Sell Umbrellas When It's Raining

By The Age of Aging Archives
Cover image for  article: Sell Umbrellas When It's Raining

If you've ever been in Manhattan when it starts to rain, you've likely seen opportunistic marketing at its best: the sidewalk umbrella salesman. No one knows where he comes from, but in a moment's notice, he's there to bail you out with a $5 umbrella that might as well be priceless. Like the onset of rain, the aging of the world's population is an opportunistic event for responsive marketers. Those who are agile enough to be in the right place at the right time will realize great gains while helping people get better with age.

There's a lot to admire about our street-savvy sidewalk salesman. He has a brilliant product and has built an operating model that's flexible enough to respond to a simple change in meteorological pressure. Give the guy credit. By today's standards, he was the original pop-up store and pioneered programmatic by connecting with a specific customer in a specific context in real time.

While his agility is remarkable, he's also a genius at understanding value. When the skies open up and his customers are caught unprepared, a cheap umbrella is not only valuable, it becomes invaluable. It doesn't matter if he's selling a poorly made product that's essentially disposable. Because he's able to efficiently supply product only when demand is high, the value of his offering escalates off the charts. He makes high margins and his customers are elated.

So, why are we talking about umbrellas? Because there's a remarkable parallel between our scrappy street vendor and marketing to age. Here's what large multinational brands can learn from a humble umbrella salesman:

Prepare for Demand Events

Rain is a predictable event that prompts a high demand for umbrellas. Similarly, the aging of the world's population is a very real and known dynamic that has been and will continue to reshape global economies and marketplaces. In a world that has close to 1.5 billion people who are 50 and older, aging is a mega demand event.

While aging is predictable, its consequences are not. Each day, people age in new ways and marketers are in a strong position to serve them with innovation that addresses their needs and enhances their lives. Rain may come and go, but aging is here to stay. To capitalize on it, you need to prepare for it, which fundamentally begins with embracing it.

Too many marketers look the other way on the aging opportunity because they don't want to associate their brand with imagery that might not be aspirational to the up-and-coming millennials. Like everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way to market to age. Be confident that you can figure it out because it's too big of a demand event to ignore.

Serve Aging with Agility:

Agility is used so often these days that it's become a bit of a cliché. But if you're the umbrella guy, it's your raison d'être; he succeeds because his inventory is portable, and he can do business the moment the rain begins.

The trend of aging is obvious; the dynamics of how people are aging — and reacting to it — are not. Take Aging in Place, for example, which is a massive movement within the trend of aging. Rapid advances in technology and the proliferation of home-directed services are making it easier for people to age in the comfort of their own home, so this space is changing at a blistering rate.

If you're not agile enough to predict change or react to it, it's easy to quickly fall far behind. And remember, since boomers are aging for the first time, they don't really know what they want until they need it. You'll need to turn on a dime to win by offering products and services precisely at the point of their emerging needs.

Create Value Through Understanding:

A shrewd sidewalk salesman knows where to be to target the people who need umbrellas the most and will pay the most. In a city of labyrinthian underground passageways, he's done his homework to figure out where people will be exposed and more likely to get wet.

No matter how big and successful your business is, you have to be sure that you understand what's going on at the street level. Getting this right is challenging for brands marketing to people of age because many are in denial and aren't expressing their true needs. If and when you do figure them out, you'll need to be able to communicate with them authentically and do so in a "location" where they're most likely to be receptive to your message. This a fundamental of success and it cannot be emphasized enough.

Ask yourself a simple question: What's the equivalent of rain for your brand and business, and how can you be seen as invaluable when that moment comes?

If you've been a marketer long enough, you know how easy it is to overcomplicate things, and the proliferation of technology and modern marketing tactics isn't helping matters. At times like this, it's inspiring to revisit simple, successful scenarios such as the umbrella salesman.

If you've never marketed to age, you're sure to have gaps in your mastery and they'll be unsettling. When this happens, take a step back and revisit the fundamentals that are so clearly obvious in our simple sidewalk business. Build a strong brand foundation based on solid consumer understanding and be sure you have a culture of innovation that's agile and responsive. When you do this well, you'll be able to weather any storm while still looking your best.

Photo courtesy of BoomAgers.

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