Guest Column: Bridging the digital divide

With the older consumers taking to the digital world like never before, what does it mean for the marketers? IMRB’s Deepa Mathew takes a look at how the digital landscape is changing

e4m by Deepa Mathew
Updated: Apr 12, 2014 10:16 AM
Guest Column: Bridging the digital divide

With the older consumers taking to the digital world like never before, what does it mean for the marketers? How is the digital landscape changing and more importantly, does a divide exist between the oldies and the youth?

In the beginning there was the internet… and the internet was all about the young.

As new devices and platforms created a huge shift in the way consumers engaged with media for information, entertainment and social connectivity, younger age groups led the way.

No more.

In fact, much of the current growth in digital consumption is coming from older consumers, who are rapidly catching up.

With younger groups now hitting saturation levels for key elements of digital consumption, the fastest growth can now be seen among the more numerous, older and wealthier consumers.

The latest analysis of Kantar Media’s TGI data from the UK, India, Brazil and Turkey shows just how rapidly they are catching up.

Looking at the time period 2006-12, internet usage in India grew fastest among those born in the 1960s. The 2012 data indexed 417 against 2006 numbers – Source, TGI India

“When I need information, the first place I look is the internet” – almost equal percentage of responses among the older and the younger people in India - Source, TGI India

In Turkey, a similar picture can be seen with the 1960s babies achieving a 255 per cent growth in internet usage across the same timeframe. That compares with just 18 per cent growth for those born in the 1980s. Source, TGI Global

Social networking is another area where the older generation is fast catching up with the youngsters.

In India, for the time period 2008-13, the growth in having a social networking account has been faster for those born in the 1960s (20 times) as compared to those born in the 1990s (six times). And among those who access internet, the percentage of the older people with a social network account at 69% almost equals the younger generation at 75 per cent - Source, TGI India

Right across all four markets, digital has become main stream and older consumers are becoming the dominant group.

In Great Britain, the figures reveal that online shopping is progressing towards becoming a universally popular activity across all age groups.  Even among the 55+ age group, 50 per cent are now comfortable with purchasing online - Source, TGI Global

A similar story can be seen with smartphones. In the UK, take-up in mobile internet capability over the last two years has shown the fastest growth among those aged 55+. The same picture can be seen in Brazil where 15 per cent of those in the 55+ age group now have mobile phones with internet capability - Source, TGI Global

This switch from young to old represents a massive opportunity for brands. Not only are older consumers far more numerous than younger age groups, in many cases, they also have higher levels of disposable income. 

A prime example is the rapid success of tablets, which has been driven not by young consumers but by the affluent. The top 10 per cent of the population in terms of socio-economic level (SEL 1), who generally have the highest income, have been the key to the success of tablets. This is clear in the UK, where penetration of tablets reached 12 per cent in 2012, but reached 36 per cent amongst SEL 1. The same pattern is also seen in Brazil and Turkey - Source, TGI Global

Brands that might have previously relied on traditional media behaviour among an older target need to be thinking about digital for almost every age group.

As traditional media has suffered from the increasing number of platforms that are now available, only one platform has thrived – digital.

The evidence is clear from Latin America. Across the region, the percentage of people who say that they pay attention to any specific medium has dwindled between 2006 and 2012 across all generations for all channels except the internet. Among those born in the 1990s, claimed levels of attention (always or almost always) to the internet at 28 per cent are now second only to TV with 45 per cent.

There are, of course, differences in the way groups of different ages use digital channels, and brands need to understand these to ensure their message is targeted.

For example, British people born in the 1960s and 1970s are the most likely to use online banking services. Furthermore, travel and holiday websites are most popular among those born in the 1950s – they are 24 per cent more likely than average to visit such sites - Source, TGI Global

In Brazil, people born in the 1970s and 1980s are most likely to use online banking and visit travel websites. This is also true for banking sites in Turkey - Source, TGI Global

In India close to a third of the people born in the 1960s and 1970s access internet for utility bill payment and to make travel reservations- Source, TGI India

Among those with mobile internet access the 60s generation is four times more likely to use internet for online banking as compared to the 90s - Source, TGI India

What brands need to do is accept that all their audiences are moving into digital and plan accordingly. By understanding their new behaviours online, they will be able to offer services and messages that resonate with each target group.

What they can no longer ignore is the fact that older consumers are rapidly catching up with their younger counterparts.

The author is Group Business Director, Media & Retail Division at IMRB International

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