Senior Living Providers Must Fix a ‘Deteriorated’ Buyer Experience to Reach ‘Hidden Market’

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The senior living industry is in 2023 making great strides to attract the baby boomer generation — but for all of their efforts, operators may be missing the forest for the trees.

We receive a lot of reports and data from companies that serve senior living providers, and it’s rare that any of these reports really capture my attention. But I’ve been thinking a lot about a new report from Roobrik, a company that captures and analyzes data about senior living consumers and prospects. The report shows that older adults researching senior living typically fit into two groups: Those who need help right away, and those who are looking for answers and personalized advice before they take the next step.

The industry has had plenty of experience and success attracting older adults from the first group. But the second represents an untapped “hidden market” made up of older adults — many of them younger than the average age of a senior living resident — who are curious about senior housing but still too hesitant to make a decision.


Roobrik’s internal data shows that this hidden market can make up anywhere between 20% and 40% of qualified traffic to operators’ websites. And other sales leaders in the sector — notably Bild & Co. Founder Traci Bild — agree that there is a hidden market that providers can and must reach more effectively.

In the years ahead, senior living operators hope to increase their occupancy and NOI margins — and in fact, many companies’ survival depends on it. Although penetration rates have for years hovered around 10% in many markets, tapping into a hidden market of consumers could substantially increase that percentage and help operators bridge that gap.

But operators have their work cut out for them, and reaching those prospects will likely take new approaches to sales and new urgency in moving older adults from initial inquiry to move-in.


“Websites have improved drastically, the buyer experience itself has not,” Bild told me. “When a hidden market lead does act, we need to be ready with a solid buyer experience that advances them easily through the process.”

In this week’s members-only SHN+ exclusive, I analyze these trends and offer the following top takeaways:

  • Characteristics of the industry’s “hidden market” of consumers
  • What these consumers need to break down barriers to moving into senior housing
  • How sales experts think the industry can build a better buyer experience

‘Hidden market’ for senior living

Given the explosion of web traffic in the last three years, it’s no surprise that there is a large and growing online audience for senior living marketers. But what may surprise them is that these are not typically people who resemble current senior living residents.

For one, they are younger. Although the average age of assisted living is thought to be around 84, a sizable number of older adults are younger than that, with many in their 60s and 70s. That’s according to the Roobrik report, which is based on more than 41,000 online senior living assessments completed by prospects and family members on providers’ websites in 2023.

Via Roobrik "hidden market" report

Nearly 54% of the users said they were doing research for themselves, while a little more than 21% said they were doing it for their mother and almost 9% for their father. That data shows that older adults — especially people younger than current residents — are looking into senior housing for their own needs.

As for why they are searching for senior housing, the most common reasons were that they were curious about their options, thinking about their own care needs or considering downsizing.

Via Roobrik "hidden market" report

To me, that represents a victory on its own and is an indication that consumers see senior living as at least somewhat important in planning for their own future. But it also begs the question: Why aren’t they taking the next step?

According to the report, cost is not the biggest barrier to moving. When asked what would make their decision to move into senior housing easier, prospects noted they want to clearly picture life at a senior living community. Behind that, they wanted to be confident that now is the right time to make a change. Cost, though a big issue on its own, only ranked as the third-most important concern for prospects.

Via Roobrik "hidden market" report

To me, this is a signal that senior living prospects are not immediately scared off by the stigma and price tag of senior living. If anything, they would like to see more of what communities have to offer them.

When I asked Roobrik CEO Nate O’Keefe what he thought about the report, he told me he thinks it shows prospects “see this as a really hard decision.”

“Let’s give them decision support so they feel informed and empowered. Let’s earn some trust,” he said.

He said that he thinks the industry currently has a “progressive, growth mindset” and is trying lots of new things in sales and marketing. He also sees an opportunity for more growth and an untapped market from which to derive it.

“I’d be more worried if everyone’s heads were in the sand,” he said. “No one is complacent right now and that’s a good thing.”

I agree with O’Keefe that operators are not complacent in 2023. But I also candidly wonder whether operators could be doing a better job to think outside the box to reach these prospects. I think of my own mom and the millions of U.S. adults like her: She is not looking for or in need of senior living right now, but she is still curious and researching it all the same. And I think there is a real opportunity for operators to get in front of these potential prospects now in anticipation of the future — it will require speaking their language and being patient.

Improving the buyer experience

Senior living operators have spent years trying to get through to untapped senior living markets. To Bild, there is much more the industry can do in this regard. In fact, Bild believes the buyer experience has actually “deteriorated” since before the pandemic.

“We still find, even with web leads, a lack of urgency in the sales department, and oftentimes must call back two to three times to complete our web-to-phone shop for clients, which a real prospect would never do — they would just move on,” Bild said.

Senior living websites in 2023 already do a good job showing stunning photos and providing basic information like rates. But that is not always enough to entice prospects. In particular, Bild believes that senior living operators must not only market their communities, but also educate prospects on what they are and who they are for.

“People don’t understand what it is, what it costs or how it’s paid for,” Bild told me. “Educational pieces that serve as calls to action within the website — in exchange for their contact info which gets them in the sales pipeline — are important.”

Bild, like the leaders at Roobrik, is a fan of online assessments. She recommends adding to operator websites checklists or guides on topics such as “10 questions to ask when considering memory care” and “how to fund a move into assisted living.”

“It engages them, the questions themselves force prospects to think deeper about their situation, and the results educate them on what it is they need right now based on their answers,” she said. “We need to see more of this to reach this hidden market.”

Public perception of senior living is still an issue — but visibility is not. While the latter fact is no doubt good for the industry, Bild thinks that the fact that prospects “are still threatened by it and tend to avoid it at all costs tells me we are missing the mark on how it’s positioned in people’s minds.”

In her mind, operators must show rather than tell what they do well. She is an advocate of videos showing active, vibrant communities and resident testimonials — not stock footage — to show prospects what senior living truly is.

“​​But these videos must be professional and done right,” she said. “All of this will help to reach that hidden market who is online and looking.”

Operators must also retarget website visitors with ads that entice them and stay current on social media, she added.

Bild’s philosophy was shaped not only by her time as a senior living sales expert, but also as a so-called “adult daughter” prospect. She previously went through the experience of finding senior housing for her own mother, who was struggling with repeated visits to the hospital — “and I was too afraid to address it, as she was only 74,” Bild said,.

“I have since moved her to IL — and she has only been in the hospital two times in two years,” Bild said. “My point is things can change quickly. Her last hospital stay was the trigger for me to move from hidden to active, for sure, and then I moved her quickly.”

In my opinion, Bild’s experience is one that I think a lot of other people will share in the coming years. Operators that haven’t been proactive in reaching the boomers still have time to do so. But the clock is ticking, and like Bild noted, the risk is that a hidden market could quickly become a more visible and active one, leaving some operators on poor footing if they haven’t prepared for it.

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