Appliance makers GE and Whirlpool have been quick to recognised to economic power of the silver tsunami (or baby boomers over the age of 50!) and are making great strides in product development. The Wall Street Journal in it’s article Home Appliances to Soothe the Aches of Aging Boomers provides a few examples:

– Whirlpool now offers washing machines with large knobs that make louder-than-usual noise when they’re set. They also offer a pedestal beneath Whirlpool dryer reduces stooping when removing laundry.

– At GE’s consumer and industrial headquarters in Louisville, designers use “empathy sessions” where members of the product-development team tape their knuckles to simulate impaired dexterity. GE’s Engineers and designers have been very busy “boomerising” their products and now proudly offer:
– Ovens with easier-to-open doors and automatic shut-off burners.
– Stoves designed to prevent boil-overs.
– Stoves that you don’t have to reach far into – to prevent boomers from stooping awkwardly, losing their balance and burning themselves on the hot stove!
– Fridges with brighter LED lighting to improve visibility
– Dishwashers and washing machines that allow users to put in an entire bottle of detergent a few times a year rather than a smaller amount for every load. Supposedly the machines are designed to reduce confusion and make housework less of a chore, as GE neatly puts “particularly for older consumers”.

All of these new product designs are great for “old people” but try telling baby boomers that you are selling them a product that will remind them on a daily basis that they are OLD! I’d like to meet the marketer who is able put a positive spin on this marketing message because I don’t believe it exists.

Baby Boomers may be getting old but one of their core values is that of youth and vitality. Designing a product that reminds them they are old is not going to win you any points. Rather companies need to be developing products that enhance boomers lifestyles allow them to enjoy themselves and frees up their time to go skiing (spending their kids inheritance) GE may be taping up the fingers of their product designers but they are failing to use the “empathy sessions” to help get their designers into the heads of baby boomers so that they can understand what drives them and makes baby boomers tick.

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