By Jack Cumming

My recent shadow shopping adventures led me to the most negative marketing event I have ever encountered, not only in senior living, but in any context whatsoever, including shopping for a new car. I wrote of that unhappy event in an earlier article titled “Is Your Marketing the Pits?” I hope it’s not. This is about a happier event. But it came with an unanticipated surprise.

A Happier Event

The much better recent experience involved a seminar selling event at what we’ll call House of Bells to avoid the distraction of real names. The community, a CCRC, is known for its bell tower. This was a professional event. I was attracted by the speaker, who is an author writing about the challenges of aging. The marketing staff provided an attractive lunch, which showcased the dining capabilities.

Since House of Bells is a CCRC that I greatly admire for its top-notch management, its careful financial stewardship, its type A full care-inclusive contract option, its state-of-the-art health care center under construction, and much more, I wanted the event to be a big success. Moreover, I like the idea of seminars as a marketing tool. Attendees can range from tentative explorers to fully committed folks just waiting for a vacancy. Everyone was warmly welcomed, and there was something for all stages of looking.

Learning From Observation

Attending this particular seminar was a learning experience for me. Here are some observations.

  1. Most of the attendees I spoke with were local, living within five miles of the CCRC, and very few were actively contemplating a near-term move-in, though by my observation they were “ready for that.”
  2. The speaker was an expert on aging, but the truth I eked out through conversation was that another topic would have interested the prospects more.
  3. While you might think prospects would be interested in aging, the existing residents were scheduled for a presentation later in the afternoon, in the same room, on NASA. The thought grew in my mind that the prospects might have preferred the NASA talk. Several conversations bore that out.
  4. The speaker on aging was also age-eligible for move-in. Someone asked about the speaker’s own search and thinking. The candid answer was unexpected.
  5. As it turned out, after seriously considering CCRCs, the speaker and spouse were now looking toward cohousing as a better option. Takeaway: be sure a seminar speaker is on board to support your marketing message.
  6. After the talk ended, tours were offered. I’m not a fan of tours as a sales approach. First of all, most all senior living buildings and apartments look very much like all others. Second, the quality of the conversation during a tour is not likely to have the substance that a relaxed conversation can provide. Why did the prospect attend? What are their expectations? Do they have a time frame?
  7. Better than a tour …, better than a “relevant” speaker, IMHO (in my humble opinion), would be a straightforward presentation by the marketing staff of what a CCRC is, how it differs from staying put, and why the particular CCRC is a better choice than others in the area.
  8. House of Bells has a salesperson with a gifted platform personality who could easily have replaced the featured speaker. The event could be sold as a chance to learn about whether CCRC life is for you, and to meet others who are considering the same choices as you are. I thought that not having that be the heart of the event was a missed opportunity.

What’s Missing?

These two shadow shopping experiences suggest that the industry has yet to learn how to tell its story. CCRCs are getting only a minuscule share of the market for housing and services among the elderly. Matt Thornhill made that point four years ago in a presentation that you can access by clicking here (PDF; see slide 18).

Why does the industry allow that to happen? And why are providers satisfied with that paltry result? The industry has allowed itself to be stigmatized, but that shouldn’t be. Let’s celebrate the offering, but first, let’s make sure that it’s an offering worth celebrating. In the next article in this set, “Is the Future Happening Now?,” we’ll consider the cohousing concept that surfaced so surprisingly at House of Bells.