Aging is not for sissies…

By Pam McDonald

Most of us in senior living have read the statistic that 86 to 90 percent of seniors intend to stay in their homes for the remainder of their lives. But Paul Flowers, President of Circa 46, an advertising agency with a speciality in senior living and a Senior Housing Forum partner, believes senior housing operators can position their communities in ways that will win the hearts of prospective residents.

Paul reminds us, aging is not for sissies. It’s a time characterized by losses which impact the quality of life; such as:

  • Loss of physical strength

  • Loss of health

  • Loss of peer group/friends

  • Loss of financial independence

  • Loss of authority

Seniors are in a daily battle to maintain control of their lives in the face of these losses and senior living can help by communicating messages that recognize and address these losses – as well as their accompanying fears.

What Americans Really Want

Paul cites the work of Frank Luntz, a political consultant and pollster, who identified six major concerns among Americans 65+ in his book, What Americans Really Want. High on his list is the need for control. “Control” ranks high for seniors because it speaks directly to what many of them fear most: dependence on others.

This need for control combined with a fear of dependence on others plays heavily into seniors’ perceptions of senior housing, Paul points out. “In their minds, the move to a senior community can signify surrender to these losses and recognition that such losses will continue to amass, making the activities of daily living increasingly difficult.

“A marketing implication related to seniors’ need for control is first to recognize this need and address it in your sales messaging. Without being too overt, messaging should demonstrate the independence a resident enjoys living at your community.”

Another concern among aging adults – also related to loss of control – is “peace-of-mind.” Paul distinguishes peace-of-mind from “security,” saying, “Though security can certainly contribute to a senior’s peace-of-mind. It’s bigger than that. Peace-of-mind means the senior has nothing to fear.

“The challenge this presents for marketing your senior living community is this: what do you do that gives your residents peace-of-mind? What assures prospective residents that they will have nothing to worry about within the walls of your community? Once you figure how you deliver on this important need, communicate that promise in every selling message.”

Paul agrees with Luntz that “health,” too, is a key concern related to seniors desire to remain active and in control physically – that they can still have the power to live their lives the way they wish. Paul says, “Whatever your community offers that promotes ‘healthy living’ or a ‘healthy lifestyle’ will attract attention. It is not just about health, though; it’s the emphasizing of lifestyle and living that will make them feel active and in control.”

Control, peace-of-mind and good health are linked to another key concern: freedom from financial worry. In fact, Paul cites a USB Investor Watch study released last fall that notes 42% of wealthy seniors said their greatest concern is becoming “a burden to their children in their old age.”

The American Dream

Related to this concern, Paul says, “is that seniors often feel entitled to live well in reward for a life well lived – the ‘American Dream,’ if you will. This is an expectation that, if not met, can lead to despair. By positioning life in your community as the reward your residents enjoy – and they (or their kids) can afford – you can increase the appeal of your selling message.”

As Paul points out, probably the single most common fear among aging adults is loneliness. Their lifelong friends and cohorts are thinning out. Their children and grandchildren have lives of their own, which limits the amount of time they can spend with their aging loved one.  

But this component of the aging process also can be turned into one of the strongest selling point for a senior living community. Paul says, “By demonstrating how a prospective resident will enjoy companionship and connectedness with other residents, your community can allay the great fear of loneliness and provide assurance that the resident will live out the remainder of life surrounded by friends and caring staff.”

As Paul sums it up, “Ultimately, it all comes back to the need to control. Aging adults grasp tightly to whatever they can control, aware that what they control is fleeting. The senior living community that can embrace seniors’ need for control and provide them the mechanisms to maintain that control longer will find it easier to win them over.”

Download the fact sheet on What Drives Aging Adults and Marketing Implications Senior Housing Operators Should Consider.