Integrated, Personalized Approach the Holy Grail of Senior Living Marketing

The process of converting a senior living prospect into a moved-in resident has grown longer and costlier since the economic downturn, and marketing campaigns increasingly require an integrated approach that incorporates online and offline components along with a personalized touch. 

“[Marketing] campaigns have to be very integrated and diverse,” says Rebecca Donato, vice president of business development at North Hill, a retirement community in Needham, Mass.  “At this juncture, prospects are using both online and offline resources, while influencers are primarily online.” 

Prospects are spending between 18 months and 3 years to “extensively” research communities using a variety of resources, says Donato.


The process of converting a prospect into a resident has grown in both length and cost, especially for independent living, according to Kevin Williams, president of, a website that launched about six months ago to provide consulting services for senior living communities. It now takes about eight to twelve “touches,” up from five to eight.

 “Since 2008 it has taken communities a lot more exposure [to convert residents],” he says. “People are dealing with scared prospects, financially speaking.”

While online and email marketing yields the biggest bang for the advertising buck, Donato estimates, direct mail still produces the best quality leads. Creating and fine-tuning ways to marry offline and online mediums could result in the Holy Grail of senior living marketing.


Direct mail campaigns are expensive, but they’re a great lead generator, Williams says, and adding an online component along with a personalized aspect can help track their effectiveness.

Consumers generally respond better to information geared directly toward them—even if it’s as simple as a landing page that greets them by name—and it has the added benefit of allowing communities to track the effectiveness of their mailing, he says. 

“Track everything you do—every ad, every direct mail piece, etc.,” says Williams. “Use unique phone numbers or URLs so you can know how much it costs to acquire a customer, and be able to determine the lifetime value of residents.” 

Donato says her team uses as many tracking mechanisms as it can to assess the effectiveness of various marketing mediums, and predicts a “dramatic” shift in approach in about five years. 

“When we’re marketing solely to the silent generation and early boomers, I think it’s going to be a huge swing. Those people [will be] online constantly, but might not have the time to go through their [post] mail,” she says. 

That’s not to say direct mail or other offline measures will fall by the wayside. 

“We definitely see a lot of things trending online, whether it’s the source of generating leads, to the way we nurture and communicate with leads through email, social media, or using content to get people to come back to [the community’s] website,” says Todd Harff, president of marketing agency Creating Results. “However, brochures are just as critical—if not more so.”

As the length of time for someone to make a decision increases, he says, the physical nature of a brochure becomes “that much more important as a tangible and ever-present reminder of the community.” 

The biggest criticism of brochures—and of marketing efforts for senior living communities in general—is when they fail to differentiate the community, Harff says.

“It’s an ongoing problem that in many communities, you could change the name on the brochure and it could work well for other ones,” he says. “That sort of brochure is either a waste, or an underutilized asset.” 

Creating Results designed a brochure for North Hill that functions like a folder and can be personalized based on a prospect’s particular interests. Prospects can add different brochures into the folder, such as floor plans that interest them, or specific information about the care level they’d be moving into.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all brochure,” he says. “People walk out with a unique brochure that’s personalized to their experience.”

The older generation still tends to print out pages from communities’ websites, in essence creating their own brochures, Harff says, and he encourages clients to make sure their websites could work as a brochure in terms of print formatting. 

Brochures will lessen in importance in about five to ten years and the caliber of online experiences will become more important, he predicts, but ultimately there continues to be a need for integrated approaches that cater to prospects’ individual needs and interests.

“We liken it to spokes on a bicycle wheel: If you’re only using one or two spokes, representing available marketing media, your wheel won’t stand up,” says Williams. “The more spokes you have, the better your wheel will work. If one source dries up and goes away, you’re still [able to function].” 

Written by Alyssa Gerace 

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