One of the biggest fears among young people is simply the fear of getting old, and society is obsessed with youth. Get ready, because the world population is aging fast. According to the World Health Organization, by 2050 22 percent of the world’s population will be over 60 and the number of people 80 or older will quadruple. This change has major implications for the global economy and all aspects of life – from healthcare to housing, workforce to personal finance, and product development to branding, marketing and communications.
Japan is the world’s fastest-aging society. With the highest life expectancy in the world (86), one in four people are currently over 65. This is expected to increase to one in three by 2040. This presents serious challenges in coping with increasing costs for pensions and healthcare in Japan. On the other hand, increased spending by seniors (called “the silver market” in Japan), estimated to be 100 trillion yen (US$1.27 trillion) a year, is creating new opportunities for the economy. Japan seems to be out front in developing and marketing new products and services targeting seniors and penetrating the growing silver market. Here are some examples.
- Fujitsu just showcased a prototype of its New Generation Cane at the Mobile World Congress 2013. This product is a “smart cane” with GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It has an LED panel on top that displays information and provides simple directional instructions for the user. A sensor on the top of the device monitors heart rate and the cane can also keep tabs on location, humidity and temperature, sending the information back to the user’s family, friends and caretakers.
- Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo launched a new line of smartphones in 2012 targeting seniors, called Raku Raku (meaning easy easy). The phones have larger fonts and icons with simplified steps for sending email and taking photos. Senior-friendly features include audio adjustment that can slow down and clarify the voice on the other end. Also, with one push of the ‘how to use’ key, the phone will connect users to dedicated Raku Raku customer service staff.
- Just about every Japanese girl has owned a Licca-chan doll, the Japanese equivalent of Barbie, since it was launched in 1967. (Barbie never caught on in Japan because she looked too foreign and adult to young Japanese girls.) Last year, Takara Tomy, Licca-chan’s maker, introduced a new doll, Licca-chan’s grandmother, named Yoko, targeting real grandmothers who enjoy playing with their grandchildren.
- Last year, Toyota unveiled a robot for seniors that can fetch, carry things and perform simple tasks using its fingers. Multiple companies are developing these types of robots with innovative technology to act as caretakers. A survey showed that 80 percent of Japanese seniors welcome the robots because they hate to burden their families with their care.
- An electric kettle is a must-have item in a Japanese household. Zojirushi developed one for seniors living alone. When the kettle, “i-pot,” is used, the information is sent in the form of an e-mail to family members so they can monitor their parents/grandparents’ daily activities and be assured that everything is normal. Some communities are offering similar measures, products that use sensors and wireless networks at seniors’ households to monitor their safety. The Japanese government also introduced a measure with a more human touch in 2011: postal workers check up on people over 65 once a month by handing seniors seasonal greeting cards.
- Retailer Aeon opened its first supermarket aimed specifically at seniors, with a range of products and services geared to their needs, such as a shopping cart with a built-in magnifying glass. Many supermarkets and department stores are shifting their business models in this way with items, displays and services catering to the silver market.
- Large numbers of “dankai-no-sedai,” Japanese baby boomers, born between 1947 and 1949, have been retiring, and the travel industry is capitalizing on increased spending by the growing retiree population. According to a Japan Association of Travel Agents survey published last year, senior travel was stronger than travel by families, students or honeymooners. Since Japanese companies are not generous with vacation days, traveling is at the top of everyone’s wish list after retirement. The tourism sector is eagerly introducing new products and services targeting active retirees as well as the elderly with health-issues, including medical help and assistance from people who act as “travel helpers.”
What’s the best way to market and communicate to these growing consumers? I’ll cover that in another post.