The Best Innovation Opportunity Ever!

We are facing the best innovation opportunity in the history of business right now, and everyone is missing it. The sector that provides the best opportunity for innovation right now is older adults. And you can tap into this market with one fairly simple change to your business model.

My wife Nancy is a geropsychologist. When she asks her students at the start of each semester what words come to mind when they think about aging, and nearly everything is negative: sick, alzheimer’s, nursing home, dementia. These thoughts dominate our thinking about business opportunities in this sector as well. Everyone knows that all of the populations in developed countries are aging rapidly. People that are 65+ are going from 10-15% of the population in 2000 in most countries to 25-40% of the population by 2025. So what opportunities does this present?

A recent cover story in Business Review Weekly here in Australia talked about how the baby boomers can make you rich. Their suggestions: invest in nursing homes and health care.

This is wrong!

Most firms start with an older adult business model based on the assumption that these people are sick, and they need care, and that is where the opportunities lie. In most western countries, how many older adults are in nursing homes? About 5%. How many are sick? Less than 10%. Why are we building our business models around less than 10% of the biggest segment of the population? This is insane. So my prescription is this: start with a simple business model innovation – your target market is actually the 90% of older adults that are healthy and active!

Tom Peters has been talking about this for a while. So has Ken Dychtwald. Here are some facts about older adults:

  • There are lots of them, and soon there will be even more.
  • The overwhelming majority of them are active and healthy.
  • They have TONS of money (70% of the wealth in America, according to Peters).
  • They see more movies, buy more clothes and more cars and more, well, everything than any other segment of the population.
  • They have time on their hands and they want interesting things to do.
  • They’re the fastest growing age group on Facebook, and their use of other social media outlets is also growing rapidly.

Whatever you do, change your business model to target these older people, not the sick ones. Once you have done that, do what Saul Kaplan suggests and start learning what they want. Then start innovating.

We need iPhone apps for older adults. We need movies, vacations and consumer products that meet their needs. We need them in our social networks and focus groups. Peters recounts a number of cases of firms that have successfully made a product or two targeting older adults then says:

These are all great cases. But they are just… cases. Isolated events in a Grand Marketing Narrative that continues to treat Youth as its hero.
They are a far cry from Strategic Realignment. And anything less than Strategic Realignment – that is, reorienting your enterprise from the ground up to serve the emerging [older adult market] will you in the cramped, low-growth world of ‘niche’ marketing.
Review the numbers: If a group controls the vast majority of wealth and discretionary income, then it is the market.

He’s right. It’s the best innovation opportunity ever. How will you take advantage of it?

I’ve written this in response to Braden Kelley’s call for posts on the topic: What product or sector is in greatest need of innovation. His Blogging Innovation site is a terrific resource, which you should definitely check out!

(Photo from flickr/OSU HHS under a Creative Commons license)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “The Best Innovation Opportunity Ever!

  1. Excellent point!!!! They have so much to contribute, so much knowledge and experience. I’m working with several entrepreneurs who are ‘older’ – Some are driven by need, some by desire, some by the new freedom of no more big financial responsibilities (e.g., the kids education) –

  2. What a great way to look at it – I find it amazing that we allow the media to influence our perception. 90% active is a great number – I’ll take that bet! What are your thoughts on seniors starting new businesses? I bet that’s going to climb as well. This generation understands what Friedman, Goldwater and others were talking about when the discussed the free market. They, because of their numbers, have always commanded its respect. As they exhibit needs/wants, the market is going to rapidly adjust to accommodate, provided we can maintain economic freedom here in the USA.

  3. Thanks for the comment John-Scott! I agree that we’ll see an increase in the number of seniors starting new businesses. As the average life-span increases, and health improves, we’ll have a whole pack of 65+ ‘retired’ folks who are bored – and the ones with an entrepreneurial orientation will definitely start up new things.

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