THE BLOG
10/01/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

The Emerging Market That's Not on the Map

Investors and innovative companies have long been obsessed with emerging markets and for good reason. While growth was once a worthy objective, today's imperative is fast growth, and there are few better ways to achieve it than getting into new markets first. For years, the hottest spots on the map were underdeveloped economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (the "BRIC" countries). However, today as growth in these markets has (inevitably) slowed the search is on for the next and newest emerging, fast-growth opportunities.

As with the BRIC example, the predominant perspective on emerging markets has been geographic. Even the epicenters of the eternally emerging technology sector have been given geographic monikers such as "Silicon 'Valley," "Silicon Alley" and "Route 128." So, it's no surprise that as smart companies search for the next emerging markets, they are most likely to be looking in "places" rather than "spaces."

This bias is perhaps the most salient reason why most enterprises have been slow to discover one of the most significant, underdeveloped and uncontested market spaces in today's global economy. The next big, emerging market is not geographic it's demographic. It's also not foreign it's domestic... right here inside our own borders. We live in The Age of Aging, and no other trend will do more to shape lives, make markets, influence public policy and affect human welfare more than aging.

According to US Census projections, in fewer than five years, half of the U.S. adult population will be 50 or older. Nielsen estimates that they will spend close to $3 trillion dollars a year and dominate most consumer packaged goods categories. Globally, the United nations reports that people 65 and older will soon outnumber children under 5 for the first time in history. In parts of Western Europe, walkers and wheelchairs already outnumber baby strollers.

Aging consumers constitute an emerging market in two primary ways:
1. They have all of the economic hallmarks -- they are underdeveloped, largely uncontested and ripe with fast growth potential.
2. They have "aged out" of the 18-49 sweet spot and "emerged" into a freestanding and fertile 50+ market.

John Maxwell from PriceWaterhouseCoopers advises that it takes bold and fast-acting pioneers to win big in emerging markets. Maxwell posits that those who break new ground usually win if they have a taste for risk, the ability to disregard conventional wisdom and a commitment to stay in it for the long haul.

Great advice, but perhaps PWC's Chief Economist & Emerging Markets Practice head Harry Broadman sums up the risks and opportunities of emerging markets most succinctly with this admonishment: "The biggest risk in emerging markets could be just ignoring them."

While it's sometimes convenient to ignore advancing age, it's nonsensical to ignore global aging. Those who "break new ground" in the emerging market of aging will be joining the likes of a modern day gold rush which we call The Old Rush. These are the latter day pioneers of business who get there first and find nuggets of opportunity in plain sight, while those who wait are left panning for the leftover dust of a bygone opportunity.

Rarely has a market opportunity this big been so "invisible," but the explanation is pretty clear: aging is the emerging market that's not on the map.