Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

A few weeks ago, I learned that, as a 50-year-old, I can technically join the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

I have NO INTENTION of retiring for many, many more years (maybe never?!). But in learning about my newfound status, I start to think about how libraries market to senior citizens.

More than 54 million adults ages 65 and older live in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That accounts for about 16.5 percent of the nation’s total population. And seniors are expected to outnumber children in the United States by 2035.

Goals focused on seniors require marketing target to seniors

Depending on your library’s overall goals, it may be critical for your organization to focus on attracting and retaining a larger percentage of your community’s older residents.

For example, the Queens Library’s strategic plan specifically says, “The borough is growing older, with its elderly population projected to increase by more than 30% by 2040.” The plan then lists among its goals, a provision for providing a more robust large print collection, as well as a goal to connect the older residents intentionally and strategically with library services.

Today’s senior citizen is not your stereotypical grandma

If your mental picture of an older person is frail, technologically challenged, and dependent on others, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Older patrons are Interested in keeping healthy so they can stay independent at home. And they’re active on social media. More than 70 percent have a Facebook account, and more than 40 percent are on Instagram. And The Guardian recently published statistics that show the number of older people on TikTok is growing significantly.

Particularly during the pandemic, seniors learned to embrace technology. They readily engage with video chats and content on mobile devices. In fact, three out of every four seniors say they depend on technology to help them manage their lives and to stay in touch with family and friends.

More than half of older adults still work at least part-time. They’re more likely to volunteer their time. And the poverty rate is high among this group. 10.5 percent of white Americans over age 65 live in poverty and rates are three times higher for Hispanic and Black Americans.

Getting to know your older patrons

Of course, the older patrons in your service area may have different wants and needs. You’ll need to do is your own market research. A strategic survey targeted at this age group will help your library get concrete data on the makeup and needs of your older population.

You can also consult data provided by the US Census Bureau to build an accurate picture of your older patrons. Finally, conduct focus groups in partnership with senior community centers. You’ll have the chance to get direct feedback on the ways your library can connect with, and serve, your older residents.

Based on what you learn, you should develop a marketing persona to specifically address segments of your older population. And you may find you need more than one persona to capture the essence of your older patrons.

For example, you may find that you have three key groups of older residents: those approaching retirement, those who are retired and active, and those who require assistance from caregivers. These three groups will all have distinct library service needs. They’ll respond differently to your library promotions.

Highlight the things they value

Older folks love to bargain hunt and save money. This is where price comparison and other promotions that highlight the savings provided by a library card can be advantageous for your library.

For example, if you check out kitchen tools in your library of things, a “try before you buy” message drives home the value of the library. Your marketing piece should include the price of one or two kitchen tools, purchased new, to help your older patrons see they can potentially save money by trying the gadgets out first.

Seniors are looking for advanced tech help. Surveys show that people ages 50 and older want to learn how to manage smart-home technology, stream entertainment from sites like Hulu or Netflix, and video chat with friends and family. Programs at your library should address this need.

Focus on communicating the mission, vision, and values of your library. Seniors are more likely to vote and more likely to believe in investments in institutions.

Have a plan to target your older population with value-oriented messages. Build empathy through storytelling and show how your library provides value. You will be rewarded with the support of your older population.

In-person outreach is critical to targeting your older population. This demographic values personal, face-to-face interaction. Partner with faith-based organizations, meals on wheels, senior clubs, and community centers to distribute promotional material and get a chance for those in-person opportunities with your older community members.

Include testimonials and storytelling as part of your marketing strategy aimed at seniors. Older patrons aren’t influenced by sweeping claims or generalizations. They value personal experience, especially from people they can relate to.

More tips to create effective marketing targeted at seniors

Older people love print marketing materials. Seniors grew up receiving advertisements and physical catalogs in the mail. Print is familiar and even nostalgic to this group. They prefer something tangible they can hold in their hands.

Make digital communications accessible and mobile responsive. The Marketing Rule of 7 applies to this demographic. And they do love to sign up for email newsletters and visit websites. So make sure your digital marketing material is accessible to meet the various physical needs of this age group. Use as little text as possible, surrounded by white space and generous margins. Make fonts on your website, emails, and in print material 16 pt. or larger. Increase the size of your website and email buttons for messages aimed at this demographic.

Facebook posts are especially effective for targeting seniors. Regular readers know I’m not a fan of Facebook for marketing. The exception is this. Senior patrons are still heavy users of Facebook. I would recommend experimenting with a focused Facebook strategy aimed exclusively at connecting with your older population.

Examples of great library marketing aimed at seniors

Montgomery County Public Libraries

Milwaukee Public Libraries

Has your library created marketing targeted at older community members? Add your examples in the comments!

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