This year’s LeadingAge education session offerings included several opportunities to see how the senior market is evolving its approach to branding (no pun intended given LeadingAge’s Nashville cowpoke scene), all with an eye toward the ultimate goal of audience engagement that leads to sales and move-ins.
Engaging the Younger Senior was one such session, led by a compelling team of presenters including Helen Foster of Foster Strategy, LLC, Kim Daly Nobbs of Willow Valley Communities and April LaMon of Lead InSite.
Helen Foster began the discussion by highlighting the major disconnect between the existing senior living product and the expectations of a younger audience. And while many communities are attempting to retrofit their product for greater receptivity, those communities are still only capturing a very small percentage—perhaps three to five percent—of the overall market.
Helen shared experience-based perspectives on benchmarks and best practices for designing, developing and building communities that will meet the product expectations of younger seniors today and tomorrow, including the fact that almost every developing community is reserving space within its new or expanding footprint for 50 and 55+ seniors.
Kim Daly Nobbs, Willow Valley’s chief marketing officer, encouraged the audience not to underestimate the role that “real estate” plays in the younger senior’s decision-making, with small details that contribute to comfortable living being particularly critical. She noted how important it is for design to touch and inspire in all areas of the wellness planks, and aid in the creation of engaging experiences.
Willow Valley Communities has most recently changed its focus from hospitality to “Living Forward” and “Ageless Living”—what’s good for people, not just what’s good for seniors. The organization also “celebrates individuality,” which is quite evident in a design center that rivals area real estate offices.
Younger seniors are increasingly resistant to move away from home, more likely to be working, very value driven, highly individualistic (“I want to design my own program.”), very discerning about quality, and they desire—and are willing to pay for—upgrades and great views. Developing a community’s product and brand around these values and desires will allow a given niche community to capture a much higher percentage of the market. In the case of Willow Valley, that number has reached 11 percent.
Ageless living has helped Willow Valley to:
- Avoid the nursing home community stigma
- Unlock the potential of the other 89 percent of the market
- Bring development, operations and branding into balance
Kim says that when it comes to branding and creating experiences, engaging—and not actively disengaging—the younger audience is challenging yet rewarding.
Repellants to engagement include:
- Language (dining vs. culinary services)
- Paternalism and condescending tone
- Homogenization (one size fits all) and limiting customization
- Lack of flexibility (we’ve always done it this way)
- Unnecessary rules (find ways to say “yes!”)
Critically important experience marketing—not just information marketing—showcases real life experiences such as:
- Grandparent/kids classes
- World class shows
To accomplish this, it’s important to market authentically by:
- Telling compelling stories
- Telling the truth!
- Meeting them where they are
- Communicating shared values
- Illuminating meaningful life (not just activities to pass life)
Extending “outside the walls” services will also work to keep a community younger. Younger seniors want some separation and “me space,” but they also desire integration, including broader community interaction.
Topping the list of what younger prospects are seeking include:
- Connections with others
- Health and vitality
- Security and stability
- Inspiration and fun
- Home quality and livability
- Choice and individualism
According to Helen Foster, “The good news for continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) is that they offer a better path forward for younger seniors than active adult communities, provided they can align their product with expectations.”
April LaMon says that younger seniors are most often asking themselves and interested in finding answers to the following questions when searching for a community to call home:
- Where will I live?
- Can I afford it?
- What will I do?
- Will I be cared for?
When it comes to web research, April suggests that “If younger seniors can’t see where they’ll be living on your website, nothing else matters.” She also believes that transparency in pricing is essential, meaning that younger seniors must be able to find and make the financial comparison for themselves. “I will evaluate you, before I allow you to evaluate me,” appears to be the mindset of the younger segment. “They want to be a buyer, they don’t want to be sold, and they are willing to do lots of independent research,” says April. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the actual transaction happens offline. The senior living purchase is not “put it in the cart!”