How Senior Living Operators Are Shifting Digital Marketing Strategies for the Boomer Generation

Senior living operators have sought to capitalize on the industry’s so-called shift to digital by overhauling their websites, changing web strategies and generally doing things differently than only a few years ago.

One big reason for them doing so is that baby boomers are fast approaching, and they are bringing with them new preferences for finding communities online. As a result, operators have become more sophisticated in how, where and when they advertise to older adults, with a big focus on the web.

While that has led to new and enhanced sources of inbound traffic, it has also necessitated a change in sales and marketing practices. For example, from 2022 to 2023, Legend Senior Living’s Google ads led to around a 600% increase in phone calls to communities, according to Senior Vice President of Sales Christy Van Der Westhuizen. As a result, the Wichita, Kansas-based operator has changed how salespeople answer the phone.


“To me that was fascinating – and actually kind of scary, when you think of it,” Van Der Westhuizen said during a panel at the recent Senior Housing News Sales and Marketing Conference in Tampa, Florida.

“We’re having 600 times more people calling our community from our digital ads.”

The pandemic and all of its quirks have changed the way prospects contact communities. For example, video calls are much more common than they were just four years ago. As a result, operators including Newark, Delaware-based Kendal Corp. have merged digital and traditional mediums into one larger strategy. Mailers now include QR codes for potential residents to scan to learn more about communities.


This method has led to around 80% of The Kendal Corporation’s lead generation coming through its website in the last year, Braxton said.

Paul McNally, corporate marketing director of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania-based Presbyterian Senior Living, said his company’s strategy has shifted to be an “honest broker of good information” by aggregating resources including blogs, webinars and videos into a portal as a way to provide information for residents who are doing their own research prior to touring a community.

“They want to just be in that learning phase,” McNally said.

Tweaking traditional marketing for a new age

Kendal is taking a balanced approach to marketing at its 10 affiliates. The company has seen more success by focusing on physical advertising, such as direct mailers, rather than moving entirely to digital efforts.

“Traditional marketing still really works well for us, we haven’t really abandoned it,” he said.

Legend Senior Living is taking a “good mix” of traditional and digital marketing, Van Der Westhuizen said, and tries out a variety of mediums to see what works, including radio and newspaper advertisements, depending on the market.

“We really do look at each market very individually,” she said. “And what we’ve noticed is in some of our smaller markets, we absolutely put more money into traditional print marketing, because it works for radio because it works in more rural markets.”

For digital marketing, The Kendal Corporation has focused primarily on social media, the corporate website and community websites, which make up around 60% of the team’s marketing efforts.

Presbyterian Senior Living has largely shifted its focus to its digital marketing platform, according to McNally. While its print materials are “somewhat diminished,” he noted there has been success in streaming radio advertising, which are seeing several tens of thousands of impressions for “a pretty low cost.”

Kendal, Legend and Presbyterian have largely spent the same on marketing or increased it slightly since the start of the pandemic, with McNally noting the mindset has shifted to the return on investment.

“Are we getting really good, decent ROI out of what is essentially a costly price of doing business in the digital space that doesn’t seem to be coming down at all of these, these cost per leads, these marketing automation platforms?” he said. “The cost of that is going up. And our commitment to that is going up.”

Marketing shifts to personalization

Since 2020, many senior living operators have shifted to personalizing the sales journey for prospects, with the idea that the incoming baby boomers will want an experience that is unique and tailored for them.

As senior living operators use digital tools to better understand what prospects are going through at the time of inquiry, they should also use those tools to better customize the sales process for them, McNally said.

“We need to follow suit with that sort of approach, and just make that personalized experience better,” he added.

Among the digital tools coming available to the senior housing industry are artificial intelligence (AI) tools, which Braxton said he believes will see a lot more involvement in the coming years.

Kendal is not “jumping on that train” just yet, he added, but the operator is looking to see where it can be used effectively. For example, the company uses Fathom AI’s Notetaker tool to keep a record of Zoom calls and meetings.

“We want to track things that are being said. And certainly, Zoom calls …are pretty well entrenched, they’re not going away,” Braxton said. “But as new things come, [we are]testing and seeing what works best, and not being afraid to test.”

One tried-and-true strategy in real estate is to lean on curb appeal to help sell prospects on the idea of living in a senior housing community. That is a rule that still holds true in 2024, Braxton said, but operators are increasingly moving their efforts online instead of in flyers or brochures.

He encouraged other companies to examine and update their websites at least multiple times per year, if not once per month, noting that the “website is the new curb appeal,” and to make the process as frictionless as possible for both staff and prospects.

“If you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the front of your building, and looking at your website once a year, you’re doing yourself a disservice,” he said. “Because [if] they don’t like what they see on your website, they may never come to your community, no matter how good you sound in words and content.”