Understanding the Multiple Audiences of Senior Housing Marketing

Understanding the Multiple Audiences of Senior Housing Marketing

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.

group of seniors socializing at their active adult apartment

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.

a senior and their adult child searching for senior living options

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

senior reading a book in their assisted living senior apartment

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.

Top Misconceptions About Senior Housing Marketing

Top Misconceptions About Senior Housing Marketing

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.

senior man leaning on window

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.

seniors using digital devices

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).

senior woman and young woman cooking together

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.

How COVID-19 Has Changed The Senior Living Industry

How COVID-19 Has Changed The Senior Living Industry

With COVID-19’s disproportionately high impact on older generations, it goes without saying that the senior living industry has likewise felt the brunt of this pandemic. As we keep our eyes on industry trends, we’ve compiled a few takeaways for our senior living clients and their competitors as they navigate the effects of the pandemic on their brand reputation, lead traffic, and ultimately lease rates. These challenges aren’t felt universally or with the same severity for all communities within the senior living industry, but they may have long-lasting ramifications for brands in this vertical.

In this post, we’ll be breaking down what effects we’re seeing in the industry, what’s causing these effects, what can be done to mitigate them, and what we can expect moving forward. Looking for senior living marketing tips to help your community respond to the pandemic? You’ve come to the right place. Let’s get into it.

the effects of covid-19 on the senior living industry

The Effects of COVID-19 On the Senior Living Industry

When it comes to the top Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) we use to measure marketing success for the real estate industry, the impact of the pandemic on senior living communities is similar to that seen by other segments of the housing industry: occupancy is down, costs are up, and brand reputation is less stable.

But these are the short-term effects of COVID-19. It remains to be seen how these shifts will ripple into the future. Senior living brands enjoy some security in the simple fact that aging is inevitable and the next wave of seniors will still need assisted living and memory care. However, at the present moment, long-term care facilities have been hit hardest by COVID’s effects, followed by assisted living communities. In Q2 of 2020, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care reported that the average occupancy rate for senior housing properties dropped to a historic low of 84.9%.

Less clear is how the pandemic will effect the Active Living industry. The good news for this segment of senior living is that their KPIs have been less impacted than their assisted living and memory care counterparts. Occupancy at active/independent communities has remained relatively stable. Regardless, we may begin to see an increased effort among Active Living communities to distance themselves from the term “Senior Living” in order to skirt the perception of senior communities as risky places to live right now.

how is covid-19 impacting the senior living industry

What’s Causing These Effects?

In addition to the direct, human impact of the coronavirus, the pandemic also impacts the senior living industry in indirect ways. For example, press coverage focusing on outbreaks or the risk of outbreak in these communities compounds the perception of all such facilities as unsafe places to live (or for one’s parents to live). This negative perception can extend even to those communities that have strong safety measures and have not suffered an outbreak.

After all, while we’ve all seen the headlines about outbreaks at senior care communities, the average person is less likely to look beyond the headline to fully ascertain the factors that are most likely to lead to outbreaks. This contributes to an imperfect understanding of the true level of risk, which is only exacerbated by the fact that scientists and the press alike have been playing catch up to understand how this virus spreads and impacts the body. All that uncertainty makes it hard for seniors and their adult children to feel confident in their housing choices, resulting in fewer leads and leases.

Furthermore, the recession kicked off by the pandemic is still building. Its impact will continue well beyond the current moment, likely for years to come. Since many seniors looking for independent or active living must sell their homes before making a move into a senior living community, a recession may inspire this group to delay this transition for as long as they’re able. In other words, this demographic may choose to age in place a bit longer, resulting in less demand for independent living.

As for memory care and assisted living, the recession may impact these sectors as well, although in different ways. It may impact how much seniors or their families are able to spend on their care. It will also likely mean that some families opt to (or are forced to) care for their senior family members themselves rather than paying for the extra care provided by an assisted living or memory care facility.

In addition, costs are up for senior living communities as they hire more specialized staff, buy more protective gear, and contend with increased demand for the supplies they need to serve their community. Additionally, while senior living has often relied on in-person tours and marketing, the pandemic has required communities to move more of their leasing efforts into the digital space, resulting in additional expenditures on technology like virtual tours, live chat bots, and more. Not only that, but seniors currently residing at these communities are looking for ways to stay connected with their families who may be unable to visit in person, so some communities are accommodating that with added digital amenities, resulting in additional up-front tech costs.

how to market senior housing during covid-19

What Can We Do?

We’ve published a number of guides that can empower senior living brands with better marketing during the pandemic, including our blog post on How To Adapt Your Real Estate Marketing During COVID-19.

Additionally, we highly recommend our more recent guides covering Digital Apartment Marketing Tips During COVID and a Tour Guide Playbook with best practices for tours and lead nurturing during COVID.

In addition to what you’ll find in these guides, we have a few recommendations to add specifically for the senior living industry. The first is to explore Addressable Marketing campaigns using geofencing technology. Campaigns like these have the ability to target users at their household—like a direct mailer for the digital age—and can reach audiences based on factors like age, the number of members in their household, and a variety of interests.

Finally, your messaging around COVID is of paramount importance when it comes to nurturing the leads that do come in. This is likely to remain top-of-mind for a while, especially for the senior living industry, so any prospect who is unable to easily find information regarding COVID-19 on your website, GMB page, or by email is likely to take their search elsewhere. Be as transparent as you can about your respond to COVID-19. Make this information easy to find throughout your digital presence, including your website, GMB, and social accounts. Show that you are taking concrete measures to promote social distancing and minimize the risk of outbreaks.

Being up-front with this information may seem like it’s calling attention to the risk the pandemic has created, but that ship has already sailed; your prospects are thinking about COVID when they decide where to live, regardless of whether you bring up the topic yourself. The best you can do is help assuage their concerns by making it crystal clear that you are doing everything you can to keep seniors and their loved ones safe.

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