Mystery Shopping Reveals Hazards of “iPod Marketing” for Senior Living Lead Conversion

This is the second in a three-part series on mystery shopping in senior living. Read the first installment, on the importance of Marketing 101.

When Apple introduced the iPod, music lovers rejoiced, but in senior living communities where “iPod marketing” is practiced, there’s not so much cause for celebration as mystery shoppers say it negatively impacts lead conversion.

While several different groups offer mystery shopping services for senior living communities, the people who came up with the term “iPod marketing” (in this context) were not professionals; rather, they were students enrolled in George Mason University’s Senior Housing Administration program, which for 10 years has required them to mystery shop a community and report back to the class.


As each class presented its findings, a trend toward four basic—and faulty—approaches to senior living marketing emerged, says Andrew Carle, the program’s founder and executive-in-residence.

In some communities, it was as if the marketing director pressed the “play” button for a canned, one-size-fits-all spiel, the students said.

Other marketers employed the “pause” approach—forcing the caller to volunteer piece after piece of information without asking leading or follow-up questions.


Some students encountered a “fast-forward” approach, where the statement “I’m calling about my mom–” was immediately rejoined with, “When can you come in for a tour?” before the marketer ever ascertained whether the prospective resident would actually be a good fit at the community and if his or her needs could be met.

“The worse one is the ‘shuffle,’ when they bounce around, back and forth [between topics or lines of questioning],” says Carle. “A good marketer gathers information in an organized way, and based on that information will then say, ‘Let me tell you about what we can offer.'” 

The biggest problem revealed by the students’ mystery shopping assignment, says Carle, is that while most marketers are ‘really nice people,’ many have not been properly trained. 

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“Many tend to come across as personable, but they don’t ask the questions in any organized way,” he says. “They’re not really processing the information with families in ways that would be most helpful to them. We keep getting people on the phone who have not been trained in basically what should be a management discipline and a science—things they should be learning in college.” 

Coming up: Using mystery shopping findings to more efficiently use marketing resources

Written by Alyssa Gerace