An Age Old Problem

Japan’s disappearing citizens only serve to show Caroline Harrison the importance of keeping your information up to date in this week’s Thursday Night Insight.

Six months ago, a story doing the rounds in the international press caught my attention: Tokyo’s oldest person goes missing! Japan launches nationwide search for centenarians! Almost 200 of Japan’s centenarians missing!

How bizarre, I thought. How can you misplace so many elderly people?

Of course, when you delve deeper into the story, you begin to understand – sort of – what has happened:

In early August last year, the 113-year-old woman who was listed as Tokyo’s oldest person was found to be missing; whereabouts unknown even to her own family. In fact, officials discovered she had not lived at the address where she was registered for some 20 years!

Embarrassing, right?

But what made the story particularly toe-curling was that it came to light just days after the city’s oldest man, who would have been 111, was found dead and mummified. He had actually passed away some 32 years earlier!

Now, according to Japan’s latest audit of those aged over 100, nearly 200 centenarians are ‘missing’. Twenty-one of these would be older than the nation’s current official oldest person of 113 years of age – and one is a 125-year-old woman whose registered address was turned into a park back in 1981…

Much as these revelations amused me at the time, I admit it’s a slightly macabre topic which isn’t actually all that funny. What’s more, there is another important point to make which, for market researchers, may be just as distressing.

It’s all very well for Japan to lay claim to many of the world’s oldest citizens, but if they’ve been dead for 30 years then, in my humble opinion, it doesn’t really count! Of course, as with anything, any figures you have at your fingertips today, will already be going out of date by tomorrow.

In exactly the same way, there’s absolutely no point in thinking you understand how, when, what and why your customers buy from you if the information is four years old. Chances are these customers will have moved on – or at the very least altered their buying patterns or changed their requirements.

Equally, what’s the use of having information on a market’s size, structure and potential if you then wait for 18 months before deciding to enter this market? Things can have changed enormously in that time and what once looked like a fantastic opportunity could well have turned into a much more challenging – if not completely impossible – prospect.

So my message today is simple but critical: the data you rely on to make important decisions MUST be up to date. And, for all of you who argue that this Thursday Night Insight would have had far more relevance and impact when these stories first broke back in the summer of last year…well, my point exactly!

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