Do Digital Surveys Make Sense for a Senior Audience?

Dec 22, 2023 | Industry Trends

By Sara Montalto, Senior Vice President of Strategic Services

Over the past several years, a question that has come up time and again is whether digital surveys yield valuable information from a senior audience. And our consistent answer is, “Well that depends on who you want to survey and what you want to learn.” As with all research, the starting point is to define:

  • What you want to learn
  • Who is best able to provide the information
  • How you plan to use the information

Once you clarify that for yourself, you can determine whether a digital survey is the most appropriate research tool.

When Digital Surveys Work Best

A digital survey works best where the following two conditions are met.

  1. Your audience knows you well, and you have their email address and permission to email them.

What this typically means is that your wait list or active lead base is the best intended audience for a digital survey, and you’ve already been sending them digital communications.

To see if this is an option for you, you should be able to answer yes to the following questions:

  • Do you have permission to send email communications to your lead base and/or wait list?
  • Do you have active email addresses for a significant portion of the people you want to include? (This is typically at least 50% of your active leads and/or 70% of your wait list.)
  • Have you been emailing the intended list at least once per quarter?
  • Is your open rate at least 20%?

If you can answer yes to the first question, but not the others, it may mean that a digital survey won’t provide enough responses to provide meaningful information.

  1. Your audience has some knowledge of the topic you’d like to explore.

What this means is that you don’t need to provide much education or background information about the topic that you’d like to research.

Topics that work well for a digital survey include:

  • Interest in senior living and/or specific communities
  • Understanding how your community is perceived
  • Interest in specific residence types, sizes or an expansion
  • Identifying services, amenities or programming to be added

Prospective residents will be able to complete surveys on these topics based on the knowledge they already have.

When a Digital Survey Is Less Helpful

Conversely, a digital survey will not always be the best way to gather information. Here are a few guidelines on when to consider other types of consumer research.

  1. You want to gather information from an audience that doesn’t know you.

Surveys of age- and income-qualified seniors (or even their adult children) who aren’t in your database and thus may know little to nothing about you are generally not productive. While you could purchase a list of email addresses, response rates are often quite low.

  1. The topic is complex and/or nuanced, or your audience likely has little knowledge of it.

If you need to provide significant education or background information about a topic for people to be able to answer your questions, a digital survey (or, for that matter, most any type of survey) is unlikely to provide the insights you need.

Some topics that do not work well for a digital survey include:

  • Pricing for an expansion
  • Where to develop a satellite campus
  • Exploring different contract options or types of communities
  • Whether to develop a continuing care at home program

For these types of topics, it is more productive to do focus groups using a moderator who can provide context for the questions and ensure participants have a basic understanding of the topic.

Other Types of Consumer Research to Consider

If a digital survey isn’t right for your research needs, you should consider these other types of research:

  • One-on-one interviews
  • Small group interviews (3 people/interview)
  • Focus groups (8-10 households/each)
  • Consumer research events (a hybrid between surveys and focus groups, with 30-40 household/event)

Mailed surveys are another option and are often longer than digital surveys. With a mailed survey, some additional background can be provided, and it is often easier to gain responses from an unknown audience.

What to Do If You’re Not Sure

If you’re not sure about whether a topic would be perceived as complex, then ask your sales team how much a typical prospect is likely to know about the topic, as the sales team is the expert on your prospective residents. Or you can explore your options with a market research firm (full disclosure: Love & Company conducts these types of research) to explore which option(s) would best meet your needs.

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