What Senior Living Market Research Tells Us About How Your Organization Can Evolve Beyond COVID-19 (And Drive Long-Term Revenue)

by J. David Hoglund, Principal & Executive Director at Perkins Eastman

From an operational perspective, the past six months have been an all-hands-on-deck endeavor for Life Plan Communities. And the reality is that we are closer to the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic than past it, so it’s been inspiring to see that many senior living providers are already thinking ahead to how they can evolve their communities so that they remain viable beyond this challenge. We are beginning to see communities consider what will keep their products relevant—and safe—into the future.

This begs us to ask the questions people inside and outside our field are asking: Why would seniors want to move into group living right now?

Fortunately, with the proper insight and adaptations, Life Plan Communities can counter and answer these questions with data-backed responses that speak to what your prospects value most, what they want and, perhaps most importantly, what they need that isn’t currently accessible.

The first step to this is discovering what prospects want and need, which comes from senior living market intelligence.

Market intelligence is the topic of the upcoming Love & Company webinar on September 30, during which I will be joined by Rob Love and Karen Adams from Love & Company, as well as experienced senior living executive and consultant, Jodi Bleier. Click here to register for the 90-minute session, “5 Ways Market Intelligence Can Help Drive Revenue.”

For now, let us explore what some initial market research has shown us about what seniors want from Life Plan Communities in the age of COVID-19, and how providers will need to adapt their offerings to stay relevant.

Early data are encouraging

In a series of new pilot studies of Life Plan Community prospects, Love & Company noted encouraging feedback.

“Our early data suggest that markets are holding,” Karen Adams, Vice President of Market Intelligence at Love & Company and co-panelist on the upcoming webinar, said. “Prospects are generally showing the same commitment to making a move, with their biggest concern being continued spread of the virus rather than factors such as the economy or home values.”

The prospects are still out there, and in the vast majority of cases they are still keen on making a move. So now, it’s up to Life Plan Communities to make the transition to telling the story that, not only are their communities safe; but also they are desirable places to be at this time. Beyond just tailoring its messaging and sales tools to COVID-19 concerns, communities can consider making larger-scale adaptations as well.

Countering COVID-19 (and whatever comes next) with structural evolutions

For both current and planned projects, our clients are asking us questions that go way beyond PPE and social distancing. Because of how COVID-19 has disrupted our field, we’ve been asked about architectural and structural factors such as:

  • Airflow and ventilation
  • Dining spaces (smaller and/or multiple dining venues)
  • Long-term care facility layouts (the small-house model)
  • Safe family visit areas

It’s inspiring to see how Life Plan Community leaders are truly being responsible stewards for the future of senior living by asking these types of questions. Because if this year has taught us anything, senior living providers must be prepared for varied challenges.

“Whether it’s COVID-19 or something else, it speaks to the need for senior living to be innovative,” Jodi Bleier, senior living executive and consultant and another co-panelist on the September 30 webinar, said. “Organizations must be resilient and prepared even when something like a bad flu season hits. The community has a responsibility—especially with COVID-19 changing things—to provide safe visitation spaces and make other long-term investments that make the community relevant to prospects.”

As Jodi noted, this could mean building large or outdoor visitation spaces into a design. Or, it could mean completely rethinking the long-term care layout to adopt the small-home model, which includes a smaller number of rooms and less staff in one area, all making it easier and safer to operate in case of a virus.

Adapting to new dining norms

We know that the dining experience at a Life Plan Community can be a make-or-break factor in a prospect’s choice for his or her next home. And prospects (generally) aren’t moving into Life Plan Communities to cook for themselves, so dining experiences will need to remain competitive despite COVID-19.

Communities are already altering their master plans to account for this. Many expansion and start-up projects have moved to including multiple smaller dining venues spread throughout campus instead of one, 300-person dining room. This preserves the ability to serve residents in person in case capacity limits become imposed by their local jurisdiction (e.g., in a pandemic scenario).

Besides, the senior living “dining revolution” that is already underway is simply accelerating as a result of COVID-19. To meet prospects’ expectations relative to how dining has changed outside of Life Plan Communities, we expect to see more varied dining venues available throughout campuses, plus many more take-out or grab-and-go options.

More communities are also adapting online dining reservation systems to manage dining capacity during the pandemic, which will likely remain in place for the long term. This is partially due to seniors’ ever-increasing comfort with technology—another notable shift.

Technology and programming now intertwined

COVID-19 has essentially forced seniors to become more technologically literate. The use of technology with the over-75 population has skyrocketed, with families having to rely on tools like Zoom to stay in touch. People who were resistant to adapt before the pandemic have now adopted technology more and more, especially to avoid social isolation.

As part of their new market research efforts, Love & Company asked senior living prospects tech-focused questions like:

  • What technology did you use before the pandemic?
  • What technology did you start to use as a result of the pandemic?
  • What technology would you like to use but haven’t done so yet?
  • What technology will you not use?

Relative to how communities can adapt to this “tech boom among boomers,” the survey responses brought to light many possibilities for how senior living providers can reach current residents and prospects with engaging programming.

“From the pilot studies, the technology element that has the most interest among senior living prospects is online platforms for travel, education and fitness,” Karen added. “In terms of what people are using most, it’s social media and videoconferencing.”

With these insights in mind, communities can feel more comfortable with using technology-based programming (and marketing) efforts. Consider partnering with a local organization (museum, gallery, venue) for virtual tours or performances; create Facebook groups for depositors or wait listers to build a “community without walls” before they move in; share online educational resources from a local community college or university. As with most things related to technology, the possibilities are—virtually—endless.

Now that senior living providers can glean research-backed insights into what their prospects want, it’s up to them to evolve their structural, dining and technology offerings accordingly. As we discussed here and will go into greater detail during “5 Ways Market Intelligence Can Help Drive Revenueon September 30, those adaptations can take many forms. We hope you will join us for the webinar, and stay tuned to this space for other articles on this topic by co-presenters Jodi Bleier and Rob Love!

For more of Love & Company’s resources on senior living market intelligence, click here; or call Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013 to find out how new data can help your existing Life Plan Community advance its mission.

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