488px-Chinesischer_Maler_von_1238_001Over the course of the next six months here on the blog our Asia-Pac team will be busting six different myths about Asia’s ageing population, using data and analysis to get under the surface of the issue.

Myth #1: “Digital is the Province of the Young”

Jeremy Sy and Simran Gill write: Digital has seen massive growth in Asia, with the region now accounting for more than 40% of the world’s Internet users. Marketers have been rushing to capitalize on the possibilities opened up by digital channels, but their focus, for the most part, has been on younger consumers. There seems to be an assumption that older consumers are not receptive to new technologies and will continue to rely on more traditional channels, and that the opportunity with older consumers online isn’t worth pursuing.

Marketers ignore the digital senior at their peril.

While it’s true that the greater proportion of Internet users today is young, older consumers are catching up. These older Internet users have been late to the digital bandwagon, but are now taking up digital channels in large numbers. While younger consumers are the early adopters of new digital channels and technologies, TGI data suggests it is older generations that are driving the growth of digital all over the world (opens pdf). Across Asia, according to our own Global MONITOR research, 54% of consumers aged 50+ now own a desktop or laptop computer, and 33% have Internet access on their mobile phones. There is evidence that the issue among many seniors is digital access rather than interest: In Singapore, over 50% of iPad borrowers at public libraries are aged 55+. In China, the over-60s account for only 1.4% of all Internet users, but 73% of older Chinese who don’t have Internet access are eager to gain access.

Digital access and savvy are changing how older consumers across Asia are behaving, shopping and consuming. According to our The Futures Company’s  Global MONITOR research, consumers aged 50+ across most of Asia are more likely than younger age groups to purchase products and services online. Other digital activities that are more popular among the 50+’s than younger groups include getting travel information, and accessing medical and health information online.

Digital is an emotional channel

Digital channels don’t just meet older people’s information, shopping and consumption needs, but also emotional and social needs – specifically, the need to feel connected to other people and to avoid loneliness. With their children raising their own families, and their grandchildren achieving their first milestones, social media platforms like Facebook allow them to regularly keep in touch with their families, especially if they live far away from them.

In fact, 60% of Asian consumers aged 50+ who have social network accounts check their social networks at least weekly (our Global MONITOR data again). Together with video-call services like Skype and FaceTime, social networking sites protect the elderly from the loneliness that may come with age. The Internet also allows seniors to socialise with old friends who they aren’t able to meet regularly, and to meet new friends in various online communities. Sixty per cent of consumers aged 50+ across Asia feel that the Internet helps them connect with other like-minded individuals and make friends. The social benefits of the Internet are most pronounced for senior citizens who are housebound or bed-ridden: social media has the power to prevent the elderly from feeling bored, isolated and alone.

Digital is not just the province of the young

What does all this mean for businesses? It’s time to let go of the myth that digital is only the province of the young. Asia is ageing rapidly: By 2050, a quarter of people in the region will be 60 years or older, and most of these consumers will be digitally savvy. It’s important for businesses to start understanding how to communicate and engage with older consumers online, taking into account not only their consumption and shopping preferences, but also their design preferences and physical contexts. Most of the content online today is designed with a young audience in mind. How can this content be made more accessible for older consumers, who may have poorer eyesight, for example? With the world – and Asia in particular – entering a new golden age for those in their golden years, brands who take the digital senior seriously now will prosper in the future.

The image at the top of the post, of the Chinese Chan-Buddhist monk Wuzhun Shifan, was put into the public domain by The Yorck project.

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