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Understanding the Multiple Audiences of Senior Housing Marketing

Understanding the Multiple Audiences of Senior Housing Marketing
October 12, 2021

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.

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