The VALUE in Combined Activity & Marketing Events

By: Art Carr

A hallmark of my considerable success in directing fill-ups of new senior living properties and turn-arounds of under-performing communities has been a focus on enhanced resident lifestyles as the foundation for effective marketing campaigns.  Energizing and elevating the level of activity programming makes meaningful interaction between prospects and current residents possible.

 

This contrasts with traditional industry marketing principles that emphasize large socially-oriented events.  Under the WOW theory, an over-whelming impression is made on the prospective residents (and/or their adult children) once they are persuaded to get through the doors.  With the money invested by ownership in upscale furnishings, etc., this has been somewhat and sometimes effective in helping evolve the “rest home” perception for many of the “Greatest Generation”.

 

This type of social event often revolves around FOOD and maybe some entertainment, but is effectively passive in nature, with the prospects more of a spectator than a participant.  Conversely, a combined Progressive Retirement Lifestyles (“PRL”) Activity and Marketing Event is designed to engage the visitors and integrate them into on-going daily activities of the senior living community.  This establishes an important level of normalcy to the process, encourages the formation of relationships with current residents and staff and minimizes barriers to the move-in process.  We have also found this to be somewhat more appealing to the newer, more demanding generations of prospects than the older “Greatest Generation”.[i]

 

To illustrate the difference between these concepts, two examples of marketing events are described below:  a) traditional Dessert Extravaganza and b) a combined marketing and activity program such as the “Older Adults Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics”.  You decide which approach stimulates the greater likelihood of a move-in.

 

Dessert Extravaganza

This type of event is organized under the “shotgun” approach” with the expectation that enough invitations mailed out to prospects (regardless of their defined interests, etc.) will lead to enough attendance with enough prospects being “WOWED” to lead to move-ins.  Therefore, invitations are typically issued to everyone on the prospect list.  A substantial number of guests (25 or more) are expected to gather for a special 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon affair.

Dessert Extravaganza

This type of event requires a fair amount of time and money for planning and preparation (or purchase) of a variety of baked goods, confectionary treats and other “finger foods” such as petit fours, tarts, cookies, mini-cheesecakes, eclairs, cupcakes, macarons and other pastries.  It does give the Community an opportunity to showcase their “Executive Chef”, especially if s/he has talents as a baker.

 

Each visitor registers (to qualify for door prizes – as well as for follow-up) and is encouraged to “take a tour” on a standard tour route and to view a decorated model apartment.  Afterwards, they partake of the dessert buffet and then sit and (maybe) listen to a pianist or keyboard singer for a couple of hours.  After that, the guests leave and the residents are served their dinner for the day.

 

Does this scenario sound very familiar to events you’ve sponsored or attended?

 

Of course, the $64,000 Question at this type of event is when a guest meets a current resident and says “This was really nice; how often do you have this type of dessert event?”  Typically, the answer is something like “whenever the census gets too low and the marketing department is willing to pay for another party!”

 

The point is that this is perceived as a special event for new prospects and not something that is designed to benefit / improve the lifestyle of the current residents.

 

 

 

 

Older Adult Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics

The PRL Olympics and similar campaigns combine exOlder Adult Olympicsisting activity programs with new initiatives to boost the quantity and quality of activities and resident lifestyles.  Prospects are encouraged to come in, join a TEAM and participate in events with 3 – 4 current residents.

 

This gives immediate satisfaction of their needs for socialization while the opportunity to compete promotes a sense of accomplishment and ego satisfaction.[ii]

 

Our plan is to acquaint prospective residents with rewarding and meaningful daily activities that they can expect to continue on a routine basis after they move-in.  We strive to promote their level of independence while introducing them to new experiences and lifelong learning opportunities.

 

These are actually provided during the event(s) – not just “promised” for some time in the future.

 

PRL takes a holistic approach to our combined activity / marketing events by challenging the participants’ mind and body while improving their spirits through socialization and fostering of new relationships with other prospects and current residents.  This also induces a certain degree of peer pressure that is beneficial in encouraging the prospect to move in.

 

Consider the following PARTICIPATION by a prospect over a several day event:

 

Day 1 – Morning

  • The prospect (“Mary Jones”) arrives and registers. She is greeted by Sally, John and Mabel from the Community.  Along with one more prospect or resident, this will make up an Olympic TEAM.
  • The TEAM will find a seat and be asked to complete a 10-Question Quiz about Brazil and the Summer Olympics. The answer booklets serve as the registration for prizes for correct answers and door prizes.
  • The Opening Ceremony will include an overview of the games with basic rules and a LifeLong Learning Seminar re. Rio de Janiero, Brazil and the Olympics.
  • Next, the TEAM will participate in a seated Beachball Volleyball Tournament.
  • Mary will have lunch with her teammates.

 

She can take a tour whenever she has down time between events – at her convenience!

 

Day 1 – Afternoon

  • Mary will be taught how to win at Sudoku and her team will play Tournament Sudoku utilizing the special PRL Magnetic Board.
  • Next, the Team will participate in the seated basketball H-O-R-S-E contest.
  • Finally, Mary and her Team will join in the special Steeplechase Horse Racing challenge before dinner.

Steeplechase -a

Day 2 – Morning

  • Each member of the Olympic TEAM will complete in the events of the Older Adults Pentathlon:
    • Bicycle: How long will it take to pedal a mile on a stationary recumbent bike or Nu-Step machine?
    • Then “Power-walk” a course through the building’s corridors.
    • Target Shooting: Use a Nerf Gun to shoot 5 targets.
    • Balance Beam & Agility Drill: Staying on the ground (unlike the Women’s Gymnastics), they will walk the “balance beam” and navigate an agility course between orange cones.
    • Big Board Scrabble: Mary will challenge her vocabulary skills in the TEAM Scrabble tournament.

 

Day 2 – Afternoon

  • Olympic Golf will be the focus after lunch. Mary will compete on a 9-hole course that is comprised of part Wii Golf holes and part different putting games.
  • Then she will be taught (if necessary) how to use a computer mouse to compete in solving jigsaw puzzles on a timed basis.

 

Day 3 – Morning

  • “Track & Field” Events will be held outside in the early morning before it becomes too hot:
    • Discus: A Frisbee is used to sail for distance to emulate this event.
    • Shot Put: A softball will be “put” from a seated position with maximum distance measured.
  • The last TEAM events for Mary will be the simulated “100M Dash” and the “5x100M Relay”. These are set up similar to the horse racing game with movements and winners determined by roll of the dice.

 

Day 3 – Afternoon

  • Award Certificates will be presented in a ceremony during lunch.
  • Afterwards, guests are invited for a “formal” tour of the Community.

 

Whether the event is held for 1 day or 3 days (as in this example), the prospects will begin a process of integration into the daily living of the Community that should soften the “transition trauma” of a future move-in.  The visitors will have received a casual tour of the Community as they participated in various events in different Winner - Lady w Trophyparts of the building.  They will have built new relationships with their future neighbors, enjoyed several meals similar to what they can expect in the future, have learned new skills and information and had FUN with an enjoyable and positive experience.

 

Most importantly, the event has gone a long way towards dispelling fears about living in a senior living community.  The prospect is given insight into the interactive lifestyle that allows them to continue to maintain their independence and dignity as they LIVE in their new prospective home.

 

We believe this will encourage positive feedback and receptivity to follow-up by the sales & marketing staff.

 

If you would like to learn more about how you can implement the innovative and contemporary “Older Adults Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics” for your senior living community, please contact Art Carr directly at art@progressiveretirement.com or 615-414-5217.

 

[i] The Greatest Generation has been the predominant driving force in the evolution of senior care / living facilities from skilled nursing to independent retirement centers over the past 30 – 40 years.  As the World War II era population dies away, smart operators must evolve their methods to remain relevant to newer generations.

[ii] According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people of all ages will continually seek satisfaction of these higher level needs.

Continuing Challenges or OPPORTUNITY …

for the Senior Living Industry?

Will operators continue to “cut costs” – even when it entails reducing services for the residents?

Will the focus continue to be on “need-driven” admissions and move-ins?

Will the average age of residents continue to increase while the average length of stay decreases?

Will new development and innovations continue to stagnate?

Will the “Aging in Place” movement continue to gain strength with seniors choosing to buy more services that help them stay in their personal residences?

OR

Is this the year that:

a)       The industry begins to prepare for the changing demands and needs of new generations of potential residents? [READ MORE]

b) Progressive visionaries challenge the “status quo” in design and operational philosophies?  [Update to Follow]

c) More emphasis is placed on providing a quality lifestyle for the resident, regardless of his/her medical (physical & mental) limitations/capabilities?  [Update to Follow]

d) Operators embrace new technologies to provide a stronger value proposition as a viable alternative to the prospect remaining in their own home? [Update to Follow]

e) New entrants from outside the industry and foreign investors assume leadership roles with new energy and vision?  [Update to Follow]

The Bobby-sox Generation

a Target Rich Environment for Senior Living

The first members of the “bobby-sox” generation (born 1935 – 1945) will turn 76 in 2011.  As discussed in “Do Senior Living Communities Need a Wake-up Call?” and “Do not go gentle into that good night[i], this generation will be more demanding and EXPECT many amenities (considered options today) to be included in the standard package in the future.  The bobby-soxers will be less willing to compromise their independence for the “one-size-fits-all” approach utilized in many of today’s senior living facilities.

Recognizing and understanding the desires of the customer is essential in any business.  In senior living, we need to revise our mental images of the stereotypical resident if we are to successfully market to this generation.  Because of the preponderance of celluloid images that keep our heroes forever young, it’s hard to imagine that ELVIS would be 76 this month if he were still alive.  Do we really believe that this generation whose icon flew his entourage in a private jet from Memphis to Las Vegas just to get a “PBJ”[ii] will be satisfied with a set menu at set times in a set place as is common in many communities today?

Is it reasonable to assume that the generation that fostered the 20th Century success of higher end hotel companies (e.g. Marriott, Hyatt and Four Seasons) – with concierge floors, lounges, suites, king-size beds, etc. – will accept 200 – 300 square feet of personal living space?  Will they be prepared to “give up” their home to move into a space that’s probably smaller than their current bedroom?

Will the members of this generation who have been used to success, affluence and independence be prepared to turn over control of all their daily activities to facility staff with programs such as arts & crafts – see “Summer Camp for Seniors” – as their only daily stimulation?

This Bobby-sox generation is often overlooked as it is sandwiched between the “Greatest Generation” – which includes the World War II veterans – and the huge numbers of “Baby Boomers”.  Yet, there are over 20 million bobby-soxers in the U.S. today, accounting for approximately 7% of the total population.  This group accounts for over 50% of the 65+ population (Medicare eligible) in the country and there are now 15% more living members of the Bobby-sox generation (10 year group) than all prior generations.[iii]

The following pictures depict a sampling of well-known Bobby-soxers from business, government/political, sports and entertainment industries.  Although these celebrities are more recognizable, each represents many other everyday members of the generation from all aspects of society.

See which, if any, of these individuals come to mind when you think of 65 – 75 year olds.   And then, THINK AGAIN because they are rapidly becoming your TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC.

NOW IS THE TIME TO BEGIN PREPARING!

 

Frankie Avalon (1940) and Annette Funicello (1942) – Singers, actors & former teen idols; she was the favorite Mousketeer

Alan Alda – Captain Hawkeye Pierce on M.A.S.H.  (1936)

Tom Brokaw – TV News Anchor & Author of “The Greatest Generation” (1940)

Bill Cosby – Comedian & Actor(1937)

Neil Diamond – Singer/Songwriter (1941)

Elizabeth Dole – U.S. Senator & Cabinet Member; head of American Red Cross & wife of Presidential nominee Bob Dole (1936)

Mike Ditka – Pro Football Player, Coach & TV Commentator (1939)

Michael Eisner – Disney CEO (1942)

Jane Fonda – Actress & Political Activist (1937)        

Harrison Ford – “Indiana Jones” Actor (1942)

Morgan Freeman – Actor (1937)

Louis Gerstner  CEO of IBM (1942)

Joe Gibbs Hall of Fame Pro Football Coach  with the Washington Redskins (1940)

John Kerry – US Senator & Presidential Candidate (1943)

Sandy Koufax – Major League Baseball Pitcher & Hall of Famer (1935)

Ralph Lauren – Fashion Designer (1939)

George Lucas – Creator of “Star Wars” (1943)

John Madden – NFL Coach & TV Announcer (1936)

John McCain – Retired Navy Captain, Senator & Presidential Candidate (1936)

Mary Tyler Moore – Actress (1936)

Joe Namath – New York Jets Quarterback & Super Bowl Champ (1943)

Jack Nicholson – Actor (1937)

Al Pacino – Actor  (1940)

Colin Powell  Retired General (US Army), Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, & Secretary of State (1937)

Paul Prudhomme – Chef (1940)

Robert Redford – Actor & Producer (1936)

Pete Rose – Professional Baseball Player (1941)

Diana Ross of the Supremes (1944)

Jay Rockefeller – U.S. Senator and former West Virginia Governor (1937)

Barbra Streisand – Singer & Actress (1942)

Ted Turner Entrepreneur & Media Mogul (1938)

Tina Turner – Entertainer (1939)

Jack Welch – G.E. Chairman/CEO (1935)

Raquel Welch – Actress (1940)

Jerry West – NBA Icon (1938)

ADD A COMMENT

to describe a BOBBY-SOXER who represents this generation [They don’t have to be well known like the people above].

PLEASE discuss ways in which their personality, needs and demands will be different than the “Greatest Generation” and/or individuals currently residing in senior living communities.


[i] Both published by Art Carr on the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles BLOG.  Go to http://wp.me/pCemc-3f and http://wp.me/pCemc-5x respectively.

[ii] Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

[iii] 2010 projections are from: Table 12. Projections of the Population by Age and Sex for the United States: 2010 to 2050 (NP2008-T12), Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau; Release Date: August 14, 2008

“Do not go gentle into that good night”

– Dylan Thomas

 

In the 1920’s, T.S. Eliot ended “The Hollow Men” with:

This is the way the world ends
  Not with a bang but a whimper.”

This became a philosophy of aging for 20th Century generations.  The senior living / care industry offered protective living environments to meet the expectations of these generations as they aged with increasing physical and/or mental frailties.

BUT the 21st Century is a different world and the bobby-soxers (born 1935 – 1945) and baby-boomers won’t be satisfied to simply fade into the sunsetas their parents and grandparents did.  They won’t “go gentle into that good night” and the senior living industry must evolve to meet the increased demands of these future generations.

Today’s senior living communities were designed to provide care and services for “The Greatest Generation[1]and/or their parents.  These individuals lived through the Great Depression and were molded by the experiences of World War II.  They worked hard and made a better life for their children who often became the first in their family to attend college.  Frequently, they worked for the same companies their entire career and were rewarded with generous retirement packages, including lifetime health benefits.  Others built their own businesses, anticipating that their children would join and then succeed them in operating the company.  In either scenario, the parents were expected to retire with their productivity and significant contributions to society at an end.

The general message from the adult children and even the government has been:

You’ve done enough.  Just sit back and let us take care of you.

Medicare and related programs in the mid-1960’s created the funding for the development of modern health services to “insure” adequate care for these elderly.  Nursing homes and home health evolved from cottage businesses into professionally managed multi-million dollar industries.   Assisted living, independent living and investor owned CCRC’s developed to supplement non-profit (primarily church-related) life care communities and traditional “old folks” homes.

Operators built self-contained communities and assured residents that all their needs could be handled within these enclaves.  Food and shelter, security and transportation for essentials such as doctor appointments[2] were provided.  Activity programs were scheduled to entertain and fill the residents’ days.

Today, prospective residents are told that their worries will be over if they agree to move-in and pay an all-inclusive fee.  Concerns about meals, cleaning and maintaining the house and yard, or paying insurance and utilities, etc. are eliminated.  Depending on the type of facility, care needs may be provided directly by facility staff or arranged with private caregivers / home health companies.

This comprehensive approach led one resident in a recent Tennessean article[3]tostate: “They really take good care of me here. . .  They do everything for you.  They would even make my bed if I wanted them to, but I said ‘No, I want to do something.’”

Progressive Dependency

This chart demonstrates the loss of independence and increasing dependence on caregivers as the senior progresses through varying levels of care.

For individuals who experienced the shortages and deprivations of the Depression and World War II, the value equation was fairly simple.     They understood that the move to a senior living community was a compromise as their health and support needs increased.  They were used to adapting so giving up some independence to receive service was an acceptable alternative and they were willing to live with restrictions such as standard meals at set times.

However, these generations are dwindling – e.g. World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1000 per day. [4] The replacement generations do not appear as willing to accept this one-size-fits-all-mentality.

The industry has seen quarterly declines in average occupancy for more than 2 years with blame placed largely on the economy and specifically the real estate market.  It’s time for a wake-up call if the industry wants to rebound from this census slump.  Another hidden (or ignored) factor is the “changing of the guard” with new demand models and demographics for today’s aging population.

There currently seems to be an over-riding preference for “Aging in Place”.  The Tennessean[5] states: “Despite more alternatives than ever, the overwhelming majority of elder Americans choose to age in place — in their own home, within the communities where they have lived for decades or have family ties.”

At some stage in the aging process, however, staying at home may NOT be the best option. Health and care needs, financial considerations, safety concerns, marital situation, housing condition, proximity of family members and the availability of caregivers and other components of a strong support system are factors that will impact this evaluation.

Yet, many senior specialists[6] note that the elderly will often stay in their own home until a “crisis” arises.  As a result, the senior is often “placed” in a higher level-of-care than required, with an unneeded loss of independence.

This is obviously not the best for the resident.  Could a senior living community do something differently to encourage the individual to move in earlier?

First, recognize that today’s aging population demands more than three meals a day and the “3-B’s activity program” – i.e. bingo, bible and birthdays.  They are not willing to retire their egos when they stop working.  They desire many more active and productive years with the ability to control their own destiny.

Focus on lifestyle vs real estate.  A HOUSE is an “object that can be bought and sold” while a HOME has “meaning and attachment to … personal living space” that can’t be “bought or sold”.[7] It takes more than living in a Taj Mahal to generate enough value to prompt a move-in.

Apply a scientific approach to the structure and organization of daily activities for the residents.  Utilize Maslow’s theory and healthy aging concepts to challenge the residents to continue to age gracefully, achieve new successes and “CREATE PRECIOUS MEMORIES”.  Treat the residents with dignity and respect by developing imaginative programs that stimulate and challenge their mind, body and spirit, going beyond the kindergarten style Summer Camp for Seniors[8] or cruise ship mentality.

Become familiar with the research about the negative impact isolation has on aging and couple this with Maslow’s need for socialization to develop a powerful marketing tool – offering a SOLUTION for potential residents and, especially, their adult children.

Revise marketing strategies to include education about your scientific approach and other 21st Century initiatives.  Use these to differentiate your community from the competition, AND eliminate prior perceptions.

Train staff to PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE by “helping” residents with their activities of daily living, but not “doing it for them!”  A former resident related an incident where she was made to feel “helpless and incapable” because, at an outing, “everyone tried to get food for me as if I couldn’t do things for myself.”[9]

Finally, accept that the new generation is guided by the words of Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


[1]Tom Brokaw, 1998.

[2] Maslow refers to these as “basic” needs in his Hierarchy of Needs.  Select “Maslow” in the CATEGORIES drop-down box to access additional articles dealing with differing levels of needs.

[3] “Facilities offer convenience and care” by Jessica Bliss, 12/27/2009.

[4] Associated Press, May 24, 2008

[5] “Elderly forgo assisted living – opt to stay at home” by Jessica Bliss, 12/27/2009

[6] Click on this link to review comments posted in the Senior Care Services Companies group on LinkedIN.

[7] Courtesy of Jason Popko.

[8] By Ellen Brandt, Ph.D., August 1, 2009 on the Ellen Interactive blog.

[9] Essay by Betty Warren, Hickory, NC, 2006

Do Senior Living Communities Need a Wake-up Call?

Although the housing slump may have “bottomed-out”,  occupancy declines, especially for independent living, are more widespread [1]. for-rent-sign-02.jpgWill the industry re-bound with a business-as-usual mentality?  Will new generations of customers be satisfied with today’s level of service?

There is no question that the real estate crisis and decline in portfolio values have impacted occupancy in senior living communities.  AND, it’s easy to buy into the concept of “We just need to hold on, the demographics are still there, and we’ll be OK as soon as the housing market recovers”.  The reality may be very different.

While the country has been in the economic doldrums over the past couple of years, several dynamics have been changing, largely un-noticed by the industry.  First, the demographics are changing – the target market is gradually moving away from the “greatest generation”[2] [World War II vets are dying at the rate of 1000 per day] – and the industry must prepare for the “bobby-sox” generation (as a prelude to the “baby boomers”).

This generation, born between 1935 and 1945, is affluent and benefitted from the medical advances and healthy lifestyle initiatives of the 20th century.  As a result, they will have longer life expectancies with more males in the target population.  They demand value and will be less willing to compromise than their parents and older siblings who were tempered by the depression and WW II.

In the 1990s, assisted living (“AL”) developed as an alternative to nursing homes, and independent living (“IL”) has in large part developed as an alternative to assisted living facilities.  The newest option is “aging-in-place” with various surveys documenting the desires for aging adults to stay in their own home.  In the past, this wasn’t practical for many people, but we are seeing the development of a number of new companies that use various enabling technologies to provide cost-effective alternatives to senior housing. For example:

image002A study several years ago indicated that up to 80% of AL admissions were driven by the need for assistance with medication management.  Yet, there are now numerous automated medication reminder systems for use in the home.

Numerous organizations have developed cognitive fitness systems to provide brain exercises and delay the effects of Alzheimer’s and other senile dementia.

Rosemary Bakker, a gerontologist with Weill Cornell Medical College has established the website This Caring Home to help caregivers and family members design a “smart home”, allowing individuals with early stage dementia to remain in their own home.

In addition to the psychological appeal of these options, the current economic malaise is forcing prospective residents – and their families – to become more value-conscious consumers.  These products and services will take market share from IL and AL communities by offering greater independence at lower costs.

As a result, the standard AL resident in the future may become a medically complex individual with multiple health/psychological conditions.

The impact on the traditional IL model may be even more dramatic.

Is Everything Doom & Gloom?

The answer is that it doesn’t have to be – IF operators heed the wake-up call and are willing to consider new options:

1.   Embrace new technology, instead of resisting it.  Future generations won’t appreciate things such as internet access, a social networking site for the community, etc. as an added value – they will expect it as a minimum level of service.

Technology should be utilized to promote independence (no matter what level the resident demonstrates at move-in).  View this as an investment in extending the higher functioning of the resident for extended periods of time, which should decrease the turnover rate, extend the average length of stay, and increase the occupancy percentage.

Offer the same technology services that are marketed for “at-home” care in a bundled package, so that the senior living community becomes the value-added solution.  Sell the advantage of having someone on-site who can and will MANAGE the technology for the senior, at the same time they are receiving other traditional services such as meals and transportation.

2.  Meet more than the basic needs for the residents. Abraham Maslow developed a Hierarchy of 5 levels of needs, as depicted in this diagram.image001

The senior living industry has traditionally done a good job of meeting the basic physical and security needs of the residents.   However, there is tremendous opportunity to offer and market services that address their higher-level social, ego and self-actualization needs.

In fact, programs meeting those needs could be the differentiators that trigger the move-in decision.  Interestingly, these needs are the most difficult for the senior to achieve while living alone in their home.

Too often society has assumed that seniors forgo these higher-level needs when they “retire”.  Yet Lasell Village, a CCRC located on the campus of Lasell College in Massachusetts was created around the principle that retirees would move into an independent living setting where they would be committed to an annual continuing education curriculum.  This program is clearly helping the “villagers” achieve their “Peak needs”[3]!

Senior living communities must adjust with the times and add these value-added initiatives if they wish to overcome the inertia caused by the economy and plan for the future generations.

What initiatives are you taking to use technology and/or meet your current or prospective residents’ higher level needs?  Please add your comment by clicking on “Leave a comment” below:

Additional Links for New Technology Options:

Good Design Age Well

Center for Technology and Aging

CareData Trak

CogniFit

Dakim, Inc

GrandCare Systems

MyFitBrain

TheCaringStore.com

.


[1] NIC MAP®, 9/1/2009

[2] “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw (1998)

[3] “Peak – How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow” by Chip Conley (2007)