The Unique Challenges (and Infinite Rewards) of Marketing Senior Living

The Unique Challenges (and Infinite Rewards) of Marketing Senior Living

As marketing and public relations professionals in the senior housing niche, we at IVY are intimately aware of the unique challenges and rewards of the journey from individual homeownership to retirement community living.

Not only have we nearly 30 years of experience crafting the right messages and communications for those seniors and their loved ones contemplating a move to a senior living environment, we have personal and very deeply felt connections to this life transition in our own families.

Choice or Necessity?
What are the “right messages” for this monumental decision? Let’s start by saying that sometimes it’s not a decision at all. All too often, people are forced into a situation that requires care beyond what they or their family can provide, and they must “go somewhere” on a dime. In such cases, the sales cycle is short, and decisions are based principally on price and proximity to the primary family care taker.

A move to community senior living, however, should not be a dire necessity. This is not how our clients wish to welcome new residents. Still, that predicament is likely and understandable, as many of us are hesitant to move from the perceived independence associated with managing our own homes unless we have to.

The Beautiful Truth
Indeed, while senior living has evolved dramatically over the past decade, much slower to change is the perception by the aging population of their options. It’s extremely difficult to get past seniors’ preconceived notions of what “those places” are like and share the reality of the vibrant, engaging, carefree lifestyle that awaits them.

But share we must. The absolute truth is that our retirement community clients offer opportunities and freedom that older adults never dared imagine. The messages we help our clients to convey are, quite simply, that a senior living environment is an optimal choice.

Today’s senior living communities are stunning – not only in their physical accommodations, but in all they have to offer their residents – endless possibilities they would never have had the chance or inclination to experience before, and the liberty to pursue them without the burdens of managing a household.

Friendships blossom and flourish in senior living communities; loneliness and depression fade like the stress and fear associated with the move in the first place.

The Obstacles
Undeniably, fear and stress are realities for most people contemplating a move to a retirement community. For most potential buyers of senior housing, the move signals that they are aging, an acknowledgment few relish. It is also one of the most expensive decisions to make and has a sense of finality to it, because many assume that a senior community is the last place they will ever live.

This is not something we or our clients try to downplay or disguise. We know that effective marketing for senior living must include honest addressing of prospects’ concerns as well as profound understanding of just how different this industry is from others. Rarely is an offering as life-altering as senior housing, and most markets are not subjected to such intellectual or emotional disconnect.

Bridging the head and heart can take a very long time for independent living accommodations where residents do not need assisted or skilled care. It also takes many visits, calls and assurances from a trusted source, usually the sales person, as well as other residents to close the deal. It is not uncommon for there to be 12-14 interactions with a potential resident prior to making the sale of an independent senior living residence. Once the decision to buy into or rent at an independent senior living community is made, it becomes a logical, well-planned transition without the emotional acceptance.

Sharing the Truth
We are as excited to tell everyone about our clients’ amazing communities as they are!

Strong is the bond we have with our clients in senior housing, and great are its rewards. Our team has true partnerships with those we serve, bringing talent, skill and the latest trends and technology to the table as well as regular presence in their communities (telling the wonderful stories of both staff and residents), constant encouragement and enthusiasm, and in-depth knowledge of the exceptionally unique process of marketing senior living.

Our niche expertise in senior housing helps guide the lengthy process of making sales, all the while ensuring that messaging is relevant, useful and consistent. Our experience in the market also helps new clients determine their brand positioning – how they’re going to stand out among competitors.

Because we’re so entrenched in senior living, we can steer our clients in campaigns with fresh content, creative advertising and a blend of up-to-the-minute digital and traditional strategies to keep them top of mind and eventually drive sales into target markets.

We at IVY Marketing have the distinct challenge, and joy, of helping shift misconceptions and, in doing so, helping seniors discover what should and truly can be their golden years.




Mature Audiences Only: Event Marketing for Senior Housing Part I

Mature Audiences Only: Event Marketing for Senior Housing Part I

The viral advantages of online marketing are undisputed, but, until recently, most seniors were not regular Internet or social media users. Today, 67% of people 65+ use the Internet, and 62% are on Facebook, and those numbers are rising all the time. In fact, 82% of Baby Boomers belong to at least one social media site and spend two hours more per week online than those aged 16-34.

Despite seniors’ increasing adoption of the Internet into their daily lives, events are still the most effective way to generate relationships with customers and leads across all populations, particularly among people 65 and above. Eighty percent of marketers believe that event marketing is the single most effective marketing channel, and seniors have more time and opportunity than other demographics to attend events.

Let’s examine how to take full advantage of event marketing for the senior housing arena.

Why an Event?
Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish by hosting an event. Are you aiming to raise awareness of your senior community within the greater community (appropriate for a guest list of 50+ people); are you hoping to reach a smaller group of marketing qualified or sales accepted leads? Whatever your purpose, your event should conform to your overarching objective in every way—whether it is to raise awareness, gather contact information, clinch interested leads, raise funds, strengthen bonds with community partners, or simply entertain.

Live and In Person
Regardless of the reason for your event, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication, live and in the flesh. No amount of technological advancement or social media connections can change that. Live events provide invaluable opportunities to showcase your mission in action, property(ies)/services and foster lasting relationships with your prospects and stakeholders. Older adults who haven’t been glued to their electronic devices all their lives are likely to appreciate that more than most.

What Kind of Event?
The reason you’re having an event must govern the kind of event to host, with every detail falling in line with your primary goal. That said, because older adults generally have more breathing room in their lives, events that encourage lingering and facilitate learning and/or provide quality entertainment are especially effective. Seniors are seasoned, savvy and wise, but they are also continuously seeking new experiences.

Events should not only showcase your community inside and out (fair weather is best for outside events and tours); they should also feature speakers or presentations on topics of special interest to older adults and their families or cultural enlightenment. Even if they’re not yet ready for a move, your guests will remember the senior community that provided them with a memorable day or evening, and they’ll be much more likely to contact you when they are ready. Keep in mind, too, that older adults are accustomed to and motivated by incentives such as discounts for “early bird” registration, raffles and giveaways. Unless your overhead is considerable or you’re trying to raise charitable funds, offer free events instead of those that impose a cost to attend.

Your community is the ideal location to host an event, because it invites guests directly into the space you want them to call home. There, you can let them experience not only your residences, but your fabulous dining and amenities, too. Larger venues are appropriate if you’re partnering with other sponsors in a conference or trade show setting that is focused on your industry rather than your senior living community(ies) per se, or if you’re celebrating a grand occasion or milestone with a sizable guest list and require more space.

How Many and Whom to Invite?
First, invite no more than your community can very comfortably accommodate. There should be plenty of dining space and food/beverages (including seconds), mingling areas, manned check-in stations, commodious seating/staging arranged appropriately for your focus activity, adequate lighting, handicap accessibility, apartments to tour, restroom accommodations, amenities/common areas to showcase or try out, and friendly staff to handle all of these offerings and answer any questions. As for whom to invite, check your goals again. Most senior event guest lists include resident prospects first and foremost, their adult children, friends, caregivers, grandchildren (if appropriate), your marketing and sales teams, community partners, donors, and any key players in the life of your community.

Watch for “Mature Audiences Only: Event Marketing for Senior Housing Part II” next week (or next month, in the case of our newsletter), when we will examine how to promote your event and assess results.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle to Recover

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle to Recover

At the recent Life Services  Network conference for senior  housing and services, attendees  came to be inspired and  renewed with ideas and  solutions.  Certainly, the  frustration of our economy and  new healthcare reform confound  marketers, managers and  owners. However, it is also clear  that the rules of engagement  inherent to social media have  permeated all their marketing  efforts.

Reduce your marketing to goals.

Social media is based on the premises of transparency, generosity and caring. As a result, it has earned more than a pat on the head and a passing nod in the C-suite.  Today, marketeers in nearly all industries integrate social media principles and practices into their goals for sales, clients, donors, etc.  The goals are tangible and are established with hard numbers:  how many sales do you want to make?  website views?  requests for information?

Reuse your messages.

Sharing is now a very big deal.  Share what you know and excel at, if it could be of value to your prospects.  However, do it with a purpose in mind and know what you want the reader to do with the information you have just given them.  Do you want them to pass it along to others?  Do you want them to write a comment to your article (then end with a question)?  Do you want them to pick up the phone to learn more from you?  Don’t make your reader guess, tell them what you want them to do with the information you have imparted.

Recycle your efforts.

Cross-promote your message with great care and attention to detail. It is likely that everything in your marketing tool box has the potential to work in more than a single capacity.  For example, your print ads and direct mail pieces have often been related.  Press releases can be posted on line, to your website, e-newsletters, social media venues.  Then published articles can also be printed and mailed as direct mail, reprinted for your brochures, framed and posted in a photo gallery.  Your posts can be shared on RSS feeds, among your accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, along with your myriad of other related blogs and outlets.

Recover by responding.

When you get a response, give a response.  Say “thank you” often and quickly.  If you receive a negative comment, address that personally if possible.  If not, do it as soon as possible and with full transparency for the best possible outcome.

These are the essentials of marketing in today’s world.  Thinking in terms of recycling and you will find ways to reduce your marketing costs, reuse your marketing efforts, and recover from the challenges of today’s marketplace.

The Marketing Smoothie Recipe for Older Adult Services

The Marketing Smoothie Recipe for Older Adult Services

Take your direct mail, your advertising, your website, Facebook page, special events and put them all in a blender.  Combine, mix on high and serve immediately.  The rich flavors will create a marketing masterpiece worthy of your finest efforts.  Yields:  New customers.  Will keep for at least one year.

It’s true, every ingredient you add to your marketing mix is going to enhance the effectiveness of your campaign especially when you combine them and let them work together to support each other.  This is especially true when appealing to older adults.  Seniors usually read direct mail and watch or listen to commercials, hence the expiration date for these mediums is further out than say, print advertising.  That .5% response rate you get with direct mail may bring people to your community, your store or your website.  Use it wisely because it is quite expensive; however, it can boost interest and awareness about your organization when you promote your website, blog, Facebook, etc., in the mailed piece (email or snail mail).

Special events are a great place to have people sign up with their email addresses.  Offer something for free, or an opportunity to win cash or a give-away and you’ll get more email addresses.  Take your online magazine or website on the road — to senior fairs, to trade events, anywhere you can.  Then let people see what they can learn, enjoy and gain value from by participating in your online activities.

Of course there’s a menu of options for those folks who like to consume the latest communications trends of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs,  too.  First, connect your Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts via any one of a number of new social media management services that are often free.  Then link all of that to your website.  Connect the paths among all these accounts to your blog or online magazine, to reputable referral sites and of course, your RSS Feed.  Promote your events on your site, within these accounts, offer special discounts, etc. via these mediums.  You can even try pay-per-click advertising on search engines and referral sites.

In your monthly statements or newsletters, provide links and special advantages to using your organization’s online tools.  Use signage throughout your venue to promote your online and make it worth a prospect’s while to seek out your business on the Internet.

Online strategies are far less expensive overall and are proving to be about 60% less per lead than traditional tactics.  However, a slow but steady shift of funds and efforts away from the traditional methods into the online is a far more successful way to reach the older adult market.  Use the next year or two to change your lead-generating diet to mostly online.

Borrowing from Real Estate Cousins

Borrowing from Real Estate Cousins

Location, location, location is, and always has been, the mantra for real estate which applies to every sector of the industry.  It speaks to convenience, present and future value, proximity to people and places and preferences.  That’s why residential real estate can borrow from retail and resort sectors, senior housing can borrow from residential and industrial can borrow from office.  And, we can all borrow from each other.

So how are residential real estate agents marketing their products to weather the financial storm?

We all recognize that the real estate housing market was a critical factor in the recent demise of our economy.  If affects all real estate sectors but when it comes to where we live, it really hits home.  The classic:  a sign in the yard, a pictures on the church bulletin, an MLS listing and broker specialties, such as “specialist in senior housing” still anchor the real estate market.  However, successful agents showcase their product to the internet via interactive websites, video tours with lifestyle components to them, online classified ads and social media.

New technology allows agents to really give a personality to their listing, just like this video from Planomatic (  There is also a considerable amount of detail about the property that is right at your finger tips.  In fact, you can make your Planomatic video and property information an app on your iPhone.

Twitter and mobile media are good tools for urgency.  If a property is just up for sale, just reduced, just received a bid or has been sold, the real time status is just a click, ring or buzz away.  Could this be used by sales people everywhere to create urgency for your sought after product, service or property?  What’s happening in the community right now?  Let the prospect ponder, “What would my life be like if I were there?”

Senior housing specialists have never considered their products to be real estate but rather lifestyle.  Clearly, it is a complicated sale with that nagging sense of finality to it.  However, generally speaking, consumers still fund their housing with real estate.   An online classified ad might bring that all important lead, especially if you have a great story to tell to go along with the real estate.  Twitter or Facebook are options to bring news to people where they get their news, especially as we talk to the adult children of older adults.

Residential real estate agents are quick to let people know what is conveniently located to their listings.  Savvy agents also add local calendars, real estate values, links to different events and locations that give someone a sense of place.  This is added to their interactive websites, Facebook with links to Twitter, LinkedIn and other relevant groups that can either assist with the sale of the product or the potential end buyer.

According to the Inman News Company (, which is a wonderful resource for residential real estate brokers, social media rules apply for real estate, just as they do for other industries.

Rule 1)  don’t just talk about yourself.

Rule 2) Post great content along with your listing.

Rule 3) Never claim someone else’s content as your own.

Rule 4)  Don’t give out too much information.

Rule 5)  Learn the language of the network, group, constituents you are taking with and use it.

We couldn’t agree more.