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Innovating for our longer lives – getting it right

There is a need for better products, services and marketing strategies if businesses are to seize the opportunity of longer lives.

The Centre for Ageing Better and Big Society Capital recently published a paper looking at where investment and innovation is needed to meet the needs and aspirations of an ageing population. The paper proposes how the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund could fill identified gaps and complement existing initiatives.

For many of us, as we age what we want from our products and services changes. And with more of us living for longer, there’s a huge opportunity for businesses to innovate to meet those changing wants and needs.  

But this opportunity is being missed: 82% of those over 55 say that their favourite retail brand no longer understands them or what they need.

We need better products, services and marketing strategies if UK business is to grasp the opportunity of our longer lives. In doing so, they could not only reap huge dividends but also help people to age healthily and stay independent, active and connected for longer.

The £98m Industrial Strategy Healthy Ageing Challenge Fund provides a significant opportunity for businesses to develop and scale products and services which will help us all to age well.

We recently worked with Big Society Capital to review the current ageing innovation and investment landscape. This, and our Healthy Ageing Challenge Framework, were used by UKRI to inform the development of the challenge fund.  

The Industrial Strategy Healthy Ageing Challenge Fund provides a significant opportunity for businesses to develop and scale products and services which will help us all to age well.
The best innovation puts the needs of its audience first

Through this work, we’ve seen a growing interest in how we can innovate to support our ageing population and realise the opportunities brought on by longer lives. However, whilst this interest has grown, it’s not always been directed to the right issues. There’s plenty more that could be done to make a real impact on how we all experience and enjoy our later lives.

So, if you’re a funder or innovator interested in ageing, here’s some of the key ingredients we think are needed for successful ageing-focused innovations: 

  1. Better understand the consumer: currently older consumers are understood as a homogenous '50+' group. What drives our purchasing decisions in later life? What changes in our needs, aspirations and attitudes from 55 to 85? 
  2. Stop focusing on 'older people' and start thinking differently about 'ageing': ageing is too often treated as synonymous with ill-health and decline, resulting in innovations which focus on managing decline. We need to move beyond specialist products for 'older people' and start developing more aspirational, inclusive products.
  3. Lived experience and evidence must drive innovation: co-design should be at the heart of every innovation, be it the development of a new product or service, the tweaking of an existing one, or a shift in a marketing and outreach strategy.
  4. Tackle inequalities head-on: we need to put inequalities front-and-centre if we are to fully realise the opportunities of our ageing society. Too often, businesses rely on selling to 'premium customers' to achieve financial viability, but then few reach sufficient scale to penetrate the mass-market. Making tackling inequalities the focus could also be a huge opportunity - could frugal innovation help unlock greater creativity?
  5. Tread carefully with technology: technology will be vital to unlocking the opportunities of our longer lives. However, we must avoid tech-led innovation (i.e. Technology hammers looking for ageing nails) and instead consider how technology can enable the shifts we need to see. We also mustn't forget that technology won't always be the right answer and won't be something everyone can and wants to access.
  6. Pay attention to the system: we can't think about products and services in isolation of the wider system within which they operate. Often, the innovation gap is not about the technology or product itself, but the service and system within which is operates. There's no point collecting data which predicts a fall if the right services and support aren't available to help prevent it. Innovations in systems and in delivery and financing models can unlock significant opportunities.

It's clear that businesses aren’t doing enough to meet the needs of their older customers. 95% of those over 55 say they would consider cheating on their favourite retailer with a competitor – businesses need to change their approach to customers in later life if they are to retain their competitive advantage.

Let's innovate to help us live the longer lives we want to lead, rather than to avoid or manage the one we fear.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF): Healthy ageing innovation and investment in the UK

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Jemma Mouland
Senior Innovation Manager