With the rapidly changing senior living environment and increasing competition, it is important for senior living organizations to focus on those emerging elements of the business that will drive growth, financial sustainability and resident satisfaction. Knowing where the market is moving and responding accordingly will be essential for future success.

With the rapidly changing senior living environment and increasing competition, it is important for senior living organizations to focus on those emerging elements of the business that will drive growth, financial sustainability and resident satisfaction. Knowing where the market is moving and responding accordingly will be essential for future success. The iconic marketing article, Marketing Myopia, posed the famous question, “Are we in the railroad business or the transportation industry?” With the changes in customer (and family) expectations and preferences for senior lifestyles today, senior living operators and developers might be wise to ask a similar question, “Are we in the senior housing business or the hospitality care industry?” A relevant sports metaphor might be hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. It’s been said he owed much of his success to an uncanny ability to “know where the puck was going next” and to be there first. While other players were watching and waiting for the play to unfold, Gretzky was anticipating and moving, usually to where the puck would end up. His ability to “think one play ahead of the game” made him a legend. Thinking one play ahead of the game will become an increasingly important survival skill as baby boomers enter their “Golden Years” and “change the game” even further. This past January, Peter Fabris, contributing editor ALFA, published a useful article entitled, 8 Trends Shaping Today’s Senior Housing. In that same spirit, we offer related thoughts about the future and a blueprint for success. Where is the industry headed? How can I take advantage? We believe success in the future will be driven largely by an effective blend of innovative thinking and a commitment to proven business practices.  

Key Senior Living Trends:

  • Memory Care AL – A by-product of the“Silver Tsunami,” the need for memory care services is one trend that has increased in strength and intensity. Assisted living communities that did not previously provide memory care are now planning to offer it and are developing the appropriate facilities, programs and staffing. There is a large and growing number of seniors with memory impairments and senior living communities should factor this into their planning to stay relevant and competitive.
  • ACOs for LTC  – In an August 2013 McKnight’s webcast, industry experts stated that nursing homes and other post-acute providers should position themselves now as top-tier candidates for accountable care organizations (ACOs), or risk losing significant market share.
  • Evidence-Based or Purpose-Built Design – These design techniques can influence well-being; promote healing; relieve patient pain and stress; and reduce medical errors, infections and falls. Additionally, with attitudes aboutsenior living changing, it is extremely important that your facilities respond to what consumers truly want. “Aging in Place” is one of these priorities. The industry is moving toward more of a hospitality model with more services and amenities expected on site.
  • Profitable Affinity Services – Short-term rehabilitation is an excellent example of a relevant service that adds value to the patient, your community and the overall healthcare continuum. With the Affordable Care Act and the cost-savings focus of ACOs, senior living communities are ideally positioned to assume a leadership role in short-term rehab services.
  • Social Connectivity – Scientific research has shown that social engagement promotes physical and behavioral well being and actually extends life. Savvy senior living communities are expanding social activities and options that improve residents’ well-being and increase satisfaction with their lifestyles. Social connectivity is also being expressed in facility design and living concepts. The Greenhouse Project   is an excellent example of a highly social model using purpose-built design. It features the comfort of private rooms and bathrooms combined with the family-like atmosphere of common spaces for socialization and dining.
  • Holistic Wellness – Programs designed to improve the physical, mental and spiritual health of residents are not only highly beneficial, but also good for business. Senior living communities are increasingly providing a variety of exercise classes and healthy meal options in addition to educational and spiritual offerings. Residents stay healthier longer and communities are able to extend their length of stay.
  • Lifestyle Enhancing Services and Amenities – Consistent with a hospitality model, the market is moving toward more lifestyle-based services and amenities.Innovative communities are taking advantage of existing resources such as local colleges, popular downtown areas and beautiful natural surroundings as well as creating their own unique features such as interior cafés, outdoor dining spaces, sun-filled “Florida rooms,” computer labs, life-long learning and more —all designed to enhance the lifestyle experience and differentiate themselves from competitors.

  Marketing Basics to Remember:

  • Align Operational Performance and Brand Promise – It is always better to over deliver than over promise. Companies whose performance exceeds or matches their marketing claims have the greatest levels of trust, brand credibility and long-term potential for growth. Are your operating systems and processes hardwired for maximum performance?
  • Your Brand Walks on Two Legs  – The Healthleaders.com article, What’s Your Brand?, underscored the point that, for better or worse, your staff frequently define your brand in the minds of your customers. You are what your customers experience in their daily interactions with your staff. In a competitive environment, it is essential to hire the right people and train them in service-excellence “best practices” to protect and build your reputation.
  • Word of Mouth is Now Viral – “Word of Mouth” (WoM) has always been considered the most powerful form of advertising. Now, social media has made WoM exponentially more important. A bad experience can be communicated instantaneously and shared with multiple contacts in your service area. Delivering a “WOW” experience becomes even more important as does “service recovery” and rapid damage control when required.
  • Relevant Content is Still King – Knowing your customers, including their families, and staying focused on their needs, problems and expectations remain a top priority! Create a cohesive strategic marketing plan that is aligned with what your customers truly value. Your plan should provide an integrated approach that leverages all marketing resources — everything from market research to customer service to social media. It should also provide information your customers want in the communication formats they prefer. This may involve specific strategies for adult children, particularly adult daughters, who are heavily involved in the search and decision process.
  • Be a Thought Leader and Recognized Resource – A worthy brand-building goal is to become the “go to” resource for all things related to senior care and senior living. This requires a shift from a completely “promotional” mindset, to becoming an information resource for the community.

By staying ahead of emerging trends and applying proven, best-practice marketing techniques, you can most effectively position yourself for today and into the future. updated 9/18/13