Senior Living Industry Needs to Catch Up With Today’s Consumer

Consumer expectations have risen across the board for every age group and industry, but the senior living industry is behind in how it targets its product to today’s consumers, says a mature market researcher.

Other industries have changed in the Internet age as a “hyper-abundance” of consumer choices have cropped up. Transparency is becoming paramount, said Margaret Wylde, CEO of market research firm ProMatura Group LLC, at the Assisted Living Federation of America’s 2013 Conference and Expo, held this year in Charlotte, N.C.

“Because of the Internet and all the information we can get, from anywhere—Twitter, Facebook, writing reviews—consumers recognize they have a voice, and the voice is alive and well on the Internet,” she says. “We must be incredible transparent. We can’t hide anything, anymore. People have begun crowdsourcing for information, including what they paid for medical services.”

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What will be next, Wylde predicts, is not just costs—but how satisfied consumers are with what they got. In 2012, though, satisfaction levels among residents regarding quality of life in their community dipped precipitously to 31% from 2001’s 45%.

“I have never seen the proportion of those who are ‘very satisfied’ with a community’s quality of life decline so far,” she says. 

Driven by the recession, many providers have been relying on “hostage sales” to drive market growth, and the sales pitch for senior living has switched more to the “needs” side rather than the “wants” side,

“We’ve grown market share basically through “hostage sales”—people who don’t really want to be there, but need to be there for the care,” said Wylde. “We’ve got to start going back to [what they] want, while still providing care.”

In every study ProMatura has done of assisted living residents, satisfaction was not tied in any way shape or form with personal care services, according to Wylde. “That is not what makes people happy,” she says. “They need the care, and would like it to be done well,…but then they want to have a great day.”

Changing a community’s positioning to focus on care and lifestyle can have a tremendous impact on a prospective residents’ likelihood of moving into a community.

For one study, Wylde asked potential consumers if they would think about moving into a particular senior living community. Only 4% said they might “buy” the product, or move in.

The proportion of respondents who said they would ‘maybe’ move in or be ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to move shot up to 85% after Wylde showed them the community’s lifestyle offering—a 2,025% change, she pointed out, just by focusing on lifestyle.

Independent living communities are at a marketing crossroads in the post-recession era. Market research shows that potential consumers have favorable views toward these types of communities, but believe they’re too expensive.

ProMatura Group surveyed an age-qualified group about 91 communities in their respective market regions and found that, overall, communities lacked connection with their market. While a majority (51%) had an either positive or somewhat positive opinion, four out of ten had no opinion at all.

However, those who report some level of loneliness have very positive opinions of independent living communities, ProMatura found—not just for care, but for companionship.

Only a few had a negative opinion, with one major reason: the community was too expensive (49%).

“We’ve driven up pricing by bundling services into our fee. Pricing is out of reach for many, especially after the economic downturn,” Wylde says.

The biggest way potential consumers said they could be enticed into an independent living community was if it was a lower cost, said 48% of respondents. While Wylde isn’t a proponent of price slashing, she says one way to achieve a lower price tag is to unbundle offerings.

The top three things people want out of independent living, according to ProMatura data, is less home and yard maintenance; dining and food services; and to be around other people. After that, consensus lessens among survey respondents regarding what they’re looking for in a community. 

“We already have what they want,” says Wylde. “We just need to figure out how to get them through the door.” 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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