The debate in your pages on the merits of Marks & Spencer producing fashion ranges for older women misses a fundamental point. Too often, when companies persuade themselves that targeting the nation’s wealthiest consumers is actually a good idea, they then fail to communicate with them successfully.
The mature market has not been tried and found wanting: it has been tried and found too difficult. This is because most marketers do not learn the basics of how older consumers buy, and I would be surprised if M&S suddenly becomes the exception to the rule. Look at its disastrous attempts to sell to “normal”-shaped women.
What companies have to understand is that the mature market makes buying decisions based on value and benefit, rather than brand and image. In this respect, M&S is in a perfect branding position to sell to women over 50 – but I suspect it will take the same route as it did with its sponsorship of David Beckham and try and pretend to be something it is not. Instead of playing to its strengths, M&S discards them and tries to reinvent itself. When it changed its clothing range and critical price points to appeal to younger consumers, existing older customers were quick to change their shopping habits.
The behaviour of M&S follows a general trend which would appear on the surface to be a type of vanity marketing. Every message has to appear to
be aimed at the youth and young family market. This is why we see endless car advertising that the majority of new-car buyers fail to understand.
There is now more talk than ever about the mature sector, and a growing number of major brands say they are going to address it. Let us hope they have learned from the mistakes of others.