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Marketing Best Practices – Part 1

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There was a time when the saying, “if you build it they will come,” was true in senior living: time when prospects lined up to make a deposit, when wait lists were long and the sales cycle short, and when sales people were ‘order takers’ with little need to actually ‘sell.’ And while there is evidence that occupancy of senior living communities began dipping in the early 2000s, it took a nose-dive following the 2007-2009 recession and has yet to fully recover in many parts of the country.

In fact, the recession may have done more harm to the senior living industry than reduce occupancy. In a Perkins Eastman white paper, a survey of 200 providers and industry consultants conducted in 2015 showed that sixty-one percent of respondents feel the 2008-2012 downturn of the residential market and economic conditions permanently changed people’s outlook and expectations for their housing and service choices in their later years.¹

The implication for the senior housing industry is that, as people’s expectations change for housing and services, the way in which we market and sell to this audience needs to change as well. Generational differences play a huge role in how we market to the senior audience. The “GI Generation” born from 1901 to 1924 are now in their 90s and, if alive, are likely to be in a nursing home. The “Silent Generation,” born from 1925 to 1942, currently are the primary market for senior living and active adult communities. And, of course, we now eagerly anticipate the dawning of Aquarius – the “Baby Boomer” generation – born 1946 to 1964. Over the past several years consultants, architects and all types of industry pundits and experts have been tripping over themselves trying to predict and forecast what this new generation of seniors will want in housing when their journey begins to enter the senior living world. Yet, at 72, the oldest boomers have just started on that journey and, at 54, the youngest boomers are not even on the bus.

This 40-year age gap between the oldest members of the silent generation and the youngest boomers make marketing to older adults even more difficult. Add to the mix the influence of adult children and you have a wildly disparate group with vastly different experiences, needs and desires. While some are getting their information through traditional channels such as print advertisements or television/radio commercials, other savvier seniors are using laptop, computers or mobile devices to get information via the internet. A Pew Research Center report on seniors and technology issued in May 2017, shows that four in 10 seniors own smartphones and 67 percent of adults 65+ are online. Thirty-two percent have tablet computers and a growing number are comfortable with social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter.² Scott Townsley, founding Principal of Trilogy Consulting, asserts that “Today’s consumer (not tomorrow’s) has high expectations regarding the availability of technology. Tele-health/telemedicine, the ability to monitor and manage health and well being, to socialize and otherwise connect will fast become the standard.”³

When it comes to senior living marketing, one size does not fit all. Multi-channel marketing is a best practice, meaning the utilization of more than one – and often several – types of media, from traditional media to digital marketing. This paper constitutes what we feel are the best practices to consider as part of the multi-channel marketing mix.

Do the Research (Step One)

Critical to the marketing effort is doing upfront research to understand both your market area and your audience. Established communities have the advantage of historical data to understand who their customers are: where they came from, their age at move-in, marital status, gender, home value, income and assets. Communities not yet opened must rely on understanding potential geographic and psychological barriers as well as overall local knowledge to determine the primary market area (PMA). And, over time and testing, this market area may change based on what the marketing efforts tell us.

  • Define your primary market area (PMA): Plotting the prior addresses of your residents will give you an idea of how wide (or narrow) your primary market is and may point out untapped market areas or areas you should be penetrating but are not. Understanding age, marital status and average income of residents as well as other demographic information will lend a clue as to how you are positioned in your marketplace: what prospects are you appealing to and why; alternatively, who aren’t you appealing to and why not?
  • Understanding the psychographic attributes of your residents and prospects is also an important component of attracting prospects more likely to move in. People prefer to live with other people who have similar interests and lifestyles. Conduct an interest survey of residents or potential prospects to understand what extracurricular and cultural activities they enjoy. For deep markets with a large population of age and income qualified prospects, narrow down your target market to include psychographic parameters, including interest in:
    • Cultural activities
    • Art/Theater/Performing Arts
    • Nutrition
    • Health and wellness
    • Outdoor activities
    • Subscriptions to specific publications based on interests
  • Competitive research should be conducted to understand who your competition is, their occupancy, pricing and services. How does your community stack up against your competition? Put your eyes on the competition or, better yet, secret shop them to find out if and how they may be marketing against you. The more data you have about your own community and customers as well as the competition, the better you can position yourself for success.

Look for Marketing Best Practices – Part 2 in the September Solutions Advisors eNewsletter.

¹ “An Industry Poised for Change” Perkins Eastman Senior Living Survey 2015

² Pew Research Center “Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults”, May 17, 2017

³ “CCRCs and Life Plan Communities, A Heretics View” Scott Townsley, Professor of the Practice, University of Baltimore