The New Senior Living Consumer: Richer Data Brings Marketing, Design, Operations Into Focus

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Determining if a market or site is feasible for a business can often be an imprecise science.

Demographic studies identify overarching trends within an area such as population, generational breakdowns, household sizes, education and income levels, housing stock, and more.


Many companies, however, dive deeper into data to determine intangibles within a target demographic: values, lifestyle choices, interests, opinions, and personalities.

This practice, psychographics, is deployed by a range of industries and fields, from politics and entertainment to consumer brands and real estate. And the information gleaned from the practice gives companies better insight into whether a product, service or campaign will be successful.

Senior living is no stranger to psychographics. Leisure Care, for example, uses psychographics to inform its sales and marketing processes, and to develop a multi-brand strategy across its portfolio, Partner and Executive Vice President – Revenue Strategies Bre Grubbs told Senior Housing News.


Welltower (NYSE: WELL), the largest health care real estate investment trust (REIT) in the U.S., built an expansive data gathering and analytics operation to identify prime opportunities and expedite transactions, CEO Shankh Mitra said during a recent interview with SHN.

Psychographics can be applied to answer myriad questions of developers and operators, and is more common across the industry than one might think.

“You’re probably already doing it,” Grubbs said.

Beyond demographics

While demographic studies provide an overview of a target audience, the goal behind psychographics is to understand the motivations behind a consumer’s decision making process, said Mary Cook, founder and president of Mary Cook Associates, a Chicago-based architecture and design firm.

Cook uses psychographics in the design process for its projects, which allows her team to better understand what motivates potential users of a building and how they are most likely to positively interact with spaces, thereby giving developers essential information on how their projects should be programmed.

“Psychographics are a very powerful tool in understanding the consumer and [his or her] preferences,” she said.

She cited two recent projects her firm was involved in — one in Orange County, California; the other in Seattle. Both developments targeted high net worth executives. But psychographic research determined potential customers for the Orange County project preferred bathrooms with luxury bathroom vanities, corresponding with upscale consumer preferences. Conversely, the research on the Seattle development concluded that potential residents desired mudrooms in their units, reflecting customers’ preferences for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and skiing.

Using this information, Cook was able to design each development with a more specific focus on the target consumer of the developer.

“Understanding what people value helps us to understand how to design better for them, how to solve problems for them, and how to introduce products and materials that elevate the way they live,” she said.

In senior living, gathering psychographic information can entail something as simple as filling out a survey, or it can involve providers and developers poring over internal and external data sources to identify what a target consumer values in a community.

Direct consumer research provides a measure of exact science to the practice of psychographics, Karen Adams, vice president of market intelligence for Frederick, Maryland-based senior living marketing firm Love & Company, told SHN.

“It helps us understand who [the consumers] are, what their perspectives are,” she said.

Leisure Care employs psychographics in its market research, which informs everything from sales and marketing strategies to whether demand in a specific market is in place for what the company excels at, Grubbs told SHN.

The firm also partners with a third-party group in its demographic and psychographic research. The approach often involves studying grocery store operations in its markets, analyzing sales of fresh produce or meat versus their frozen counterparts, or studying a supermarket’s advertising, which can reveal stores that emphasize cost savings versus those that promote health and wellness.

Psychographics is also used to separate people within a desired demographic segment with similar macro characteristics into “personas,” allowing Leisure Care to identify which consumer to target for its sales and marketing campaigns.

For example, two groups in a desired demographic may have identical financial, employment, and educational backgrounds. Psychographics can reveal how one group spends money. If that persona loves to travel, it may mean that people fitting this profile are spending their money on trips and cannot afford market-rate senior living.

Leisure Care uses psychographics in its development strategy because there are no residents who can provide real-time feedback, and combines psychographics with the larger demographic data to make and validate assumptions about a project.

The psychographic data Love & Company gathers for its clients is used to determine the type of programming that should be in a community. Much of the data is obtained through surveys and events in markets where the firm works directly with consumers to build personas.

For example, one market may have a particularly highly educated consumer base, or is in an area near a university with a lot of faculty nearing retirement age. From there, Love & Company targets these consumers with surveys and events to gauge their interests, and what they desire in a community.

“It’s an iterative process to define those personas,” Adams said.

Examples from other industries also showcase the use of personas — and the effectiveness of doing so. For example, Porsche employed psychographics, breaking consumers down into five profiles, according to a report from CB Insights.

The personas included “top gun” individuals who are ambitious and driven and care about power and control; and “fantasists,” who see driving a Porsche as a means of escapism and do not care about impressing others.

To reach consumers who “secretly wanted a Porsche, but a sporty two-seater model didn’t fit into their lifestyle,” the company devised a campaign dubbed, “Engineered for Magic. Everyday.” In the first two months of the campaign, Porsche 911 sales increased 35%, according to the CB Insights report.

Other data in the report also point to the promise of psychographics. Click rates for online ads increased 670% in a 2009 experiment that employed “psychographically-informed behavioral targeting.” And a later study found that psychographic ad strategies outperformed traditional advertising by a factor of two to one.

Smarter decisions for expansion

Developers and investors in the senior living space are increasingly turning to psychographics to inform their development opportunities, as well as identify prime acquisitions.

Psychographic data bolstered the flurry of activity during Mitra’s first year as Welltower’s CEO. The REIT invested in over $4 billion in real estate acquisitions since the fourth quarter of 2020, and Mitra attributed much of the success to its data analytics operations.

In addition to over 15 years of internal data the company has at its disposal from its portfolio, it buys data from over 200 sources to create a detailed view of market dynamics and potential consumer groups. Mitra believes the scale of this operation is unmatched, helps inform Welltower’s development opportunities down to decisions such as unit mix, and identify the best acquisition opportunities.

While psychographics are on the rise and starting to raise some alarm bells related to data privacy, these practices have been long been used by certain industries. Mitra compared the process to how credit card companies target consumers for new card offers. In fact, credit card companies were early adopters of psychographic analysis, creating personas for various levels of card offers.

Senior living providers actively practicing psychographics acknowledge the debt owed to credit card companies in their own efforts.

“Standardized [personas], quite honestly, have been set by the credit card companies, because they have access to all the information. We use it as a baseline, and that is a level beyond the demographics,” Leisure Care’s Grubbs told SHN.

Psychographics inform Leisure Care’s acquisition strategy, as well. The data can determine if larger demographics in a market align psychographically. If they do not, the company will pass on an opportunity.

“[Psychographics] helps with everything from what the food and beverage design looks like, what the marketing materials look like, what that messaging is that resonates with the customer who lives there,” she said.

Stability in personas through Covid-19

So far, Covid-19 has not changed the overall characteristics of psychographic personas, although some aspects of the personas have changed. Mary Cook Associates discovered that pet owners spent millions of dollars last year on costumes for their pets on Halloween. This information can be used to identify where the spending is most common, and whether residential projects including senior housing should earmark space and capital for pet amenities in future projects, Cook told SHN.

From a senior housing resident perspective, baby boomer personas remained stable during the pandemic. Boomers still value experiences and variety over structure, health and wellness, and safety. These attributes inform the designs of Mary Cook Associates.

For instance, the firm’s research determined that older consumers prefer to work a circuit of machines over free weights. This provides a measure of safety, and fosters community and opportunity to make friends.

Additionally, social lubricants such as alcohol and coffee can be used to create amenities such as cafes and wine rooms in communities. Residents at one CCRC Cook helped design specifically asked for amenities where they could “party down” at night, and a fitness center to work it off the next day.

“They’re looking for relationships and activities that enrich their lifestyles,” she said.

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