Science Uncovers 
Persuasive Sales Secrets


Selling to Seniors is different in technique and persuasive application. Remember they are someone's Mom and Pop! 


This article appeared in The Trades, a hospitality and timeshare publication. 



With the average age of timeshare owners in their mid-fifties, tour qualifications into their sixties, and 40 being the “new 30,” your sales rooms are filled with all ages, from newlyweds to older adults. And for the most part you present the identical message day in and day out, from morning to night, regardless of age. That may be about to change.

Scientists have recently discovered important differences in the decision-making styles of older versus younger adults, and suggest adjusting for these differences could greatly improve outcomes. So says the study released by Yoon, Lee and Danziger in Psychology & Marketing (May 2007), entitled, “The Effects of Optimal Time of Day on Persuasion Processes in Older Adults.” These findings could have far-reaching effects upon the way you do business, present your product and count your profits.

It has long been suspected, and more recently substantiated, that as one’s grey hair advances, their grey matter recedes. This ground-breaking study ventures yet further, revealing that time of day also significantly affects how older adults process persuasive messages AND how they substitute heuristic means when cognitive resources are not as available.

Half of all vacation timeshare buyers are 52 years or older, and as reflected in this study were shown to be predominately “morning types,” those people reaching their cognitive peak early in the day. During these peak morning hours, they were more likely to be receptive to straight forward, cogent and thought-intensive information. Conversely, later in the day their attention and receptivity diminished and thought-intensive processes were avoided. 

This is a stunning revelation. If Yoon, Lee and Danziger are correct, simply scheduling older couples for morning presentations, when they are most receptive, is likely to improve sales. Thought-intensive explanations about the vacation exchange, the flexibility of the points system or the unique features of your club are best done in the morning when this age group is more willing and capable of assimilating the information. In other words, it’s the “When” of the “What” that’s important.


But wait, there’s more! As the study also points out, at less optimal times older adults faced with making a decision will avoid high-demand cognitive reasoning, preferring to compensate by switching to a lower resource means called heuristics.

Heuristics: A rule of thumb, simplification, or educated guess that reduces or limits the search for solutions in problems that are difficult and/or poorly understood.

For our purposes, let’s call them mental shortcuts to decision making. We all use them hundreds of times per day. They make coping easier and life less stressful. Rather than repeatedly making routine decisions, we rely on past experience, habits, trusted recommendations, movie reviews and those inherited rules from our parents. For marketing applications, we should also include peripheral influences such as user testimonials, illustrations, contextual images, video, brand awareness and even celebrity endorsements.

Here’s a familiar heuristic example: “If it sounds too good to be true... ,” meaning they don’t believe your explanation nor do they remember any past experience when such good fortune fell so easily from the sky. In this case, the “rule of thumb” resulted in a negative outcome. With the average age of timeshare owners in their mid-fifties, tour qualifications into their sixties, and 40 being the “new 30,” your sales rooms are filled with all ages, from newlyweds to older adults. And for the most part the identical message is presented day in and day out, from morning to night, regardless of age. That may be about to change. 


Half of all timeshare buyers are 52 years or older, and as reflected in this study were shown to be predominately “morning types,” those people reaching their cognitive peak early in the day. Heuristics cut both ways. They do not guarantee success or even optimal solutions. They work on probabilities and rely on trial and error. In the hands of a marketer or sales person they can strongly influence a desired outcome. For the customer they save time and mental energy concluding in acceptance, or, in the example above, rejection. 


 This rigorous study advances important theories of age-related cognitive changes and adaptive behavior, and adds significantly to the growing knowledge of human behavioral psychology. Field testing under actual sales and marketing conditions has not been done. Nor to my knowledge have subjective trials in the actual pressure cooker of timeshare sales been attempted. The study results do seem to confirm empirical observations of experienced timeshare professionals that real differences in persuasive approaches between age groups exist. Selling to older adults can at times be a breeze, and at others quickly end in confusion and exhaustion. The reasons, we now know, may lie in the availability of time-sensitive mental resources and the shift to less intense processes later in the day. The original study employed a relatively simple sales message to validate its premise. The inherent complexity of timeshare should provide even greater validation, and encourage the industry’s recognition of the study’s findings. Which, in relation to timeshare, we can summarize thusly:

Alignment of information content with the older adult’s current decision process optimizes the persuasive environment leading to greater customer acceptance, understanding and satisfaction. If scheduling this group for mornings when they are at optimal receptivity is not possible, then change is necessary in the presentation format to avoid mounting confusion, which in heuristic terms will signal caution, stalling or rejection by the customer. Their reasons for not buying may seem illogical—and they are, because they were most likely derived by heuristic means, not cognitive deduction.



Noting the possible misuse of this discovery, the author refers to the AARP Foundation’s concerns that in the hands of unethical and fraudulent marketers, such information can lead to an increase in scams and questionable marketing tactics targeted at older consumers. There is nothing written here that is suggesting such abuse. To the contrary, knowing when to say what you say can lead to a more confident, secure and knowledgeable customer who is more likely to purchase... and for all the right reasons.