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‘Tough Balance’: How Holbrook Life, Optima Living Are Succeeding in Changing Senior Living Sales Climate

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With rising acuity in communities, senior living operators are changing how they market independence, lifestyle and care. They feel the push to get more creative in engaging with prospective residents given that the sales cycle continues to get longer and customer preferences have changed amid demographic shifts.

Since 2020, operators have seen an increased age of residents with higher acuity needs come through their doors – even among lower-acuity product offerings including independent living and active adult, age-restricted living. From creating membership models that drive ancillary revenue to building lifestyle and wellness offerings, operators have taken new approaches to raising brand awareness while innovating on marketing through social media engagement.

“We’re finally seeing the tsunami of the demographic wave hit us. And when we think about marketing, we have to get specific [in order] to narrow the sales funnel. Because we’re getting so much interest coming in, it’s important to focus on the right candidates,” said Optima Living Co-Founder and Principal Karim Kassam during a panel at the recent SHN Sales and Marketing event in Tampa, Florida.

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Take Optima Living and Holbrook Life, for example. While operating on opposite sides of the U.S.-Canada border, both have shifted how they market low-acuity offerings and built robust marketing campaigns to reach new prospects.

Vancouver, Canada-based Optima Living oversees 4,300 units across its full-continuum senior living portfolio in Alberta and British Columbia provinces. Holbrook LIfe owns and operates four communities offering active adult, assisted living and memory care with headquarters in Woodstock, Georgia.

Acuity brings new thinking on marketing independence

In the last 12 months, Jack Mackenzie Miller, who is the vice president of business development at Holbrook Life, said that the biggest trend seen by the operator was the steep rise in acuity of independent living residents.

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Central to Holbrook Life’s success since 2020 has been its membership-based, country club model that builds an encompassing wellness suite around residents, while offering membership to the public.At the independent living level, Holbrook saw residents moving in four to five years later than the average resident age prior to 2020. The Holbrook Club model was a pivot to counteract this rise in average acuity, and drive that active adult atmosphere throughout the community, Miller stressed.

“The rising acuity and average age of our prospects moving in has forced some creativity on how to best target the exact, right demographic of people,” Miller said during the panel. “With the higher age range of move-ins, we’ve had to adapt, and wellness has become a priority for us in the demographic that we are now dealing with.

Demographic trends in Canada are shaping how Optima Living is making changes to its sales cycle, Kassam said, with the average age of Optima residents increasing from 79-years to 84-years old since 2020. That’s led Optima to navigate a tough balancing act between marketing independence and adequately placing residents across the care continuum, a problem many operators have faced.

Merz Photography on behalf of Senior Housing News, WTWH Media

“It’s a tough balance because you want to be full all the time but you also want to make sure you’re not compromising the existing community and creating imbalance. And as operators we’re going to have to really think deeply about this,” Kassam said during the panel. “We’ve also seen an exponential growth in terms of interest level and people wanting to come into one of our communities.”

Reaching prospects sooner key to sales success

While an increasing number of senior living communities are being built with public use in mind, from residential, retail and office space to shared amenities like a wellness center, operators are evolving physical spaces to meet demand.

Holbrook offers full-service spas, restaurants and fitness centers with a range of wellness activities for residents and the public. 

Moreover, through the membership model, Holbrook was able to connect with people not quite ready to move into a community, while engaging with prospects sooner. That created a “pre-transition” prior to move in, Miller said.

With members paying membership fees that drive ancillary revenue to spas and restaurants, Miller said the model has helped bring young people into its communities, including its flagship location in Woodstock, Georgia.

“We’ve brought younger people to our properties as and we’ve really helped drive that active adult environment,” Miller said during the panel. “It’s been a great thing for us, and it’s only going to help us maintain the quality that our residents and members deserve.”

For Optima Living, the company has seen success bringing younger residents and communities through its avenues of various sporting venues, like pickleball courts and related activities, with other elements like its pub.

“It’s about how we leverage engagement and we’re creating that purpose,” Kassam said. “Now you have a pool of qualified leads that you don’t have to invest marketing dollars on because you’re creating that interaction right there.”

Through themed events, Holbrook is able to reach potential prospects in a more thoughtful way, which can have an impact in their journey in the sales cycle.

“It really nurtures those leads during the sales process, and they’ve been a game-changer for us,” Miller added.

Social media’s staying power in driving marketing, sales

Social media has become its “own beast” for senior living sales and marketing teams to contend with as a way for operators to engage with prospects sooner – and longer – in the senior living sales cycle.

From managing a lone social media account to working with a dedicated role for social media management, operators are taking various new approaches to understanding and growing their online audience.

Both Optima Living and Holbrook Life have had success harnessing the grassroots power of social media in recent years, with both organizations receiving SHN Aspect Award recognition.

And, through its Bucket List initiative, Holbrook helps engage residents in taking on new adventures.

“We’ve had 90-year-olds jump out of airplanes, we’ve had 85-year-olds swim with sharks,” Miller told summit attendees. “These types of things promote that active lifestyle and it makes for amazing videos and ads because [the public] is seeing what we are all about.”

Meanwhile, Optima’s Live Your Best Life and Live Your Best Winter marketing campaigns encapsulated similar elements, and had 90-year-old residents on a paddleboarding trip. And during the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, Optima filmed a “fake hockey game” that received more than 2 million views in under an hour, having been played on Hockey Night in Canada, with the post even engaging pop star Justin Bieber.

“That went well for us,” Kassam said. “It’s the small things that have a major impact and our teams were really thinking deeply about how we wanted our residents to be perceived and bring that vibrancy we all have in life out … This campaign really conceptualized that.”

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