By Jack Cumming

We’ve written before of nationally branded senior living evolving into better living for all. We urged moving beyond the “A Place for Mom” image of senior living. Senior living can be more than just care for the hapless. The image could be a more vibrant, vital concept to broaden the market. We can achieve that by appealing to younger people wanting convenience beyond the hassles of single family, suburban living. This is part 2 of a 3 part series.  Click here for Part 1, “Imagining Nationally Branded Better Living.”

Bold Thinking

Creating a national brand for senior living, re-envisioned as better living, requires bold new thinking. A breakout brand would have to be as distinctive as the start-up Amazon of 25 years ago was from Sears. That has to involve new ideas that attract customers and that make them turn to the new from the same-old-same-old.

Ideally, a national brand involves substance rather than just clever selling or manipulative syntax. For instance, just changing the name of CCRCs to LPCs, without changing the substance, has added confusion to the marketplace, while the older nomenclature still persists except in “conforming” contexts.

“A Place for Mom” achieved prominence by employing a trusted spokesperson, Joan Lunden, and using her personal credibility to gain trust for “Mom’s” referral fee business model. Was “Mom” really trustworthy or did the advice for Mom go to the highest bidder, regardless of quality?

That’s a question for which we have no answer, though a month’s rent as a referral fee could be tempting. “A Place for Mom” then cemented its national branding by buying the top sponsored search response position. Clever marketing? Manipulative? Perhaps. Best for Mom? The jury’s out on that one.

A nationwide enterprise putting forward a new substance can be expected to find much more market traction than has “A Place for Mom’s” questionable objectivity or “Life Plan Communities” confusing word choice.

Changing the Image

Why did the senior living industry leaders let “A Place for Mom” become the face for the industry? “A Place for Mom” caters to an adult child who is thinking, “Hey, we’ve got a problem here. Mom can no longer be trusted to live on her own. We’ve got to shuffle her off to a place where she’ll be safe for what’s left of her life.” By letting “A Place for Mom” lead the industry image, we’ve shifted the customer focus from people wanting a better life for themselves to children dealing with problem parents.

Brookdale didn’t do much better with its national ad campaign promoting all its employees from maintenance people to housekeepers as caregivers for failing people. It’s true that many, perhaps most, people over age 80 are cognitively deficient. Still, I don’t know of anyone who is ready to admit that. Why do we limit our market to the very old, when we have so much more than care to give? “Come along, dearie, it’s time for dinner now.”

We can do better. Let’s make moving to our communities a positive experience that people want for themselves. We can leave to others the important functions of warehousing the very old.

Let’s Reach Out to a Mass Market

We can start with the obvious. No one is going to create a top-notch American nationwide branded enterprise by focusing on a narrow demographic. American success stories like Amazon, Apple, and others serve a mass market.

We’ve been in the senior living market. The same lifestyle convenience with standby healthcare that is relevant to older people, appeals to people of all ages. It can be, and might become an alternative to the romance of the single-family house set far out in the suburbs in the middle of a small lot.

The time may be coming when more culturally urban concepts will surpass that suburban or exurban dream with a more personally fulfilling concept. To begin with, single-family home living is much more ecologically wasteful than is congregate living – think heating weather-exposed walls, driving to shopping and work, not to mention driving children to school and friends. It was a model developed around the concept of the stay-at-home mom. Today, working moms, who need childcare and convenience, e.g., ready-to-eat meals, are far more common.

Senior living has long specialized in hassle-free living for people who are over a specific age threshold. Why does that threshold still make sense? Answer: it doesn’t.

In Part 3 of this three-part series, we’ll share ten bold ideas that might take senior living from the doldrums to the heights. You can get an advance look at the whole series by clicking here.