Are We Losing Consumers Ages 45+ to Digital Media?

By | August 11, 2010

When we hear about digital media consumer studies, we’re always focused on the growth in digital media and it’s impact on revenue and print. But to me, the more interesting story is usually buried under the headlines.

That was the case with IBM’s third annual Digital Media Consumer Study. The study is part of a research series that has surveyed nearly 10,000 consumers over the past three years. Like all consumer studies, it reveals that digital media use has grown at a staggering pace.

  • Between 2007 and 2009, mobile music and video adoption increased fivefold.
  • Online newspaper penetration more than tripled.
  • 53% of surveyed users are regular users of social networking sites.
  • 40% regularly read online newspaper.

To me, however, here’s the part that’s really interesting. This year’s research shows that growth in more established digital media services such as social networking and online newspapers sites is now being driven primarily by consumers older than age 45. That got my attention.

We think of older consumers as focused on print. We take older consumers for granted. Sure, tweens, teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings are focused on digital media, but — we tell ourselves — at least the more established pocketbooks and purchasing power still love print. At least they haven’t been lured by the siren of digital media.

Now they have.

So while IBM’s report talks about how the shift to lower-revenue digital media is creating a revenue shortfall, I’m stuck on the fact that we’re losing the 45+ age consumer to Facebook and Kindle. I actually had a conversation recently in which the last words I heard from this world-class, internationally known designer (over the age of 50) were, “Facebook me.”

In this industry, we talk a lot about multi-channel marketing. In reality, this is usually limited to direct mail to personalized URLs or a combination of email and print. “Multi-channel marketing” hasn’t yet really extended to online communities and other digital media.

If print is going to survive, it needs to. That means integrating print into the digital world in which consumers — including the 45+ consumers we’ve historically taken for granted — live. If you don’t know how to do that, you might want to bring someone on staff who does.

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3 thoughts on “Are We Losing Consumers Ages 45+ to Digital Media?

  1. Todd Butler

    Integrating print advertising with the digital world is as simple as adding digital content to direct mail. There are multiple ways to do this such as optical discs, which can deliver everything from video to direct links to Facebook pages, USB drives with similar capabilities, web keys, and the simplest and least expensive would be printing QR codes on direct mail pieces.

    All deliver similar functionality (direct links) as on-line advertising, some can deliver much more. The advantage of digitally enhanced direct mail is that advertisers are able to proactively engage consumers, rather than waiting till consumers find them.

    The question is why does the direct mail industry act as if our medium is dead or dying when we have not taken the simple steps to deliver true multimedia marketing? Why have we not embraced these established digital technologies and provided an alternative delivery system for digital advertising to our customers?

    How can the USPS blame the loss of Standard Mail volume on Internet diversion when they have never tried to compete with on-line advertisers in delivering digital advertising through the postal system? It isn’t like they’ve never seen a CD (AOL) or DVD (Netflix/Block Buster).

  2. Bob Raus

    Interesting article Heidi! Does the study tell what % of 45+ people are adopting social media today and if it has any predictions for the future by age group? Personally, I expect the 45-55 crowd to adopt social media for SOCIAL things. I use Facebook to stay in touch with my family and friends around the globe – nothing else. Also blogs like this are examples of social media and they serve a great purpose that print can not. It doesn’t make these communications channels bad or major competitors to print per se, they just fit a niche that print and other media can not.

    BTW, my 17 year old son had a revelation the other night while SMS texting his friend to schedule a summer time activity. After an hour of text-wait, text-wait, text-wait, – he decided that it would be much more efficient to CALL his friend. Although digitized today, a phone call is a decidedly analogue thing to do! The conversation lasted 3 minutes and he was thrilled not have to keep texting all night long.

    My point is that a natural balance between the use of various medium will occur with all age groups and with all technologies (think new color TV in the 60s and newspapers). Those who can adapt will thrive.

  3. Elizabeth Gooding

    Thanks for the post Heidi. A couple of thoughts.

    1. In reference to Todd’s comment. Many companies are adding “digital content” in the form of links, PURLs, CURLs etc. to their direct mail or transaction mail. However, few understand the convenience and added response/conversion factor that can be gained by embedding print opportunities into their online channels. For example, the ability to request a catalog, personalized proposal, or brochure from a social media site like Facebook or as a response to a web or email campaign. Many make the assumption that if the consumer is online, they want everything online. Several studies have shown that many consumers will shop online, but buy over the phone or or via the mail. In many cases, print adds a significant amount of customer convenenience to an online campaign – these are the key opportunities to research and prove value.

    2. The best thing we can do in our multi-channel marketing is give consumers choice. Allow them to navigate from print to online and back again – or vice versa. There is a tendency to read studies like this (which are quite valuable) and then lump everyone into one of the categories or personas that are defined there. Personas like “Kool Kids, Gadgetiers and Massive Passives” are big buckets of catch-all characteristics. Great in theory – but we need to treat our customers and prospects like individuals not categories.

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