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.
Apartment branding isn’t what it used to be. In just the last five years alone, the landscape of apartment branding across North America has adapted to dramatic fluctuations in the housing market which have led to new innovations in naming, logo development, and brand identity.
As an apartment marketing agency with expertise in naming and branding projects, we’ve had a front row seat to the shifting needs of renters, owners, developers, and asset managers during this time and enjoyed a position at the cutting edge of the branding innovations that these shifts have inspired.
This experience has not only fascinated us, but also empowered above-market results for our clients, and we hope it will do the same for you. So without further ado, here are the key shifts we’ve seen in apartment branding trends across multifamily, student, and senior living markets within the last five years.
Branding Is No Longer an Afterthought
We couldn’t write about the changes in apartment branding trends without first acknowledging that the attention paid to branding has increased. That is to say, not only have the types of branding choices apartment marketers make shifted over time, but real estate creators and managers are also making these choices earlier and with more care than ever before.
Before the pandemic hit, many rental industries were experiencing a boom of new developments, causing increased competition that required developers, owners, and asset managers to focus their efforts on how they would differentiate their new developments from the competition. This also prompted existing communities to up their game to compete with newcomers, which made rebrands more common than before.
Now, even after the effects of the pandemic, the trend of thoughtful branding has continued because it has become the expectation among consumers and apartment marketers alike.
These days, crafting a brand for a new development typically occurs in tandem with the development and tends to inform and be informed by architectural and interior design processes.
More often than ever before, branding involves a careful research and discovery process, professional assistance from an apartment marketing agency, and the creation of in-depth brand guidelines documents to keep the branding consistent and effective over time and across multiple platforms.
Apartment Names are Bolder & More Memorable
Five years ago, you would find many new developments adopting names incorporating the street number of the complex (e.g. AMLI 5350) or a classic two-word formula featuring words like “Estates,” “Pointe,” and “Vista.” Nowadays, you still see plenty of those formulas being used, but more often, apartment brands are breaking the mold in favor of unique and memorable names that might have felt too bold just a few years ago.
For example, apartment marketers often eschew the familiar in favor of the unique so that brands feel “iconic” instead of “traditional.” Instead of “900 West,” or “Clinton Gardens,” new developments are more likely to be dubbed “NTX,” “Lumen,” or “Mosaic.” Also increasingly common are anthropomorphic names that instantly inject a sense of personality into a community, like “Emara,” or “The Guthrie.”
This trend is particularly true in student housing, where it’s generally understood that Gen Z prospects will overlook the boring and traditional. However, student housing does not have a monopoly on this trend. Even senior living brands are becoming more bold and adventurous, especially as we see a surge in Active Adult communities that emphasize an active lifestyle and resist the narrative of “slowing down” in their retirement-aged residents.
Sustainability & Social Responsibility Have Taken Center Stage
Climate change, racial justice, and public health have all taken center stage in the public zeitgeist, causing renters to pay increased attention to how their housing choices play a role in these factors. Especially among Gen Z and Millennial renters, green living, inclusive marketing, and public responsibility have become important factors in determining whether a brand resonates with them enough to make it into the consideration phase of their renter journey.
Apartment communities new and old have responded to these priorities by incorporating names, taglines, colors, textures and patterns, and brand voices that underscore themes of responsibility, cleanliness, sustainability, and inclusion. For example, brands looking to resonate with eco-conscious renters are adopting greens and blues in the brand colors or incorporating organic elements like plants and animals into their logos.
Student Housing Brands are Ruled By Gen Z Sensibilities
With the oldest Gen Zers now twenty-four years old, student housing has spent the last five years adjusting to the priorities of this generation of renters. That means student housing brands are emphasizing technology, social media presence, sustainability, and affordability more than they were when Millennials were their target audience.
How To Get More Leads & Leases from Gen Z Renters
For example, today’s student housing brands are incorporating messaging that emphasizes “an option for everyone” rather than “exclusive amenities” or “upscale living.” Of course, luxury student apartments are still being built, but even these communities are often leveraging themes of inclusion and attainability in their brand messaging and imagery in order to avoid the impression that they are catering to the wealthy few rather than to the millions of Gen Z renters who came of age during an economic recession and enjoy less public funding for their tuition than any generation before them.
Multifamily Housing Brands are Ruled By Millennial Sensibilities
While the oldest Zoomers are becoming renters in multifamily communities, the largest group of multifamily renters is still the Millennials. Many of these 20 and 30-somethings are experiencing fledgling careers (often changing jobs every two years or so), new parenthood, and mountains of student loan debt, which is making affordable housing, spacious apartments, family-friendly amenities, and work-from-home opportunities more attractive than ever.
Multifamily communities are responding to these needs by emphasizing how their apartments support residents’ careers, families, and physical health while providing an excellent overall value. As with student housing, luxury multifamily housing is still being developed, but the sense of luxury is often communicated through the highlighting of work-from-home conveniences, more spacious interiors, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, and convenient lifestyle perks like housekeeping services, pet grooming, and other factors that make adult life a little bit easier.
Senior Living Brands are Adjusting To The Active Adult Housing Boom
Senior living was once considered only in terms of Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care facilities, but that’s no longer true. These days, new senior living developments are more likely to be Active Adult communities than the “retirement homes” of yesteryear. This new trend appeals to Boomers and older Gen Xers who are ready to downsize after becoming empty nesters or reaching retirement age, but who are not interested in “slowing down.”
How Senior Living Is Changing
These generations of seniors are redefining what it means to be “old,” and showing apartment marketers how much seniors have been subject to limiting stereotypes and lackluster housing options in the past. It’s no wonder that the Active Adult sector has seen such a boom within the last decade, prompting the senior living industry as a whole to incorporate themes of adventure, discovery, activity, and connectedness in their branding.