Marketing teams love a generational label but this hasn’t quite taken off

The actual usefulness of concepts such as ‘baby boomers’, ‘Generation X’ and ‘millennials’ may be open to question but they do provide a focus to marketing campaigns and planning.

Perhaps we need a label for the fit-and-healthy-but-suddenly-footloose-and-fancy-free-over-55s/over 60s and over 70s. The absence of one may be a factor in the failure of the housing industry to effectively propel, develop and promote desirable housing options to this age group.

Across the United Kingdom there are estimated to be 7.5 million people over 55 who would be interested in moving home as they reach or near retirement and their children leave home. Yet only 7.5 percent of those people do go on to move – and only 2.5 percent of those households choose ‘retirement housing’.

I’ll soon be in this demographic group myself. In a few years I may be giving up full-time work, dabbling with part-time and looking for a home that allows me to have the lifestyle that I feel I’ve worked for. The sector needs to reimagine both the housing options it is offering to those in late middle-age and beyond and to overhaul how it markets those options.

Like many others, I am looking at the next phase of life as an opportunity for lots of new experiences. I want to make a housing choice that will help fulfil that aspiration. Too many current developments are, to coin a phrase, ‘vanilla’ and uninspiring in an age when people are looking for adventure.

Today’s fit-and-healthy late 50-somethings, 60-somethings and 70- somethings are looking for well-designed, stylish, inspirational housing that will adjust to their changing needs over the decades ahead – allowing them to maintain their independence and lifestyle choices.

Initially, that might include some form of on-site management. The role of the manager may not involve care provision but safeguarding residents’ homes while they’re off in South Africa visiting their adult off-spring (or, better still, out on safari).

There are a few brilliant developments catering for people with such aspirations but they are largely confined to the very top end of the market.

Yet one can’t escape the feeling that a lot of innovative, highly-desirable housing continues to escape the attention of people my age and a few years older.

There are marketing and branding issues here which some in the sector have bemoaned for years to little effect. Why is that?

As Morrissey (now 58 by the way) sang in his youth, stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before….

In researching this piece I’ve been struck by the number of articles and blogs that have highlighted the need for a new marketing approach. This includes the need to review the very language we use. Why ‘retirement housing’, for example? Many people – whether through necessity or choice – now work on in some form or another well into their 70s and beyond. And we certainly don’t intend to retire from our communities or active lifestyles, something associated with old-style specialist housing.

And who on earth thought that the term ‘down-sizing’ would attract or inspire many people to sell their family home once their children were leading independent lives? The recently-adopted term ‘right-sizing’ at least has positive connotations.

I recently heard of a desirable new general needs housing development of lovely flats but marketed towards the first-time market. It wasn’t doing very well. Que change of approach and a marketing poster featuring trendily-dressed couple in late middle-age – complete with designer specs – cycling down the cobbled street sparked a flood of enquiries from slightly older people who snapped up the new homes. The rewards for getting this right are both significant and multi-layered.

Those nearing formal retirement or recently retired and in possession of a nice family home have cash to spend. They will pay for a new home that supports their determination to enjoy the new wonder years in ways beyond the dreams of their grandparents. They hope to surpass even their own expectations!

Enticing them into such housing will free up millions of family homes and have a knock-on effect on the supply – and affordability – of starter homes. The thirty-somethings moving into the family homes will doubtless have their own plans for redecoration, refurbishment and loft extensions – stimulating the local economy.

But creative marketing to this age group continues to be something more talked about than delivered.

Just as the admirable Dame Joan Bakewell has achieved some success in changing perceptions around people in their 70s and 80s, perhaps we need an ambassador for those half a generation younger. Someone with a semi-official remit to educate the industry, housing with care commissioners and policymakers on our aspirations and how they can be fulfilled. Someone who can inspire the housing industry.

We are the tail-end of the baby boomer generation, which statisticians generally agreed ended in 1964. That’s hardly a catchy generational title.

Given Sputnik was fired into the skies in 1959, how about the ‘Space Age Generation'? Now that reflects our ambitions for our lives after we give up full-time work.


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