March 2020 changed everything for Americans, and particularly for those over 50, the most vulnerable age group to COVID-19. Feeling adrift in a sea of conflicting reports and misinformation, seniors turned to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as both a trusted friend and fierce defender.

Consumers contacted AARP wanting to know what they should do to protect themselves and their loved ones. They also wanted to know what AARP was doing to help them. “There was a call for those things from the beginning and we stepped forward,” said AARP CMO Martha Boudreau, speaking on Nov. 5 at Strategic Marketing USA, a Reuters Event that drew more than 5,000 virtual attendees.

As a non-profit, social mission organization with 38 million members, AARP is accustomed to playing a critical role in the education and advocacy of 150 million people in the United States. During the pandemic, research, listening tools and performance data are giving the organization a clear view of what matters most to the 50+ population. 

Over the past four years, AARP’s voice of the consumer (VOC) program has collected nearly 9 million pieces of consumer feedback across 10 different data sources, including phone calls, emails, social media, and Net Promoter Scores. Using natural language processing and AI tools, AARP analyzes all of the data collected to identify hot topics, assess sentiment, and uncover what’s important in real-time. 

“This data is a tool we use every single day to help our membership,” said Boudreau.

With information gained from the VOC, AARP was able to act quickly to create a 24/7 COVID-19 News Room, establish a Coronavirus Resource Centre on their website, produce 25 videos a week in both English and Spanish, and hold more than 400 tele-town hall meetings. 

According to Boudreau, the depth of AARP’s support has had an impressive impact on KPIs. Visitors to AARP’s Facebook page grew 30 times YoY, video views increased by 184 per cent YoY, national tele- town hall audiences averaged 85,000, and AARP now ranks as the most engaged US non-profit on Facebook. “This level of engagement speaks to relevance, which is driven by following our VOC, looking at the insights captured, and then acting on those,” she said.

Looking ahead, AARP is able to use the data collected to offer valuable insights into how COVID-19 will continue to impact those over 50. Ironically, for a demographic that’s usually perceived as technology laggards, predictions include a high engagement in virtual events, increased interest in streaming, and the rapid adoption of technologies such as on-line banking and grocery delivery platforms. 

Martha Boudreau is adamant that we don’t need more data. What we do need, she said, is to use the data we have to help people navigate this perfect storm of financial and health insecurities. 

During the turmoil of COVID-19, AARP’s VOC program has proved invaluable for identifying and addressing consumer needs. “We are across all devices, all different channels and platforms, so it’s important that we have the resources, as well as the insights necessary to add value and relevance to people’s lives every day,” said Boudreau.

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