Segment by Cognitive Age

Photo of man playing guitar

How old you “feel” is Cognitive Age.

As teenagers, we “feel” older. In our 20s and 30’s, we feel 20 or 30. Starting in our 40’s, we feel younger than our chronological age. I remember feeling 27 for a loooong time. Most people in their 80’s feel 15 years younger.

Cognitive “feel” age is a better predictor of consumer behavior than chronological “calendar” age. Saavy marketers segment their customers by cognitive “feel” age, which is a psychographic lifestyle variable.

People with lower cognitive age are savvy and confident shoppers. Life events — illness,  widowhood — raise cognitive age.

Frail elders — customers of Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), and every in-home personal and medical care agency — have a higher cognitive age. As consumers, they exhibit less confidence in their decision-making journey. Hence, they require more education, time and trust to make purchase decisions.

Confidence-building events could also lower cognitive age, and increase confidence in purchasing decisions. Examples of confidence-building events could be social successes, “firsts” such as a first airplane or first trip abroad, or learning a new technology.

For older consumers, then, marketers can do 4 things:

  1. Identify segments based on cognitive age
  2. Create a marketing journey specific to each segment
  3. Discover the desire of your target customer
  4. Create an experience that increases confidence

How do you segment customers by cognitive age?

Create a survey with 4 questions:

  1. I feel like I’m in my… 20s, 30s…80s
  2. I look like I’m in my…
  3. My interests are those of a person in their…
  4. I do things a person does in their…

[Based on research by Barak & Schiffman, 1981]

“Human nature hasn’t changed for a billion years. It won’t even change in the next billion years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man: what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motives him.
– Bill Bernbach, founder of ad agency DDG.

The work and toil of the marketer is to know her customer. Not just based on what they say (on surveys and focus groups), but to go deeper. Identify the spark of desire or need, then work to amplify it.

Change the experience for cognitively older customers

In much of senior care, enrollment teams want quick wins: pre-qualified marketing leads that are ready to close.

Yet if we empathize with the cognitive age of the “marketing lead,” we will be ready to engage with that person for a longer period of time. We will have more conversations. We will know the enrollment cycle might be 2 years. We will “check in” with people who are not ready right now, but might be if circumstances change. We will be their rock, operating in the background.

In senior care, your market is defined: there are only so many people who are frail each year (8% of the 65+ population). People cycle “into” frailty, or near frailty, without planning to.

The experience of your customer with your brand is crafted by the marketer. However it does not reside only in the “marketing” department. I believe everyone is “in marketing.” Identify how everyone who touches the customer experience brings the customer down the road, the journey, towards your solution.

Scroll to Top