Getting Over your FOMO

by Jeff Weiss

There is no one standard definition for the term FOMO but it generally refers to “a state of mental or emotional strain caused by the Fear of Missing Out”. It is generally associated with millennials and is now making its way to even younger generations (although I have several older friends who live with this).

I appreciate the effects of FOMO, having seen it rear its ugly head with my 22-year-old son, particularly in his high school and college days. The frantic calls or texts that I would get as he was trying to decide between different social events and options. Oh the pressure of it all!

But there is another form of FOMO that is much different from how my son might define it, yet with equally widespread effects. The new FOMO I am witnessing on a frequent basis is the Fear of Marketing Older. It is a close relative of the term FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that is sometimes used by market leaders when warning customers about the potential perils of switching to one of their (smaller and relatively unknown) competitors.

Although we have uncovered several reasons why businesses and marketers are largely ignoring Active Aging consumers, in my mind FOMO is the one that represents the largest barrier.

Below is a common scenario and chain of events that happen when we are talking with many marketers:

  1. The prospective customer has heard about us (Age of Majority) and is intrigued by our messaging and what we do. We agree to discuss how we might be able to grow their business.
  2. We take them through compelling data which includes a combination of actual consumer spending, our proprietary research, and supplemental third-party data.
  3. We help quantify the potential “size of the prize” by highlighting the spending power of Active Aging consumers within their specific category along with their missed or untapped opportunity based on our knowledge and insights. It is at this point when the (first) lightbulb often goes off and the prospect starts to buy into the opportunity.
  4. The prospect asks questions usually associated with one of the myths and stereotypes that are pinned to aging consumers. We address each question using facts to dispel each myth while painting a true picture of the vibrant consumer group that has never existed before (and is often confused with Boomers).
  5. The (second) lightbulb goes off and the client is converted – they see a big opportunity to market to Active Aging consumers!
  6. We begin talking about next steps and an action plan; and then….
  7. FOMO sets in and he/she is reluctant to pull the trigger.

This is typical of the battles we fight in pursuing our mission to break the myths and crush the stereotypes and stigmas associated with aging. Our experience with FOMO in the marketing world really reflects the larger fight against ageism in society. Both involve deep rooted misperceptions about aging that have built up over a very long time.

Fear of Marketing Older is a tough nut to crack. Just like the saying used to be “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM”, the same can be said for “No one ever got fired for targeting millennials”.  But getting over FOMO is possible if you follow these five (simple) steps:

  1. Follow the money – through a little bit of digging and sorting through readily available data, it will quickly become apparent that lots of opportunities exists in your specific category.
  2. Look around – “old age” ain’t what it used to be. Sure you will still find older consumers who are what we call Traditionalists – less independent, less mobile and not overly active – but they represent only about 25% of people over the age of 55. The vast majority are vibrant and active, with time and money to spend on products, services and experiences.
  3. Do the research – if you don’t believe the data, do your own qualitative and/or quantitative research to confirm the opportunity.
  4. Test & learn – after all, what do you have to lose? Sure, you might have to move some of your marketing spend to Active Aging consumers, but research suggests many categories (and possibly yours) are already over-investing in millennials and it’s not likely that you will lose any ground when it comes to revenue and profitability.
  5. Work with an expert – While you could ask your existing roster of agencies or consultants to come back with their perspective, most firms just don’t get it, especially given the FOMO effect. The myths and stereotypes around aging are often more pronounced in the marketing agency world (consider that just 5% of ad agency employees are over 50, and most are not in the creative department) compared to other industries.

Allow me the use of one last acronym: FEAR, which stands for False Events Appearing Real. It’s the idea that something can appear real – even though it may have no real substance – when we feel threatened, which makes us cling to what we know.

If you relate this idea to a Fear of Marketing Older, it is easy to see how marketers are still hesitant to target Active Aging consumers.  With competitive pressures at an all-time high, now is the time to get over that fear and start marketing to the largest opportunity out there.

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