Guilt: Confronting Senior Living’s Biggest Marketing Challenge


Marketing Matters is brought to you by Solutions Advisors and Retiring by Design. Working together, Solutions Advisors and Retiring by Design give you the analytic and creative synergy to develop unique solutions and achieve optimum results for your senior living community, providing management, operations, marketing, and sales consulting services. 


A rising need for high acuity care in senior living has encouraged an uptick in memory care development, the latest data show. But while the need is prevalent—the number of Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to triple from 5 million to 16 million by 2050—operators say it takes more than bricks and mortar to attract residents.

Guilt, industry insiders say, creates one of the biggest marketing challenges for high acuity senior living communities, spurring the need for marketing strategies that target the adult child or family member who most often make the decision to move a loved one into a memory care or assisted living environment.

And reaching the adult child or loved one of those who would most benefit from care in a high acuity senior living setting is crucial, since 85% of current caregivers are family members.


“Almost 100% of the time there is some kind of reservation [from the adult child] to place mom or dad in a senior living community — even if it’s the nicest senior living residence,” says Glenn Barclay, COO, with Jackson, Miss.-based Blake Management Group. “While it always helps to be in a beautiful building, they’re dealing with the feelings of letting go, no longer personally taking care of their loved one, and that brings feelings of guilt.”

Blake Management Group has retirement, assisted living and memory care communities throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Challenge Stereotypes

“Families initially have a preconceived idea of long term care because they have the old image of a nursing home,” Barclay says, noting that new housing models are much different from those of 10, let alone 20 or 30, years ago. “Today senior living is all about lifestyle. It’s not just a residence for mom and dad. The older adult has so much to give back to the community.”

Some of the views prospective residents and their families might have about senior living are influenced by the type of language used in branding, says Jennifer Ruyle, chief branding officer of senior living consulting company Bild & Company.

“We usually say community, or care center,” Ruyle says. “We don’t use certain words that conjure up negative perceptions, such as facility. We’re also using the true stories and testimonials of current residents and their families when creating the core messaging for a [senior living] community. You want to show people are living purposeful lives and focus on the benefits they’re getting from that community.”

When prospects visit a community to learn more, involve the entire staff, Barclay says.

“From house staff, nurses, executive directors, kitchen staff — we want to introduce [that prospect and family member] to as many staff members as we can before they leave the building,” he says, adding that various staff members in addition to the marketing director are involved in followup calls to families. “When our residents move in they already know who everyone is. And that helps families feel better.”

Connect With the Adult Child

While the first meeting with a prospective resident and his or her loved one, who is often the caregiver, may not immediately lead to a move-in, creating a relationship of trust with that caregiver can benefit providers in the long run, says Perry Aycock, president of senior living services firm Retirement Dynamics.

“The challenge is that [the adult child] is usually harried by the situation they have found themselves in,” Aycock says. “As such, the marketing efforts we see as most beneficial — mission, leads and sales — are those that reach out to teach, train and support that caregiver. That way they get something that helps them do what they are doing better or more easily and builds a relationship. And, perhaps [an opportunity to] consider their other options versus putting their heads down to deal with the complicated situation they’ve found themselves in.”

Images used in advertising should reflect both the senior and adult child.

For an assisted living community, Bild & Co created a dual marketing piece that showed a mother and daughter together to create a message that would appeal to both parties.

“If daughter receives the marketing piece she may think, ‘My mom and I should look at this piece,’” Ruyle says. “And, if mom receives it, she may think, ‘I should show this to my daughter.’”

Overall, communicating a community’s mission effectively includes highlighting how the new living arrangement will benefit both the senior and family member, Barclay says.

“It’s really educating the prospects who are looking that this a good thing not just for mom and dad, but it’s good for the entire family,” Barclay says. “It’s going to give mom and dad a lifestyle and will give you [the adult child] peace of mind. If we’re providing three great meals everyday, that means you don’t have to worry about running to the grocery store, or mom and dad’s nutrition. Instead, you can visit our community and join mom and dad for a great meal.”

In addition, highlight what senior living can provide that few other resources can.

“What is giving the family the most grief or concern?” Blake Management Group staff identify off the bat, Barclay says. “We train staff to find out and let them know how our services can alleviate that so that they can go back to their son or daughter relationship and really enjoy each other as a family instead of [being in] a caregiver/patient relationship.”

Written by Cassandra Dowell