Trends in Wellness, Psychographic Data Converge to Shape Senior Living Models

Based on comments from panelists during two recent webinars, as well as conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks, I believe that two trends are converging in senior living: wellness and psychographics.

Specifically, more senior living owners and operators are gathering and analyzing psychographic data to gain deeper insights into consumers. Savvy organizations will be able to leverage this information to evolve and refine wellness programs and achieve better results, including:

  • Increasing resident engagement in wellness
  • Enhancing the sales and marketing value of wellness programs

Improving in these domains is key to realizing the significant promise that wellness-based senior living holds to drive occupancy, length of stay and partnerships with health care providers and payers.


A faster evolution

For years, many senior living providers have been moving away from primarily focusing on caring for residents’ ailments toward fostering their multi-dimensional wellness. In a recent International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) survey of 267 senior living professionals, about 60% of respondents said their community’s operations will be based in wellness offerings by 2023.

This shift toward wellness is due to several factors, including changes to the U.S. health care system that reward more preventive care, as well as increasing consumer demand for wellness. Over the last two to three years, consumers across six countries reported a “substantial increase in the prioritization of wellness,” according to an April 2021 McKinsey & Company report.

In total, the global wellness market — including products and services in a range of categories, such as health and fitness, nutrition and sleep — is worth more than $1.5 trillion and has an annual growth rate of 5% to 10%, McKinsey estimated.


However, not every age group is pursuing wellness equally. Take Peloton: The popular fitness company has added an average of 560,000 new members each quarter since the start of 2020, but only 2% of Peloton bike users are 65-plus years old.

“I don’t see a lot of our residents deciding to become devotees of Peloton … it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary,” an executive with a large operator recently told me, speaking of the wellness trend within senior living.

Part of the issue is that no matter how attractive senior living providers make wellness programs, residents are not inclined to change their lifestyles, ingrained over decades.

“Some of the demand, you can drive — if we’re offering the right programs to the right people, our residents will participate,” the executive said. “Some residents, it doesn’t matter what program you have, what people you have, they’re not going to participate.”

Given this reality, the many senior living providers that are introducing wellness-based operations are in a tricky spot: To be successful, they need to both identify what wellness offerings will be well received by their residents and prospects, and drive the demand for their wellness offerings wherever possible.

It seems to me that psychographics are required to meet those needs and speed up the wellness evolution within senior living.

Psychographics and data-driven wellness

Psychographics goes beyond demographic information, harnessing a richer data set to enable businesses to draw more detailed, nuanced insights into consumers.

“It goes beyond classifying people based on general demographic data, such as age, gender, or race,” authors of a 2020 CB Insights report wrote. “Psychographics seeks to understand the cognitive factors that drive consumer behaviors. This includes emotional responses and motivations; moral, ethical, and political values; and inherent attitudes, biases, and prejudices.”

Within senior living, Welltower (NYSE: WELL) is a notable practitioner of psychographic analysis, drawing on a vast array of internal data, as well as data purchased from third parties.

Welltower is hardly alone. Operators such as Leisure Care employ psychographics in market research, to help identify locations for development where consumer profiles align with the company’s offerings.

As senior living owners and operators become more adept at psychographic research and analysis, they should become better at identifying what types of wellness offerings will resonate in a particular community, and be able to increase engagement through a more personalized approach.

Already, there is recognition that residents of varying personality types and behavioral characteristics engage in wellness offerings differently, as demonstrated by the Mather Institute’s ongoing Age Well study, which surveyed more than 5,700 residents across 122 life plan communities.

The survey found that, for example, “more conscientious” residents are less likely to engage in social activity but are more likely to engage in meditation or personal contemplation. Recognizing what types of personality traits prevail in a given community, providers can tailor their wellness models accordingly.

Personalization is an increasingly important facet of wellness across the board, with more than 88% of consumers across the United States, United Kingdom and Germany saying they prioritize personalization more than they did two or three years ago, McKinsey found.

“It is very important to understand where your customer is coming from so you can meet them where they are. I know that sounds generic, but there’s more customization in hospitality, and I think it will translate well into senior living,” LIVunLtd’s Spa and Wellness President and Chief Revenue Officer Wendy Bosalavage told me this week. LIVunLtd provides a variety of services, including the creation and operation of spa and wellness centers in luxury hotels and, more recently, in senior living.

SRG Senior Living is an example of a provider that has relied on data collection — including resident feedback and focus groups — to inform its pivot to wellness. The good news is that engagement begets further engagement in wellness offerings, Dr. Sarah Matyko, corporate director for life enrichment with SRG, said during a recent SHN webinar.

“We know if we can impact one person at the community, whether it be a resident or an employee, that the likelihood of two people that have that same health behavior is about 80%, which is pretty high,” she said.

Marketing wellness

Psychographics is fundamentally an approach to marketing, and therefore providers should be able to not only tailor their wellness programs more effectively but market them better as they learn more about their consumer base.

An educational component likely will be needed to better market wellness to the older adult consumer, Bosalavage surmised. That’s because in the early days of the wellness market, there were few recognized brands, and older adults may associate the concept of wellness with being pampered at a spa.

“We need to change that whole paradigm,” Bosalavage said, noting that providers could emphasize the health-related benefits of wellness services. For example, lymphatic drainage massage could help people avoid certain medications.

Of course, senior living marketing is largely targeted at adult children, and providers almost surely will find this group to be an increasingly receptive audience to messaging about wellness. But, again, psychographic information will be important to crafting the right message.

McKinsey identified five personas of wellness consumers, all of whom behave differently. For example, “wellness enthusiasts” tend to be high-income individuals who are excited about wellness innovations, while “loyalists” are devoted to particular brands and routines.

Senior living providers armed with psychographic data can craft their marketing messages more around the type of wellness consumers prevalent among the adult children in a given market. These providers might also consider offering some wellness services directly to adult children.

It’s the type of play that providers such as the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living (SFCJL) are pursuing. As part of an ambitious repositioning project, SFCJL is creating Byer Square, which will include a variety of health and wellness amenities and services, such as a fitness center, a warm water therapeutic pool, salon and spa. Families of residents — and the public at large — will be able to access these amenities through a membership model.

Bosalavage believes “the timing is right” to bring wellness into senior living communities and sees an opportunity for providers to bridge the generations, if they can better understand and serve the market.

“I think people are more vibrant than ever, they’re educated consumers, they understand the benefits [of wellness], but I don’t think it’s translated well into the brick-and-mortar of senior living,” she said.

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