In summer of 2018, my grandma fell down the stairs and bruised her body — a big wake-up call to my family who always saw her as a strong, invincible woman. After that experience, I wondered how I could use my skills and background in construction tech to tackle the problem of senior safety in the home. Inspired by the statistic that nearly 90% of seniors want to age in their own homes, I conceptualized, explored, and designed a product to help seniors age-in-place more safely. The full story is below.
Brands are jumping at the opportunity to design better products for seniors that keep them independent and dignified. Here’s a snapshot of what those products look like.
However, seniors are a difficult audience to reach because:
They can’t be reached with digital advertising
Need a high touch-point sales experience before they purchase
Need training and installation for products
As a result, seniors end up missing out on products that could help them. On the other hand, brands end up not effectively distributing their products to their customers and are forced to use suboptimal distribution channels.
In order to reach seniors, I decided to volunteer at SAGE and DOROT, two of NYC’s best senior communities, which gave me the opportunity to be around seniors and the many professionals who make it their life service to help them. Here are some of the groups that I interviewed:
When was the last time you made a major change to the home? What was the reason?
Do you have a desire to ever leave your home?
Have you ever fallen or experienced an accident? If so, can you tell me what happened?
Do you generally feel safe in the bathroom, using the stairs, etc?
Do you have issues navigating your home with your mobility devices (canes, walkers, etc.?)
Interviewing adult caregivers…
The second group I interviewed were children with parents or grandparents who are seniors. Since this applies to most people, I took the opportunity to turn this into a quantitative research study and created a survey that I distributed on social media, Facebook groups, Reddit, and in various senior email groups that I’m in. I received about 80 responses total. Here is a snapshot of some of the results:
As you can see, some of the results were surprising to me. The fact that nearly half of my respondents said that they worry about their parent most of the time indicates that there was a huge need not just to make seniors more safe but to also make their children less worried for them.
Through our user research, I discovered two main personas.
First, is the senior.
Older lady in her 70s+
Mostly independent but may need help with activities of daily living due to mobility/health problems
Doesn’t use the Internet
Maintain her independence due to her adamance of not moving to a senior home
Preserve her integrity and the look-and-feel of her own home
Learn about new products that can help her stay independent
I came across an interesting recurring second persona in my research. Eventually, she became an integral part of the solution that I ended up coming up with.
Second, is the caring baby boomer.
Preparing for retirement, recently retired, or stay-at-home mom
Knows plenty of seniors in her community
To start her own business and make extra money on the side
A flexible schedule
Feeling of purpose
Marble is a platform that empowers a network of independent salespeople (called ‘consultants’) to connect seniors with products that help them age-in-place.
Marble gives our consultants:
Training on evaluating a senior’s needs
Tools to help educate seniors and more effectively close sales
A marketplace of products with exclusive deals
There are three main pillars to Marble: content, community, and interactive surveys. Below, I illustrate how each of these might look on the platform.
We leverage a community of experts to provide high-quality content to our readers. Beyond just information, we help our users find the best products & resources available to them.
Users can post questions, chat with experts, and vote for best answers. We also want to leverage people who want to give back to their communities and also make money on the side.
Our interactive and adaptive surveys help seniors and their families come up with custom solutions for their unique health and home needs.
Just because you should do something, doesn’t mean you will do it (until you have to).
Think about the dentist. You know you should get your teeth cleaned twice a year, floss daily, wear your retainers, and so forth. If you’re like most people, you likely don’t do all of that until something is wrong. Most seniors that I interviewed didn’t find that they needed anything done differently to their homes, even when their kids felt very differently. The home in particular is a place with a lot of emotional attachment and seniors are reluctant to modify it against their will. It’s usually not until an emergency happens — such as a fall or diagnosis — that home safety changes are made in the home. It will take a lot of years of educating society about the importance of designing for longevity before a solution like this becomes widespread.
Choose your customers wisely.
Sometimes the key to success is thinking differently about who benefits from the product and therefore who may purchase it. For example, we could start by directly targeting concerned children or healthcare providers that benefit from decreased hospitalization. Recently, a few digital health tech startups have found success by selling to employers, selling them on the idea that a healthy employee not only costs less in the long-run but also is more productive. There’s no harm in trying different approaches to who your customer is, as long as you genuinely care about their needs.
Branding matters immensely to seniors.
If you are marketing directly to seniors, use terms like ‘longevity’ over ‘aging-in-place’ and avoid using words like ‘seniors’ or ‘elderly’. It’s very easy to turn a senior off from your product if they feel that they are being grouped with other people that they don’t personally identify with (wouldn’t you also?). It takes a good deal of empathy to realize that seniors want the same things we want and to emphasize those values in your product—good health, fun, enjoyment, liveliness, independence, and self-fulfillment.