Alternative Media: Web-surfing Seniors

Has your company reached out to the fastest-growing online audience?
Dec 01, 2005

Anna Banks
Seniors have been branded as computerphobes. While it's true that some do shy away from Web technology, many have really begun to embrace it. In fact, Americans age 65 and older now represent the fastest-growing online audience, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "Older Americans and the Internet." The project found that the percentage of senior Web users jumped 47 percent from 2000 to 2004, and older Americans now represent some eight million Web users. While these seniors surf the Web for many reasons—e.g., to communicate with grandchildren or play online bingo—many search the Web for health information. Sixty-six percent of "wired" seniors who were surveyed in 2003 said they searched online for medical or health information, representing a13-point percentage jump from the senior population surveyed in 2000.

Make Contact

Despite the growing numbers, many pharma companies have not yet made contact with this new audience of tech-savvy seniors. Some have even failed to establish—let alone maintain—relationships with seniors who currently use their brands. Through online marketing and establishing a senior-friendly presence on the Web, however, marketers can create a dialogue with this population. And seniors have proven that they are eager to communicate. Ninety-four percent of wired seniors have sent or received e-mail, compared with 91 percent of all Internet users, according to Pew Internet Project's 2004 findings.

Tread cautiously Pharma marketers should remember that, despite their enthusiasm, seniors use the Internet cautiously. Many tend to be very distrustful and suspicious about information on the Web. Marketers can counteract this skepticism by first providing educational information—treatment options, tips for condition management, online support groups, and drug discounts—to help gain seniors' trust. As the dialogue continues, marketers can then shift the focus to a discussion about a particular therapeutic brand.

Guide Brand Decisions

For many seniors, the Web "bookends" a physician visit. Visiting a health-related Web site, and viewing general disease information, may spark consumers to speak with their physicians about a particular brand. With prescriptions in hand, they may then go back to the Web, and visit the branded Web site to get information on dosage and side effects. This series of events presents an opportunity for the pharma company to sign up the prospect-turned-patient for an online adherence program, which increases persistency and compliance.

Sweet rewards Creating incentives will also encourage seniors to visit a particular site. Promotions, such as online sweepstakes and couponing, can help marketers build a robust database and drive additional online traffic. With seniors, it's less important to offer one big prize than to offer many smaller prizes, as smaller prizes tend to increase participation. The best programs enable seniors to customize content and frequency of communication. Everything must be opted in—and a double opt-in (where an opt-in choice is confirmed) works even better.

Senior-Friendly Web Strategy

When developing an Internet strategy for seniors, marketers must consider Web site design. Since seniors did not grow up with computers, they often get frustrated quickly and have less patience for bad design. Marketers must also consider that some seniors may have visual and fine-motor-skill impairments, and arthritis. Therefore, they need easily navigable and intuitive sites featuring large fonts and simple graphics. Seniors may also be more comfortable printing things out to read, rather then reading on the screen. Therefore, it's important to design elements in a printer-friendly format. Marketers must also address senior sensitivity to privacy issues by clearly stating the privacy policy in an easily accessible spot on the Web site.

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