We recently had the opportunity to interview Faith Ott, President and Executive Consultant for Sage Age Strategies, about her perspectives on our industry.

SHF: How do you see our industry today?

Faith: The senior housing industry is trending up again, with new development regaining momentum. I see operators much more in-tune with who we serve and what our customers want from us. The old myths about our residents being predominantly active 70-year olds looking for a country club like setting are all but dispelled now. While those options (and consumers) do exist, they are not today’s norm.

Providers understand that most people seeking senior housing are doing so because of “needs.” Whether these are precipitated by the loss of a spouse, deteriorating health, or another major life event, consumers of senior housing are truly buying healthcare services wrapped in the package of amenities and community features. Our industry has reached a level of self-awareness and has embraced our place in the continuum of aging.

Today’s consumers are also much more savvy than ever before, and not just the prospective residents, but their children. This presents a challenge for providers to market to two distinct target audiences. Effective messaging means tailoring your ad campaigns, media, marketing and sales efforts, even touring protocols, for both the prospective resident and their adult children.

It is imperative to have a well-defined and fully implemented dual marketing strategy; one with a prospective resident as the audience and the second targeting the adult children.   We are proud to have been instrumental in designing these campaigns for our clients.

Innovation Opportunities

SHF: Do you think there is still room for innovation in our industry or have all the variations of mousetraps already been developed?

FaitFaith Otth: There is absolutely opportunity and need for innovation – most notably in the area of programming.

SHF: You mean programming for residents with memory impairments?

Faith: Yes. But innovative programming is needed throughout the entire senior care continuum. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this occurring in several organizations; True North in the Boston Market and Willow Valley in the Lancaster County, PA, market are both doing a fabulous job with wellness programming and educational connect programming.

Generally speaking, communities need to be more focused on truly investing resources in innovative program development and building relationships with organizations in the community who can significantly help to enhance their program offerings. So much opportunity exists today to partner with local colleges and universities in order to offer residents continuing education classes. Initiating and building relationships with groups involved in research efforts is another area of great opportunity. Abe’s Garden in Nashville, TN, is doing a remarkable job developing memory care training and education programs by partnering with Vanderbilt University.

Understanding that cost is always an issue that must be considered, providers need to be aware that failing to invest in pursuing innovation can be a much more expensive mistake, as we’ve seen in many other industries. Unfortunately, I see a lot of lip service paid to innovative programming, but few operators actually matching actions with words. I’m fortunate to be working with a number of clients who actually practice what they preach by continuously improving both the quality and quantity of their social, health and cognitive programming.

Avoid the Pitfall of Becoming Stagnant

SHF: What challenges do you see facing providers today?

Faith: There are several. But one of the largest can be boiled down to one word: complacency. Too many established providers are content to rest on their laurels, reaping the residual benefits from efforts of the past. This might have been enough 5 or 10 years ago, but today’s environment requires providers to stay agile and adaptive. A great reputation isn’t enough when you’re marketing to a new wave of well-informed consumers. People want to see proactive environments offering preventative and recuperative care coupled with innovative services and amenities.

Additionally, we’re seeing an increasing demand for payment options that allow seniors to preserve their assets. “Buy-in” communities, or those with significant entry fees, have been placed at a competitive disadvantage because of today’s economic realities.

Seniors’ Homes as a Primary Competitor

SHF: Look into your crystal ball. What do you think will be the challenges of tomorrow that we should be preparing for today?

Faith: This may come as a surprise to some of your readers, but I think our industry needs to be doing a better job of serving people in their homes, not just on our campuses. We need to recognize that there are an increasing number of people that will choose to stay at home or who will need to stay at home, because they simply do not have the resources to move into a community.

This scenario is only going to grow as the senior population continues its fast paced growth. Senior housing providers need to recognize that future viability lies not just in bricks and mortar of campuses, but in the development of programs and services that can provide outreach opportunities to serve people in their own homes. For many providers, home is the number one competitor. While providers are fighting within their respective markets to reach the people who are expressing interest in moving into a community, they’re missing a much broader untapped market of people living in their homes who can be reached and served.   Thus a strategy for Home and Community Based Services and Programs is becoming a more essential component of planning for long term strategic growth.

For more information about dual marketing strategies, contact Faith Ott of Sage Age Strategies at 570.601.1720 or visit them on the web at sageagestrategies.com.

John Gonzales