and a signature at the bottom.

Tip #7. Do not use third person.

Hardman sees a much higher response when he uses a personal

Example: “If you’re looking for home care for Mom,” is much more
successful than, “If a person is looking for home care for a
senior parent.”

Tip #8. Give them alternative & traditional methods of

You can certainly include links to your site and a place to click
for more information, but offering an 800 number and snail mail
address is an easy way to make this audience more comfortable,
Cathey says.

Tip #9. Build credibility early on.

For a suspicious reader, show why they should trust you. Tell
them where you have been written about, television shows you have
appeared on, etc., anything to show you are not trying to scam

Cathey starts one email with, “Do you watch Bulletin Bears on Fox
News?” It goes on to say that one of their advisors is regularly
on the show—an easy way of establishing credibility.

Tip #10. Do not form any preconceptions about the market.

For example, did you know that people over 65 buy 25% of toys in
US? While you might not think about advertising some little
gizmo for their own usage, remember that grandparents buy gifts.

What about wireless?

Forget it, says Hardman. It is pretty much nonexistent in the
senior market.

One of the biggest things to remember is that there is a wide
range of seniors online: Some are techies, and some are barely
functional. “Cutting across the middle is tough,” Hardman says.
“But with a market that’s probably the most lucrative out there,
it’s worth it.”

NOTE: In case you missed it, Part I of this Special Report,
"Emailing to Aging Boomers" is available at:
See Also:

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