Investing in Marketing: Achieving and maintaining high occupancy is the gold standard of a CCRC’s success     

Occupancy is one of the biggest issues facing senior living providers today. When the economy was thriving, communities may have worried most about employee turnover, operations or the next phase of expansion. Times have changed.

With the economy creeping out of recession, senior living communities are keeping a closer eye on budgets. Communities are looking everywhere for ways to save and control costs, and that search includes saving in marketing. Who doesn’t want to trim staff and raise productivity? But that isn’t reality.

You must invest in marketing. No longer can the industry call it “marketing expense” – it is an investment in the future.

This investment should be strategic and well planned – there are no shortcuts to achieving higher occupancy. A proper investment in marketing pays long-term dividends that fundamentally change your community’s future.

Where to Begin?

Stop thinking of marketing as an expense. Investment means the “outlay of money for income or profit,” and that’s just the role marketing plays. You compensate a sales team on the front end so that the community fills and generates revenue on the back.

During this downturn, the natural response has been to cut corners for saving’s sake. But there is no replacement for proactively marketing new prospects.

Doing so today in an impactful, effective manner means doing so efficiently. Marketing efficiency means shortening the buying cycle, which is important considering the economy has altered the conventional acceptance model. Rather than buying into independent living, prospects bypass IL and wait for need-based admission into assisted living or memory support.

Marketing professionals must combat this issue.

Sell the idea of living better and longer – ideas the CCRC model accommodates. Use facts when selling – provide social evidence, offer financial proof, illustrate value propositions.

Objections will not disappear, even if the perfect presentation is made. But prepare your sales teams to overcome the inevitable obstacles before they arise:

  • “I don’t think I can sell my house,” a prospect says. Find a list of “same neighborhood” real estate comps sold in the last six months.
  • “I’m not sure how to price my house,” they say. Pay for a professional appraisal.
  • “Downsizing, packing and moving sound too immense to bear,” they say. Provide third party help in each area.
  • “I’m afraid my home will sell too soon,” they say. Offer in advance the availability of temporary housing.
  • “I’m afraid my home won’t sell soon enough,” they say. Stage the home and protect it from decline and theft.

Think like the customer, and meet them at the point of anxiety in order to overcome their fears and objections. Any tools that accelerate the move are tools worth an investment.

This pre-approved toolkit comes at a cost, but it also provides the urgency and momentum the sales cycle needs. Innovation achieves results. Without it, front-end costs stay low, but you sacrifice community-sustaining back-end revenue.

And focus mightily on your staff. Hire those capable of getting the job done, and provide them the necessary tools. Reward them appropriately. This is an investment, too. The number of interactions needed to build trust and win the sale is higher now than ever before. When your sales team wins, let them share the success.

A Renewed Opportunity

Marketing isn’t full of challenges alone; it also comes with one great opportunity: Health care has never been more valuable to sponsors or attractive to prospects.

Why is this?

Because our population is aging and this new generation of seniors will live longer than any in history. By 2030, 20 percent of the population will be 65 and older, up from 13 percent today. Between today and 2030, the number of 85 year olds will increase more than 50 percent. The number of 100 year olds will nearly triple.

These seniors need specialized care.

By 2030, the number of those suffering from Alzheimer’s is projected to grow 50 percent over today. The number of 65 year olds with diabetes will nearly double.

Yes, these seniors will most certainly need specialized care. CCRCs have it, and they have it at an attractive price.

With these statistics in mind, how do we invest in health care marketing? Segmentation is a good place to start.

Some communities are providing assisted living “bridge” programs, or AL Plus. These programs provide extra care for residents with beginning stage dementia or Alzheimer’s. Some communities are providing specific Parkinson’s and macular degeneration programs.

This specialization is attractive to today’s senior consumer. And, if you don’t provide it, someone else will – the for-profits are coming.

Over the past five years, the number of free-standing memory care units has increased consistently. One example: Benchmark Senior Living has formed an $890 million joint venture with Health Care REIT on more than 3,000 units in the Northeast, 34 percent of which are dedicated to memory care. This includes eight standalone communities with more on the way.

In addition to segmentation, invest in health care programming, too. Provide dedicated memory care program managers. Provide ongoing training for caregivers, certified nursing assistants and nurses. Provide caregiver and family support groups. Proactive programming could be the difference in residents choosing your memory care rather than the standalone down the street.

And the opportunity doesn’t end there. The number of nursing homes dropped by 9 percent between 2000 and 2009. The number of nursing home units under construction declined by one-third between 2007 and 2011. CCRCs’ nursing centers can help fill that gap.

Want more? Health care reform provides further opportunity. Soon hospitals will be looking for preferred partners who deliver quality services. Too many readmissions from a nursing facility and that facility will cease to receive referrals.

Preferred provider status will be immensely valuable to CCRCs. It will also require investment. Hospitals will partner with communities offering 24/7 admission, one-hour response, seven-days-a-week rehab and more.


Many CCRCs are trying to get out of the health care arena. They tout studies about low utilization by residents or the cost of regulatory compliance as a reason to avoid including health care components. They want “wellness programming” to be the answer. In fact, a CCRC needs both and those that offer both will enjoy higher occupancy and greater market share.

The bottom line is this: In everything you do, demand more market share. Keep a superior product and never sacrifice quality. Hire experienced employees, and become the employer of choice in your area. Never stop marketing, even when you achieve full occupancy. Marketing is a team effort, everyone’s responsibility. Invest, invest and then invest some more. Most of all, never stop innovating.