Upgrade Your Understanding of the Marketplace

Incoming wave of Baby Boomers will drastically change our approach to housing.

By Barbara Kleger

It’s been over 35 years since I began my career in seniors housing, and I’d say that right now is without question the most exciting and interesting time to be in this industry. It’s changing fast. Operators, developers and builders are preparing for the next generation of seniors by undertaking an unprecedented number of upgrades, expansions and new developments. 

We’re also experiencing something unique. We have a two-fold marketplace: today’s elderly and their retirement–age, Baby Boomer children. These two generations are dramatically different, and it’s Baby Boomers who are in the driver’s seat. They demand more, they research more and they have higher and different expectations than their parents.

That’s why it’s so important to update your understanding of your marketplace before you upgrade your community. The incoming generation of prospects is different from what we’ve encountered before, and we’ll need to change our approach in order to meet their needs and expectations. 

The blueprint for that upgrade includes getting to know your new customer and their motivations, understanding what matters to them, and using that information to steer both your marketing and your physical upgrades. 

Old rules and new rules

Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Unlike their parents, who anticipated retirement as a time to sit back and watch the world go by, Boomers view retirement as a time to reinvent themselves.

As different as the Baby Boomers are from generations past, these basic principles of marketing are still 100 percent valid.

• Your new customers, just like their parents and grandparents before them, will buy on emotion and validate the decision with facts.

• You need to get the right message to the right people at the right time.

• You measure success by evaluating which methods generate the most leads, prospects and sales for the cost, and use this information to steer future marketing efforts.

Now, here is what’s different:

• The specific emotions and facts that you need to generate in order to motivate a purchase.

• The method by which those feelings and facts are delivered.

• The tools available to determine what’s working.

• The speed at which this process moves. 

The emotional content that motivates Baby Boomers will closely follow their priorities. Content that focuses on inspiration, purpose and growth will resonate more with them than safety and security.

While Boomers do still want safety and security as their parents do, that is not what gets their attention first. Generationally, they are risk-takers and thrill seekers — or, at least they like to think of themselves that way.

The tone should be collaborative rather than consultative. They are looking for support in creating a meaningful retirement, rather than a solution to the “problem” of aging. In other words, the model is moving from “What’s the matter with you?” to “What matters to you?”

Content is king

This shift toward emotional and personalized marketing content has changed both the way we use media and the ways that new and traditional media work together. 

Delivery of emotional content begins with your prospects’ first interaction with your community, whether that is your website, social media presence or television and print advertising. It’s the beginning of the personal relationship.

At one time, the website was essentially an online brochure. The approach to delivering information was mechanical: having the right keywords and facts about your community was enough for your prospects to find you through a search engine, and pick up the phone. 

Now, your website is your first tool in developing a relationship with your prospects, and a key player in maintaining the relationship once they make contact. Great websites are mind readers. The content (and structure) speaks directly to visitors and anticipates their questions, doubts and needs, all the while acknowledging their hopes and dreams for the next phase of their lives. 

In a crowded marketplace, creating a feeling that you understand what they value will move your community to the top of the list. The more personal the content, the more universal the appeal. Include video testimonials, photos of resident homes, and photos and videos of events.

Social media incorporates similar content, but on a daily basis, driven toward keeping your prospects, residents and their families interested, engaged and spreading the word about your offerings. Over 50 percent of seniors use social media, and Boomer women are among the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users. Plus, the granularity of social media also allows for highly targeted advertising. If you’re not taking it seriously, then you’re missing a big component of relationship building. 

Traditional media — direct mail and print advertising, for example — is still effective, but it serves a different purpose. 

At one time, an effective print ad might be enough. Now, a print ad is an invitation for your customer to learn more about you through your website and social media. Traditional media primes prospects for what they’ll find online, or reinforces what they’ve already seen.

The blueprint for upgrading your understanding

So, how do you start creating all of this highly personal content?

Focus groups are one of the most powerful tools both for steering your messages and evaluating plans for upgrades. Focus groups were popular in the 1990s, then fell out of fashion as marketing — particularly online marketing — became more mechanistic. But when your marketing is driven by emotion, getting to know what people are really thinking is essential. 

Focus groups offer your leadership a window into what your consumers feel about your business and your marketplace. Unlike focus groups of the past, today’s technology allows us to define the question as it’s being asked. 

For example, I always wear a smart watch when I moderate group discussions, so that observers can text me if they want to explore a topic in more detail. That way, we can seamlessly change the course of the conversation to get exactly the feedback they need quickly and efficiently. 

As you use information from your focus groups to steer your media content, the analytics from your website, online advertising and social media will give you consistent, real-time feedback. 

Deploying content, analyzing the results and refining the message is an ongoing process. There is new information to learn about your marketplace every day.

That process and the speed at which it changes is perhaps one of the greatest changes I’ve seen in marketing seniors housing over the past 35 years. It wasn’t that long ago that a successful campaign would be effective for years. That’s no longer the case. If you’re not keeping up with your consumers and offering them something new every day, you’re going backwards. There is no standing still.

So, as you look ahead to upgrades to your community, use this blueprint: know your marketplace, know your prospects and know what matters to them. When you upgrade your understanding, you’ll deliver both the messages and the products that succeed.

Barbara Kleger is president of Kleger Associates, a strategic planning, consumer research and marketing firm serving the seniors market.

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