It’s safe to say that Senior Living has had a hard time lately. With new variants of COVID-19 still disrupting normal life, especially for the particularly vulnerable, senior living has seen fewer residents moving in and fewer stakeholders investing their dollars. Still, occupancy rates are once again on the rise as we begin 2022, having rebounded promisingly in Q3 and Q4 of 2021 according to reports by NIC. Now that the industry is approaching some semblance of its previous stability, what new trends will emerge as new developments and rebrands hit the market? These five emerging senior living branding trends are setting the tone for senior living marketers in 2022, and we can’t wait to see which trends make the biggest impact on the industry as the year goes on.
Health & Safety Are More Central Than Ever
Of course, the pandemic is far from over, and potential residents are still prioritizing health and safety in their housing decisions. Senior living brands are responding with messaging that highlights the health and safety of their communities, with amenities like on-site COVID vaccination and higher staffing ratios featured front and center on home pages and brochures.
In addition to messaging updates, new brands and rebranded communities are also gravitating toward names that signal reliability and health along with logos that signal wellness and stability. In many cases, this is simply a doubling down on themes that already dominated the senior living space, with natural motifs like trees, lakes, and mountains having long since become ubiquitous in the senior living market. Some developments, however, are looking for fresh takes on the themes of health and safety in order to establish themselves as modern yet still reliable. In these cases, similar symbolism is incorporated, but in novel, less on-the-nose ways. Instead of names like “Terrace Grove” and “Sagewood” you might find more names like “Wellstead” and “Aegis.”
Digital-First Strategies Extend into Branding Claims
With senior living marketing teams now prioritizing digital tactics like virtual tours, digital brochures, and video advertising, the digital-first approach to real estate marketing has finally taken root in the senior living market. But it’s not just the tactics themselves that are getting digitized. These digital-first approaches are extending into brand identities as senior living communities seek to establish themselves as great places to stay connected and live life to the fullest.
Even more than before, residents are coming to rely on digital forms of connection with family and friends, so having tech amenities like high-speed internet is a must. In fact, health needs and digital needs are intertwined more than ever, with telemedicine becoming an important resource for some seniors and video calls becoming central to maintaining the social connections that are crucial for mental health. The importance of the digital sphere within senior living communities is being reflected more and more in branding, with new brands boasting their modern technical side in addition to the traditional human care side.
The Borders of “Senior Living” Are Excluding “Active Adult”
Although some lump Active Adult housing and senior living together under the same umbrella, Active Adult is quickly becoming its own separate entity. In many cases, Active Adult communities share more in common with their multifamily counterparts than they do with traditional senior living communities offering Independent Living, Assisted Living, and/or Memory Care.
While there is some overlap in the needs of residents in Active Adult housing compared to Independent Living, more and more Active Adult communities are specifically using “Active Adult” and not using “Senior Living” in their branding and marketing. This effort to differentiate took on added importance during the pandemic as Active Adult communities catering to adults 55 and over sought to distance themselves from senior living communities that were dealing with COVID outbreaks and negative press coverage.
Market Consolidation Is Leading To More Umbrella Branding
With senior living brands facing a more uncertain market than before the pandemic, market consolidation has accelerated in recent years. That’s because the big fish in senior living tend to be the best equipped to adapt to the rising challenges presented by COVID. For example, these top senior living management companies, owners, and developers are able to create mutually advantageous partnerships with Medicare and other Health Care programs. Meanwhile, the smaller fish are struggling to keep up with increasing staffing demands and so on, sometimes leading them to sell existing communities or halt new development projects.
Among the “big fish” of senior housing are umbrella brands like Atria Senior Living, Brookdale, and Five Star Senior Living, each having dozens of communities across the United States. Communities managed by umbrella brands like these tend to use the same branding as their parent company from top to bottom—name, logo, colors, messaging, etc.—but others may take select elements of the umbrella brand like logo and colors but achieve added individuality by incorporating slight variations on logomarks and other branded elements in addition to selecting a unique name for each property.
“Luxury” Brands Are On The Rise
The senior living industry is beginning to bounce back and investors are ready to get back in the game, which means we could see a wave of new developments breaking ground in 2022. Those that have emerged within the last few years are reminiscent of luxury multifamily properties when it comes to their branding. Phrases like “resort-style” and “five-star,” which have long been buzzwords in the multifamily vertical, are now making their way into senior living websites and brochures too. Active Living communities may have helped spur on this shift, bridging the conceptual gap between luxury multifamily brands and the senior living industry. As active adults are coming to expect more from their housing communities, so are seniors and their family members looking for Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care.
Gone are the days when senior living was a monolith (if those days ever indeed existed). Where once the ideas of the “retirement community” and the “nursing home” were all seniors had to look forward to, now adults of retirement age have more of the options they deserve. Nowadays, Assisted Living and Memory Care communities are joined by Independent Living and a new boom of Active Adult housing that is quickly becoming the new face of senior living.
As senior living options expand, so too have the types of people senior apartment marketers must appeal to. In fact, senior housing has long had two primary audiences: folks of retirement age for whom living independently has become difficult and—sometimes more directly—the adult children of seniors who are looking for a home where their parents will be cared for. Now, in addition to these two groups, senior housing caters to additional segments, such as adults seeking to downsize after years of home ownership but not in need of additional care or a place to “slow down.”
As new developments and new generations of seniors converge to redefine the market, senior apartment marketers may well be due for an updated look at the expanded and shifting audiences their branding, creative assets, and digital tactics must now appeal to. Perhaps due to these recent shifts (exacerbated, no doubt, by garden-variety ageism), misconceptions still very much plague the industry of senior apartment marketing. So let’s take a deep dive into some of the primary audiences of senior living and what motivates their housing choices.
The Audience of Active Adult Housing
Active Adult housing communities typically attract seniors who have recently reached retirement age (55+) and live independently on a day-to-day basis without the need for additional care. This type of housing community is a relative newcomer to the senior living industry and has represented the bulk of new developments in recent years. Active Adult communities often focus on lifestyle conveniences and concierge-style services along with abundant programming and resident events to provide a sense of tight-knit community and exciting opportunities that outweigh the benefits of owning a single-family home.
With this audience typically consisting of adults around 55-75, it’s primarily Boomers and a few older Gen Xers who are likely targets for Active Adult marketing. This group tends not to see itself as “old” and even though they are so-called “retirement age,” they aren’t always retirees. What defines them as a group is their motivation to downsize, find community, and enjoy the conveniences of renting (like maintenance and added amenities). This decision often comes after parents become “empty nesters” after years of living in a single-family home where they raised their children. This group typically has one or more sources of income without relying exclusively on social security and similar programs. On a related note, this group is predominately affluent and white, resulting partly from the fact that most of today’s Active Living communities primarily cater to a luxurious lifestyle at a higher price point than many can afford, especially adults of color who are impacted by significant wealth and income inequality.
According to ESRI data, this group has the following additional characteristics:
- They frequently use the internet to read up on the news, shop online, and use social media.
- They are generous supporters of the arts and charitable organizations.
- They subscribe to cable TV, enjoying news, sports, and on-demand movies.
- They often use professional services like housekeeping to minimize their household chores.
- They pursue a variety of leisure activities like tennis, golf, boating, fishing, and reading.
- They live active social lives, enjoying museums, live shows, and travel.
- They prioritize a healthy lifestyle, aspiring to good nutrition and fitness habits.
- They are likely to have some college education or even a graduate degree.
The Audiences of Independent Living
Independent Living communities offer some additional care and services to help aging adults live primarily independent lives. These services include things like housekeeping, security, meals, transportation, and access to on-site personal care and health services. Often (but not always), Independent Living communities are combined with Assisted Living and Memory Care communities, making it easy to acquire additional care as needed as these residents age.
While this group includes adults with disabilities at a variety of age groups (some as young as 55), the primary audience for this sector of senior living is older Boomers and members of the Silent Generation (around 70-90 years old). This group doesn’t necessarily live with disabilities, and those that do may be able to manage them without special assistance most of the time. Even so, this group is motivated by the added conveniences of a service-oriented approach to senior living, where things like meals and housekeeping may be taken care of.
This audience includes those who may not be as affluent as those who live in Active Adult communities, but they are still disproportionately likely to be white (compared to the US average). This is likely due to the same systemic wealth and income gaps mentioned before, alongside the fact that younger generations of Americans are more diverse overall than older Americans.
According to ESRI Data, this group also has the following characteristics:
- They are politically engaged, often contributing to political organizations and causes they are passionate about.
- They prefer entertainment options like book clubs, crosswords, sudoku, and card games.
- They enjoy cable TV, including premium channels like HBO, and often watch news, movies, sports, and history channels.
- They use the internet for news and social media, but still prefer to do some things in person, like shopping and banking.
- They like to travel, including visits to foreign countries.
- They shop at large retail chains like Sears, Target and Walmart, appreciating these options for their convenience.
- They are health-conscious, with shopping often including exercise equipment, health foods, and supplements.
These seniors are not the only audience Independent Living marketers must appeal to, however. In many cases, the adult children of these seniors are also involved in the housing decision for this group. In some cases, they are even the primary decision-makers, though often they work collaboratively with their parents to come to a final decision.
This group of adult children is primarily composed of Gen Xers and younger Boomers (around 40-60 years old), though it is also beginning to include a small segment of elder Millennials in their late 30s. When this group is involved in the housing search for their senior parents, they are motivated to find safe communities with a high quality of care at the best possible value.
According to ESRI Data, this group also has the following characteristics:
- They prioritize convenience, reliability, and comfort over cutting edge bells and whistles.
- They tend to live in single-family homes, often in and around large metropolitan areas.
- They are budget-conscious and value-oriented, especially when it comes to choosing the ideal long-term home for their aging parents.
- Many have children of their own who are currently in school and financially dependent on them.
- They rely on the internet for news, social media, shopping, banking, and entertainment.
- They entertain themselves with movies and TV, online gaming, family-friendly activities, and outdoor recreation.
The Audiences of Assisted Living & Memory Care
The audiences of Assisted Living and Memory Care communities have significant overlap with the audiences of Independent Living discussed above, though they tend to skew older as they primarily serve aging adults in need of daily care. Assisted Living communities feature additional care and more regular staff interaction compared to Independent Living. These additional services may include helping residents keep up with their health routines, appointments, and medications, assisting with shopping, and helping with bathing and grooming. Memory Care covers many of these same needs, plus an added focus on assisting seniors with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia. Environmental safety and round-the-clock care are priorities of these communities in order to assist those whose dementia causes confusion and interferes with independent functioning.
These groups of seniors tend to be members of the Silent Generation, as well as some older Boomers. They typically have one or more disabilities that create barriers to living alone on a day-to-day basis, although their needs can vary widely and many prefer to remain independent in many respects, accepting additional care only where they cannot avoid it. Some seniors in Assisted Living and Memory Care communities have partners, but many are singles living on their own. For more information on these seniors, see the section on Independent Living above.
Because of the specific needs this group of seniors faces, their adult children tend to be even more involved in their senior housing search than in the case of independent living. Appealing to this audience of adult children is especially important when designing senior living marketing for Memory Care communities. For more information on this group of Gen Xers and younger Boomers, see the Independent Living section above.
With Active Living communities proliferating and the next generation of seniors entering retirement age, a new era of senior housing marketing is well underway. But old beliefs about seniors and their housing needs still impact how communities are developed and marketed. After all, it wasn’t long ago that “retirement homes” and “nursing homes” were considered the primary choices for seniors looking for apartment-style living options.
The misconceptions still lingering about the senior housing market don’t just influence how people outside the industry think about senior living, they also impact what senior housing developers, owners, and management firms believe about senior housing marketing best practices. That’s why we wanted to take the opportunity to explore some of the most common senior housing marketing misconceptions today. We’ll interrogate some commonly held assumptions and deconstruct them to arrive at the truth about marketing housing to seniors.
Misconception #1: All Senior Living Communities Have The Same Marketing Needs
Senior living is not a monolith, but marketing practices are still working to catch up with its modern evolutions. Today, there are many different types of senior housing communities, each with its own unique marketing needs and best practices. Active Living communities have very different marketing needs compared to Assisted Living, and Assisted Living has different needs than Memory Care. A hybrid community has different challenges still. A good senior apartment marketing plan takes the community’s unique offerings into account. This applies to strategies around branding, digital ad tactics, website design, SEO strategies, and lots more.
Some senior apartment marketing strategies (like SEO and ad targeting tactics n particular) will also differ between urban vs. suburban vs. rural communities. Further, each unique local market carries its own culture of expectations, trends, and competition. Gone are the days when seemingly all senior housing communities were out in the suburbs, away from the hubbub of city life.
These different needs also arise from different audiences across different community types. Adult children of the senior prospect often have a primary role in selecting Memory Care, for example, while the senior and other decision makers may divide responsibility for the housing decision more evenly for Assisted Living. When it comes to Active Living, adult children may assist in the housing choice, but often the senior prospect will make their decision independently. Messaging, brand voice, ad targeting, and other marketing factors should take these differences into account.
Misconception #2: Senior Apartment Marketing Needs to Be “Safe” or “Conservative”
Today’s generation of seniors (and their adult children) are just as fun-loving, bold, and free-spirited as anyone else. Marketing for seniors tends to be safe and conservative, but these tactics often verge on boring and unimaginative, which isn’t winning anyone over. In fact, avoiding the safe and conservative option in favor of the bold, out-of-the-box option can be a huge breath of fresh air for seniors who are bored of the same old, same old and looking for brands that truly resonate with their inner spirit.
Keep age in mind, but don’t be ageist when you do so. That means taking the time to think critically about what you think will resonate with your target audience and why. Take care to eschew assumptions that may stereotype seniors in condescending and inaccurate ways. Push yourself to be bold and engaging without necessarily being youthful; after all, no generation has a monopoly on fun, audacity, or spirit.
Misconception #3: Senior Housing Marketing Relies on Traditional/Print Tactics
The old practice of ignoring the digital sphere in favorite of traditional print marketing tactics no longer works for today’s senior apartment marketing audience. While this audience continues to find traditional marketing persuasive, that doesn’t mean you can neglect digital tactics entirely.
Contrary to common assumption, cutting-edge digital marketing campaigns will reach today’s generation of tech-savvy seniors and their adult children. It’s becoming essential for senior housing communities to think about SEO, website UX, virtual leasing, digital ad campaigns, and more.
Misconception #4: Senior Housing Is Only For Seniors
With age-restricted communities, it’s easy to focus on just the members of your marketing audience that fall into your resident age range. But while seniors are your residents, many seniors want to live in a community that welcomes their entire family and provides a place to share during visits. That’s why some senior housing communities feature amenities like children’s playgrounds. Keep in mind that the adult children of seniors will be a large part of your audience too, and this community will be a place they come when they visit their parent(s).
In other words, your marketing should invite your audience to imagine your community not just as an ideal place for seniors, but also for the whole family. That means family-friendly amenities, proximity to city centers and major highways, and spacious interiors with room to entertain can be well worth a shout-out on your digital ads, website design, and more.