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.
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
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.
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.
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.