CMO Snapshot: How to Build, Maintain & Elevate a Senior Living Brand

Brand Building|Senior Living|Thought Leadership|Trends|

Last week, we examined the myths of marketing to today’s modern seniors. This week our series continues with a snapshot from our CMO, Barbara McGraw, of how to build, maintain and elevate a senior living brand. 

Building Your Brand

The first, and arguably most important, fact to recognize about today’s seniors housing industry is that it is a business segment unlike any other. While it’s easy to default to a healthcare mindset, that’s only one facet of this vast and growing vertical that has to be taken into account. To create a truly strategic and comprehensive senior living brand in today’s marketplace, you have to also layer in elements and best practices from other high-touch verticals including hospitality, technology, and even luxury mainstays. That doesn’t even take into account color theory and other psychological components that are woven into the therapies and residential experiences, all of which have a place in your brand’s story.

So, how do you actually start conceptualizing a brand for a segment with such an expansive view? The answer may surprise you. 

Start where you would for any other brand building exercise — by reviewing competitive market leaders and challenging yourself with the chance to step away from the norm. Earlier this year, Visual Capitalist examined MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Study 2020 and found that Boomers resonate most with Amazon, Toyota, Lexus and Apple, respectively. 

If we take brand cues from these global leaders, here’s what we’re left with:

  • The customer-first/service focus of Amazon Prime delivery
  • The luxury and experiential aspects of Lexus
  • The future-focused, intuitive usability of Apple
  • The sense of welcoming at Four Seasons hotels

These are invaluable insights into the expectations that today’s Boomers and adult children have for seniors housing options. So your brand image, story and identity all need to measure up.

Additionally, Trust, Quality of Life, Connection and Empathy are mandatory brand values across the board, whether you’re a 55+ active lifestyle community or a more long-term assisted living / independent living community. Knowing this, the challenge is then expanded to the development of a unique brand position that speaks to your particular consumer benefit and marrying your brand identity around that fundamental concept. 

For active adults in the Baby Boomer generation, “quality of life” means making a difference in their community, pursuing a second career, and maintaining an active lifestyle to live independently for as long as possible. Today’s Boomers are stylish, tech-savvy, extroverted, a little mischievous and, above all, extremely influential. This generation is not bowing out. Rather, they are standing centerstage for life’s third act — but don’t just take it from me. Hear it straight from a perennial icon of the longevity movement, Jane Fonda, in her talk for TEDxWomen. She was certainly ahead of the times when she gave this talk in 2011, but it’s still incredibly relevant for today’s senior living marketing efforts.

Maintaining Your Brand 

Branding is not limited to a few quick-turn campaigns and it is not a series of one-off checkboxes. True brand management is an ongoing cycle of assessment, refinement and action. In fact, the quickest way to regress the momentum of your brand is to put it on auto-pilot. 

You’ve introduced the who and what of your brand and the fundamentals of why Boomers should choose your community. Now it’s time to reinforce those messages to build advocacy and brand loyalty. This means exploring the sense of place you’ve established — highlighting the cultural and social experiences that contribute to the authenticity of your community, such as a salon-style lecture series or competitive croquet league — and setting the expectation of a higher quality of life in all of the areas that are important to your residents, both prospective and current. 

Speaking of current residents, don’t forget about them! They have the potential to be your best allies and brand advocates. Keep them informed as new amenities, programs and services are developed in the community and listen to their feedback. The same applies to their families.

Ultimately, this is the time to invest financially, strategically and emotionally in long-term results. Detail the amenities of the community, share personal stories and interviews with the staff, and develop your strategy for reconnecting with consumers who are now aging into your audience. Carefully assess your competitive mix and decide if your brand’s primary selling point is still unique. By devoting real resources to establishing brand awareness early in this phase, you’ll own your share of voice in the industry. This is critical for successful communication in the future. Who wants to spend their marketing dollars just trying to be heard when you could be curating your brand’s overall image and directing its impact on the market?

Elevating Your Brand

There’s no question that COVID-19 dealt quite a blow to the consumer’s perception of senior living facilities. Moving forward, it will certainly take more than a logo change or acquisition announcement to truly elevate a brand. Now, more than ever, understanding how company culture affects brand experience is vital. Prioritizing the wellbeing of caregivers and expanding on-site fitness and wellness programs for residents are just two factors that Boomers will use to weigh their decision on seniors housing. 

In an interview with Forbes, Dan Hutson, former chief strategy officer for the nonprofit HumanGood, noted, “The big issue is that, as an industry, we have built a product that does not align with what the consumer wants”. REITs and developers, take note — now is the time to find your strategic branding partners and, together, commit to changing the pace and paradigm of senior living. Humans crave adventure, excitement, collaboration and opportunity. Carl Jung spelled it out for us 80 years ago with the 12 archetypes that have become cornerstones of marketing. For Boomers, the lure of livable luxury, authentic cultural experiences, and the undeniable need to be seen as individuals are quickly outstripping the housing options available.

Brands focused on today’s seniors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine the concept of aging and transform it into living. For established brands, it’s especially important to reevaluate the message of “aging gracefully”. As a society, we are past the point of expecting our elders to hold their thoughts, step aside, and settle down — and the brands which empower that movement will earn themselves lasting loyalty.


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