What They Want vs What You Think They Need

By:  Richard Caro   |  Posted: April 27, 2018   |  Updated: July 18, 2023


I’ve said it before. Most of the products for older adults that we see are frankly not very good.

There are lots of reasons for this, and I wrote an entire article about them here. But there are two things in particular that are especially frustrating, because by now entrepreneurs really should have learned to watch out for them.

I think of them as the “eat your broccoli” error, and the “I know how to market to 40 year olds” issue.

I mainly wrote this article to give me an excuse to embed a fantastic video that you will see below (embedded with permission). It does a better job than I can of illustrating these two potential pitfalls. But I wrote a bit more explanation about these two pitfalls below the video.

Please do watch the video below. I bet you will laugh.


View the “Uninvited Guests” Video

Eat your broccoli error

The entrepreneur decides, often encouraged by clinicians or aging services workers, that older adults really “need” something. They set out to make a product to address that need.

But guess what? They forget to talk to older adults themselves, and forget to try and find out if they actually “want” the thing they are supposed to “need”.

It’s like telling your kid to eat their broccoli. It may well be very good for them. But do they want it?

And what happens if the older adults don’t want it? They don’t use it.


I know how to market to 40 year olds

This one is more nuanced. Here is how the conversation goes.

Entrepreneur: “We think older adults should really like the product we are developing (although we talked so far mainly to my grandmother). The trouble is that we just don’t know how to reach those older adults. The channels seem not to exist, or if they do exist we don’t know how to access them.

So we have decided it makes more sense to market this product to the family of the older adult. We know how to reach them.

Our messaging is going to be that the product we are working on will give the “alpha daughter (or son)” peace of mind that their loved one is doing well and is well looked after. And they will persuade their parent / loved one to use the product.”

Now, sometimes this may indeed be the right approach. But at the end of the day, if it is the older adult’s house, and if they don’t also like the product, a pivot is on the horizon.


About this video

Uninvited Guests is a short film that explores the frictions between an elderly man and his smart home.

Thomas, aged 70, lives on his own after his wife died last year. His children send him smart devices to track and monitor his diet, health and sleep from a distance. But Thomas has always been fiercely independent, happy to live in an organised mess. He struggles with the order and rules imposed on him by the objects that are meant to make his life easier. In a world where “smart objects” will increasingly be used to provide care at a distance, how will we live with these uninvited guests?

This film was created by Superflux Lab for the ThingTank project. For further information visit: Superflux: Uninvited Guests.

This video is republished here with permission from Superflux.


And the ASA likes it too

After I wrote this article, I was attending the American Society on Aging conference in San Francisco. Lo and behold, in the first of the main “general sessions”, they showed …. this video.

I guess these ideas are gaining traction, which is great to see.






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