Older people whose children have left home to start their own careers and families can often feel sad and nostalgic but also excited about the next chapter of their own lives.
The peak age for empty nesters is between 55 and 64, and many are still working. Others will use their new-found freedom to follow their dreams and travel, or buy goods they have always longed to own.
According to The Life Stages of Mail research by Royal Mail’s MarketReach, empty nesters still enjoy traditional TV and newspapers and tend to be optimistic about life. In fact, 75% agree they can ‘afford to splash out on luxury goods sometimes’.
What is noticeable is how this group are not as keen as younger people to respond to direct mail using digital technology.
While 30% of older families respond this way, for empty nesters the figure falls to 21%. They are more likely to respond by phone or by post.
Quality brochures encourage empty nesters to book holidays
The River Cruise Line, based in Market Harborough, organises trips across Europe and it has noticed this trend. Its target demographic is 50+ with most of its target audience aged 65+. Its direct marketing activity focuses largely on generic and seasonal brochures promoting its trips to the Baltic Isles or to European Christmas markets, for example.
Every brochure features high quality and inspirational images and explains in detail how each cruise works and the travel arrangements involved.
“Our marketing is very much targeted at empty nesters,” says Pat Tempest, head of brand marketing. “River cruising appeals to an older age group so brochures explain how everything is taken care of. We use the best photography we can on our budget to promote our destinations and show real people’s experiences. We use phrases like ‘picture this’ and we talk about ‘journeys’.”
She adds that brochures are an effective way to counter negative perceptions and allow people to find out more information in their own time. “For instance, there are no single supplements and booking is easy. We also show potential customers they can telephone our call centre to find out more and to book.”
When River Cruise Lines introduced its latest ship ms Serenity last year promotional brochures were sent out in advance of any marketing for its other ships. There were early bird offers and the company exceeded its booking target by 40%.
Tempest says the brochures often sit on people’s coffee tables for weeks or months and are shared with friends. “Empty nesters like to share their experiences and the brochures explain how we support people who want to travel in groups.”
The good news for marketers is that people reaching this stage have years of experience of receiving mail and feel comfortable getting relevant mail at home. However, many are no longer as engaged with mail as they perhaps were when they were part of a larger family.
Personally addressed mail is more effective because it’s deemed more trustworthy
One of the reasons empty nesters are less engaged than they used to be is because of the amount of items they receive. Almost 20% receive between three and five items of addressed mail every day. This comes from a variety of sectors including financial services and charities, and most mail is opened out of habit rather than excitement.
However, the research shows that empty nesters tend to decide immediately if they will respond to a piece of mail they have opened. They are also more likely than people at other life stages to leave mail around the house to read again and to keep it, especially if it is timely and relevant.
The advice for marketers is to ensure mail is personally addressed, respectful and is not condescending. Messaging that inspires, empowers and reassures empty nesters will cut through, according to the research.
This age group are keen to hear about the different choices they can make and, although their children might have moved on, they still feel responsible for them and their grandchildren.
Challenger brands using direct mail should use ‘good value messaging
This group can dislike shopping but they do believe they are very good at managing money, either for their retirement or their everyday life. Challenger brands can exploit this using direct mail.
In the satellite TV sector, for instance, Freesat’s marketing budget must compete with big spending Sky and BT, and it actively targets older people using door drops.
Marketing director Jennifer Elworthy says the brand sees strong results among empty nesters who love watching TV.
The company’s own research found that the vast majority of the 1,000 most popular shows watched by Sky customers are available on free-to-air services like Freesat and Freeview. These include The Great British Bake Off, EastEnders and I’m A Celebrity. The mail features images from the TV programmes people love to watch and reminds them that they can view these shows without paying a subscription.
“We use mail to tell people they may be paying for shows and channels they never watch,” says Elworthy. “We also look at people’s hobbies and use customer case studies to illustrate what someone could do with the money they might save.”
The company works closely with its agency group Havas and knows that many people at this life stage are concerned about how they spend their money.
She adds: “I see direct mail as a prompt. Older people might have also seen a TV commercial or a reference to Freesat in a retailer. A door drop will often include a discount offer that they can take to one of our retail partners.”
The day children leave home can be a sad time but for many parents it presents an opportunity to spend more time and money on themselves. They are used to receiving direct mail and will read and engage with it if the content is relevant and inspires them, and brands who follow the rules stand to benefit from a life stage where people are usually mortgage- as well as child-free.
- 74% agree you should take responsibility for your own financial security after retirement
- Empty nesters spend 18 minutes a day reading mail
- 26% have responded to an item of mail in the last 12 months
- 39% say they are comfortable on their present income
- 64% agree they would feel less in control without printed copies of important documents