What’s in a name? For many senior living providers, a whole lot.
Across the country, senior living companies are refreshing their corporate branding, and in the process dropping age-related words from their names such as “retirement” and “senior.” Recent examples include Skokie, Illinois-based senior housing nonprofit Covenant Retirement Communities rebranding as Covenant Living, and Franklin, Tennessee-based Vitality Senior Living taking the name Vitality Living as part of a merger with Traditions Senior Living.
But this is not a new trend. Dozens of senior living providers have in recent years dropped certain words from their names in partly to appeal to the next generation of older adults. On the not-for-profit side, five senior housing organizations have changed their names this year alone, according to an ongoing list compiled by Chicago-based Ziegler Investment Banking.
In addition to Covenant, the senior housing nonprofits sporting new names this year are Ascension Living, formerly Ascension Senior Living; Masonic Communities of Kentucky, formerly Masonic Homes of Kentucky; The Esquiline, formerly The Apartment of Our Lady of the Snows; and Covia Communities, formerly Episcopal Senior Communities. And in roughly the past two years, Ziegler has tracked 35 senior living nonprofits which switched to a new name.
“The No. 1 driver is positioning for the future,” Lisa McCracken, Ziegler’s senior vice president of senior living research and development, told Senior Housing News. “And it’s taking out all those words that may not resonate with the baby boomer consumer …. [such as] homes, aged, aging and retirement.”
While there is no hard rule, many senior living organizations pick names that play up the idea that seniors who move into their communities will live well or enjoy good health. Many of the new names also reflect that they now offer a full range of senior care services, and not just senior housing.
“For so many years, we’ve looked at retirement as an ending and not a beginning,” McCracken said. “We’re going through a shift in our industry and our sector, and this naming trend, I think, is one indication of that shift.”
Baby boomers aren’t the only reason for the rebranding efforts, of course. Labor pressures, national expansion plans and sweeping organizational changes also drive some senior housing organizations to refresh their brands. Two companies that recently hit refresh — Covenant Living and Vitality Living — took Senior Housing News inside their thinking as they developed their new brand identities.
For Covenant Living, the decision to rebrand its name and logo came from three different ideas: that the organization does more than just house older adults; that its residents don’t fit into the stereotypical idea of a retired person; and that prospective employees — especially millennials — might not rush to apply to a workplace with a heavy emphasis on retirement or faith-based services.
Covenant owns and manages 16 communities in nine states, making it the sixth-largest senior housing non-profit included in the most recent Ziegler/LeadingAge 150 list. It serves roughly 5,000 residents in independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, and rehabilitation settings.
“Nobody’s really retiring anymore. They’re transitioning, they’re doing all these other things,” Terri Cunliffe, Covenant Retirement Communities president and CEO, told SHN. “So, retirement started to have a negative connotation.”
Indeed, the concept is gaining steam in senior living that older adults won’t be happy with just three meals a day, a basic activity program and a place to sleep, as stated by Robert G. Kramer, founder and current strategic advisor at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
“Helping people see senior living in a different way is important for baby boomers, and even for our current prospective residents,” Cunliffe said. “They don’t want to be seen as old and slow, they want to be seen as entering a new stage of life that’s just as busy and purposeful and impactful as any other season of their life.”
In addition to rebranding itself as Covenant Living, the organization also modified its logo to incorporate the Christian symbol of a fish, with a color palette that communicates vitality and health. Previously, Covenant’s logo was a stylized cross.
“While we’re distinctly a Christian organization with a strong Christian heritage, the cross was also starting to be a barrier from an employee recruiting perspective,” Cunliffe said. “We wanted to soften our approach, but we didn’t want to lose it.”
To that end, it was important that Covenant didn’t drop the “Covenant” part of its name. And, Cunliffe points out, rebranding is an entirely different beast than building a new marketing identity from the ground up.
“We are really recognized in the broader industry by the term Covenant,” she said. “So, we wanted to maintain that distinction of being the same organization, just with a new name.”
Vision is vital
The name-change trend isn’t isolated to not-for-profit or faith-based providers, either. For Vitality Living, a for-profit provider that will span 12 communities across the Southeast by the year’s end, it was important to choose the right words that would instill its mission of creating “vibrant communities where residents thrive, families engage and team members are proud to work,” according to Vitality Senior Living CEO Chris Guay.
“We feel placing ‘senior’ in our brand did not fully encompass that vision,” Guay told SHN. “We also believe our residents do not want to be constantly reminded they are getting older. So, we have worked, and continue to work, on changing the language that has become commonplace in our industry.”
The decision was also part of a push for younger residents and aging baby boomers — a crucial demographic to attract if the industry as a whole wants to avoid choking on excess inventory in the years ahead.
“We all know … we need to become a more attractive lifestyle option for older adults,” Guay said. “We think is a small part in changing the dynamic we are currently in, creating more vibrant communities and attracting a larger age band of residents.”
Obviously, a name change alone can’t do all the heavy lifting in attracting a younger cohort of seniors. But, it helps.
“We are a work in progress, and still have a long way to go to achieve our mission and vision,” Guay said. “But we feel by changing our language to use brands, phrases and words that promote our vision, that is the first step towards achieving that vision.”
Written by Tim Regan