The Jitterbug Phone...Turns Out It's For Seniors

from the Embarrassed-About-Our-Own-Customers dept

Mobile Health is a growing trend in the mobile application industry. There is a lot of interest around the potential to use mobile devices as medication reminders, and as local hubs of a Personal Area Network (PAN or BAN for 'Body') which can relay body sensor data to a central system, or medical personnel. Imagine a glucose sensor affixed to a diabetic tracking real-time blood sugar levels and relaying those to a doctor or a parent. With that, the MobileHealthNews blog has sprung up to cover the sector, and I read a good interview there with Jitterbug CEO David Inns. Jitterbug makes a phone that is pictured at the preceding link, which is designed to be easy to use for seniors, and provides associated services which older subscribers may find useful. Good. I have a lot of respect for a good segment strategy.

But when I saw them at trade shows, Jitterbug managers would say: "No, we're not just for older people, we're really for anybody who wants a simple experience." I reply "No, you're not. You boast bigger keys, a wizard interface, simple Yes No buttons, an audible dialtone, a three button model, hearing aid compatibility, operator assist, one touch 911 calling, and large fonts. Ergo, you're targeting seniors." They would deny it, so I'd pursue, "OK, so where's your marketing spend. I've seen you in AAA magazine, but haven't come across your ads on MTV yet. Where else do you advertise?" Knowing full well they advertise in the AARP magazine and launch products at AARP conferences [pdf]. But no soup for me. For years, I couldn't get the Jitterbug reps to admit that it was a phone for old people. I'll give them points for rigorous PR training, and keeping on message, but I don't agree with the strategy.

I get it. Great Call (Jitterbug) has decided that they don't want to look "uncool" by identifying their segment. But I'm not sure that is good business. If you're embarrassed about your customer base, are you likely to be serving it as well as you could? Is it that you are worried about scaring off young potential customers because your product "smells like old people"? Get over it. Most young people don't want a Jitterbug, just as most seniors wouldn't want a Nokia N95. If you completely believed in market segmentation, you'd get over yourselves, and get real.

That's why the recent interview with the CEO was such fun. The potential revenue of the Mobile Health sector is a powerful lure, but it's hard to play a central role when you are in denial of your attractive customer base of aging baby boomers. As a result, Jitterbug is scrambling to finally admit -- nay, boast of -- who their customer base is. CEO Inns says, "So many examples of wireless health services are being shown running on iPhones,... [is opportunity] really with the 30-year-olds? ...If you want to get serious about tackling the healthcare problems in this country where they actually exist, which is in the 60+ age group, then you should be working with us to develop services that are easy to use so they get compliance."

Jitterbug has built a community that has value, but has distanced itself from that community. That's not the way to open up opportunities in the 21st century, and that notion just clicked back at the Jitterbug Boardroom. Thank you, Jitterbug. It's taken about four years, but you've finally admitted who your customers are. Was that so bad?



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Alias (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 5:35pm

    Slight error

    Good article Derek, but I think you made a little error:

    "They would deny it, so I'd pursue, "OK, so where's your marketing spend."

    You probably meant "spent".

     

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    lux (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 6:16pm

    Hmm..

    "If you're embarrassed about your customer base, are you likely to be serving it as well as you could? Is it that you are worried about scaring off young potential customers because your product "smells like old people"?"

    It's speculative to assume Jitterbug is embarrassed by their customer base - I think you are reading too deeply into their behavior. Is a company more inclined to be "embarrassed" or more rather to just not deny a potential market. I'm pretty sure it's the latter.

    Moreover, the folks from the trade show came from Marketing/Sales - of course your not going to get a straight answer. Isn't that a give-in by now?

    Also, I'm sure you've seen Jitterbug commercials, where they portray men and women in their late 30's, early 40's assisting what is assume to be their parents with...Jitterbug phones.

    Again, I'd rather believe they are not embarrassed by their clientele, but rather don't want to openly deny a potential market, no matter how unintuitive (and ridiculous) it may seem. I'm not saying they are not specifically targeting seniors, which I think they are, I just don't think you're going to get the answer you're looking for from a guy in Sales. End of story.

     

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      Joe, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 6:09am

      Re: Hmm..

      I don't think you guys are giving them much credit. They know their audience better than anyone, and that audience doesn't want to be labeled "old people".

      For example, Apple doesn't openly target snobby people with more money than sense. But after a little marketing magic, they fall right in line and sales are good. (sent from an iPhone)

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 2:23pm

        Re: Re: Hmm..

        I don't think you guys are giving them much credit. They know their audience better than anyone, and that audience doesn't want to be labeled "old people".

        Exactly. I know people who could qualify for "senior citizen" discounts but skip it on many things simply because they don't want to be labeled a "senior citizen".

         

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    Tony, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 6:19pm

    They are for the young and young at heart!

    The fetchers offered would be great for the physically handicapped. You don't have to be old to be handicapped!

     

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    The Miataman, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 6:22pm

    The name says it all

    If they wanted to claim it's not just for old people, then they shouldn't have called it Jitterbug. The Jitterbug is a dance that was popular during World War II.

     

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      DS, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 5:50am

      Re: The name says it all

      Or a Wham song from the 80's.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

        Re: Re: The name says it all

        Or a Wham song from the 80's.

        Err, Wham! never had a song called "Jitterbug". Maybe you're thinking about "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" which mentions the Jitterbug dance.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 6:42pm

    Good thing it is not mandatory - yet ... but it will be

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 8:37pm

    Frankly, it is nice to see an electronic product that does not require an MSEE in order to use. Perhaps the company will expand its product line to include remote controls and other purported labor saving devices that are anything but labor saving.

    Say what you will, but something akin to a POTS is not a bad thing for anyone at any age. In fact, I keep a POTS on hand in my emergency kit should storms descend upon Florida as was the case 4 years ago. Power was lost...so no cordless phones would work. Cell towers were damaged...so no cell service. What did work? That silly dinosaur known as a POTS.

     

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      chris (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 9:17pm

      Re:

      Say what you will, but something akin to a POTS is not a bad thing for anyone at any age. In fact, I keep a POTS on hand in my emergency kit should storms descend upon Florida as was the case 4 years ago. Power was lost...so no cordless phones would work. Cell towers were damaged...so no cell service. What did work? That silly dinosaur known as a POTS.

      the tone on the jitterbug is a form of comfort tone and not an actual dialtone. it's still a cellular phone with all of the zombie apocalypse vulnerabilities associated with cellular phones.

      that said, i too am sort of a fan of oldschool phone gear. i just finished building a beige box and can't wait to clip into something :-)

       

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      nasch (profile), Jun 9th, 2009 @ 1:47pm

      Re:

      POTS refers to the network, not the phone. You can have a corded phone on a VOIP line, or a cordless phone using POTS.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 2:54pm

        Re: Re:

        POTS refers to the network, not the phone. You can have a corded phone on a VOIP line, or a cordless phone using POTS.

        The difference is the POTS network provides power to regular POTS phones which allows them to work when main power is off. I don't know of any VOIP or cordless phones that are network powered, which I think was the point being made.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 10:46pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You are correct, but to me it somehow sounded better to say POTS for emergencies than POT.

          VOIP is nice until the power is lost and one's rechargeable power supply drains down to nothing. Same for cordless phones since once power is lost they are relegated to little more than paperweights.

          So many people seem to equate "old" systems with "buggy whips" that they overlook the fact a "buggy whip" may very well be the one thing that gets them through an emergency situation.

           

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    Haywood, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 8:49pm

    I think they took it too far

    All that is really needed is big buttons & easy to read lcd, + an easy to use interface. That and the ability to shop around various cell plans to get a decent deal. What I've seen of seniors targeted phones is proprietary locked in BS. The fact that one is needing reading glasses isn't proof of needing depends and a keeper.

     

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    retzer, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 9:00pm

    This has some parallels to Toyota's Scion. It's well known that the Scion is exclusively marketed to the 30 and under urban demographic. But it's not so well known that the average buyer is a lot older, especially buyers of the xB sedan and xD hatchback. The oldsters like the cars because they are cheap and reliable. There is already a backlash among the young hip crowd who are seeing Scions driven by people the same age as their parents or even their grandparents. It's giving Toyota fits and may already be hurting Scion sales, though with this economy everything is crazy.

    Toyota's philosophy has eerie similarities to GM's thinking in the 1950s and 1960s: sell Chevys to younger families, Buicks or Oldsmobiles to the middle aged and Cadillacs to older, more affluent empty nesters. Toyota wants to wean the youngsters on Scions, sell the Toyotas to soccer moms and their midlevel executive husbands and finally the Lexus to the affluent older crowd.

     

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    iyogi (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 9:38pm

    RE:

    Is it that you are worried about scaring off young potential customers because your product "smells like old people"? Get over it. Most young people don't want a Jitterbug, just as most seniors wouldn't want a Nokia N95. If you completely believed in market segmentation, you'd get over yourselves, and get real.

     

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    Robin Smith (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:04pm

    Seniors or non tech savvy?

    I get the feeling Jitterbug is directed more at the non tech segment of the population regardless of age; the same people who couldn't, or wouldn't, set the time on a VCR with the instructions in their hand. Every generation has lots of folks who don't get tech or just don't care.

    I just wish my Centro was hearing aid compliant like my old Ericsson.

     

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    Doctor Strange, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:18pm

    If you're embarrassed about your customer base, are you likely to be serving it as well as you could?

    Do you offer any evidence that they're not?

    I may not be an Expert at the Insight Community, but having seen their television advertising it's pretty clear where at least one big market for their phone is. (I also see the clear potential for other customers: small children or the physically challenged, for example).

    So let me get the story straight: Jitterbug markets their product in a way that makes it perfectly obvious to absolutely everyone that a primary market for their phone is seniors. You push their trade show reps, and they deny marketing ONLY to seniors (which is true), and they claim there are other potential customers (also true). You claim that Jitterbug has somehow made a mistake by distancing itself from seniors, or somehow under-serving them (but you don't provide any specific data to indicate that this is actually happening, or how). Now they are adding even more senior-oriented features and admitting they market to seniors (which it doesn't seem they ever denied), and so you get to say "I told you so" to them.

    Congratulations?

     

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:54pm

      Re:

      "Do you offer any evidence that they're not?"

      Yes. My repeated interactions with them, which I cited and quoted.

      You're free to assume I'm an idiot who got the story all wrong, but in reality, I've spoken with many people at trade shows, and would not have noted anything peculiar about a standard target demographic story. The thing that made the Great Call interactions stand out like a sore thumb was that they DENIED that they had a senior segment strategy...the thing the CEO is now claiming as his core.

      "...they deny marketing ONLY to seniors" No, like I said, they denied targeting the senior market AT ALL. No targeting, "We're for anyone who wants a simpler phone."

      This, to me, is like Nick Jr. denying that Dora the Explorer is a being targeted to the children's market.

      I never claimed to be "Insightful" to notice the target demographic of this phone. It's obvious to any moron in a hurry. That's what made their denial so funny. And it went on for years! I wasn't an asshat to them when I spoke to them, it was all very polite and cordial. But I did push the question about the intended customers.

      Hey, I really like the Jitterbug phone. I think it's great to have products that fill every niche of the market. Vive la difference, competition is good, not everyone wants to twitter about geocaching on a Palm Pre. I would have been proud of the boomer segment strategy, and how well the device fits it - from day 1.

      I didn't "I told you so" them. They knew who their customers were all along. The only reason they've changed tack is because there is now potential revenue in mobile health, and having a community of baby boomers is a good market.

       

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        Doctor Strange, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 12:09am

        Re: Re:

        Yes. My repeated interactions with them, which I cited and quoted.

        Your repeated interactions with them, which you cited and quoted, seem only to reveal that their marketing people at tradeshows denied marketing to seniors (at all, or principally, it doesn't matter). However, you use this to insinuate that this means that they have been somehow under-serving that market:

        "are you likely to be serving it as well as you could?"

        All the evidence you cite (the ad venues, the actual content of the ads, the features they added to their phones) indicates that they were doing a bang-up job of serving seniors. As a layperson who doesn't know every feature-set of every phone in existence, the ONLY phone I can think of that even attempted to serve this market was the Jitterbug.

        So I'm not sure what exactly they were doing wrong here, other than failing to convince you personally that they had and were executing a Derek Kerton-approved "segment strategy."

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 2:59pm

        Re: Re:

        "Do you offer any evidence that they're not?"

        Yes. My repeated interactions with them, which I cited and quoted.


        I think you need to learn the difference between "evidence" and "claims".

         

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          Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 4:42pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think you need to put this discussion into perspective, and see that it's not so important that we need to call in Woodward, Bernstein, and deep throat.

          I think talking to them, first person, counts as primary research. That's evidence enough in this context. I'm not suing them or accusing them of a crime.

           

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    NonplussedWanderer, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 4:52am

    Yep. So what?

    Do you fancy yourself as "Erin Brockovich v2.0" or something?

    Congratulations. You get to wear the "Captain Obvious" cape for a fleeting moment.

    Hip-Hip, bleedin' hooray...

     

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 4:46pm

      Re: Yep. So what?

      Way to demonstrate the high level of insight required to comment that something I said was obvious, was indeed obvious. That makes your comment obvious to the power of 3.

      Also, congratulations on ignoring the two upshots:
      1) mobile health is at an inflexion point
      2) a segmentation strategy that is embarrased of the segment is ill-conceived.

       

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    purpleslog, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 6:27am

    I saw it advertised in the old printer version of US News.

     

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    Some Dude, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    @ Derek: who is really embarrassed?

    Hey Derek: I don't think that it is Jitterbug that is embarrassed of their customers, it's an issue of the customers not comfortable with being seniors. With the whole baby boom generation reaching older age, they believe themselves to be a different breed of retirees (not my parents old people). They are active, vocal, and young at heart. While not all may have the tech savvy to use a smart phone and would love something as simple as the Jitterbug to keep them modern, they don't want to admit that they are seniors just yet. Therefore Jitterbug, by denying they are for seniors while directly targeting them, is simply cleverly pursuing their target market while catering to their beliefs. I don't think it is a misguided business strategy that will hurt them, I think it's genius!

     

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    Both Def AND Deaf, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 9:27am

    Why the stupid stereotypes?

    You boast bigger keys, a wizard interface, simple Yes No buttons, an audible dialtone, a three button model, hearing aid compatibility, operator assist, one touch 911 calling, and large fonts. Ergo, you're targeting seniors.


    Hmmm... one of those things are not like the others, and considering that I am only 32 and wear hearing aids in both ears I'd really like you to reconsider some of your biases and stereotypes...

    Misconceptions like the ones you perpetuated makes it harder for me to find out whether a particular cell phone will work with my hearing aids or not--luckily there are starting to be websites that list cell phone functionality and I am able to look models up before I buy them, rather than harass the poor store workers who generally haven't got a clue. Maybe if this stereotype did not exist that "hearing aid compatibility is for old farts" manufacturers would list it on the packages as yet another feature, instead of hiding it for fear of losing the youth and young adult market.

     

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      nasch (profile), Jun 9th, 2009 @ 1:53pm

      Re: Why the stupid stereotypes?

      What percentage of hearing aids are sold to those over 60, compared to those under 40, do you suppose?

       

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 4:50pm

      Re: Why the stupid stereotypes?

      On my hockey team, and in many sports where noses of either gender are vulnerable to blows, the best stopper for a bloody nose is a piece of a tampon shoved in the nostril.

      With your arguments, I should be angry at the "sterotyping" of calling the tampon industry the "female hygiene" industry. I am a customer too.

      Or, maybe, I should just understand that conventional business addresses the mass market, and the niche (long tail) gets less direct attention. You seem a bit touchy on this one, which I guess I can appreciate, but I don't agree with you at all.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 3:03pm

    Big Difference

    You boast bigger keys, a wizard interface, simple Yes No buttons, an audible dialtone, a three button model, hearing aid compatibility, operator assist, one touch 911 calling, and large fonts. Ergo, you're targeting seniors.

    There's a big difference between "targeting" seniors and calling them seniors.

     

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    Jimmy Suggs, Jun 9th, 2009 @ 4:47pm

    Yeesh

    I kinda feel sorry for Jitterbug. They've got a pushy Website writer breathing down their neck, demanding they identify what that writer sees as their market base, etc. Question to the writer: why do you care so much? This isn't a company making poison and marketing it as candy. Why is this so important? This is a problem I'm running across more and more on the internet: everyone wants to rattle some sabers and break some huge story, to the point where they'll help CREATE the story in order to do so. But there is no story here. This isn't news, this is a witch hunt and a very lame one at that. I'd strongly suggest that the writer of this article focus on issues that actually matter. Pinning Jitterbug to the wall means absolutely nothing and it's basically a pointless waste of time. But yaaaaaaaay, you win. You got that filthy lying company to admit that their product is primarily aimed towards old people. We'll send your Pulitzer right over, you absolutely earned it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2009 @ 1:02am

      Re: Yeesh

      This isn't news, this is a witch hunt... blah blah blah

      I've got news for you: Techdirt isn't, and doesn't claim to be, a news site. Maybe you'd be happier if you went to a news site instead.

       

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 4:56pm

      Re: Yeesh

      We like pointing out business blunders. And wins. You seem to like pointing out what you see as blog blunders. Same, same, no?

      Either way, if you paid attention, you'd have noticed that my article is (aside from my jab at their marketing strategy) quite complementary to Jitterbug. I think they deliver a great device, well targeted to seniors. I think they DO have a good community of users for targeting mobile health.

      My post may very well have informed a bunch of people about the Jitterbug phone (who never heard of it before). Techdirt gets a lot of traffic - I may have just generated a few hundred Jitterbug sales to Techdirt readers with aging parents.

      Instead of the classic "damning with faint praise" I praised with faint damning.

      No story, you say? The story:
      - good segment phone
      - mobile health growing
      - companies shouldn't be embarrassed about their customers

       

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    Aaron, Apr 27th, 2010 @ 7:34pm

    I Believe You Are Looking For Just5 Phone

    Based on how you delivered your words, I believe that you are looking for a company that produces cell phone models for seniors with true compassion to their target customers. If that is the case, you can brag the Just5 phone. This brand of cell phone has features that are especially designed for seniors such as clear and big keypad, louder volume, emergency S.O.S button, and ease of operation. These are designed to provide their clients a peace of mind.

    You can also take note that Just5 phone is not solely designed for seniors but also for the technophobe youngsters or people of any age who want to use a simple yet stylistic phone.


    www.Just5.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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