I recently read an article on the Better Business Bureau’s site about how to become a savvy consumer, as I was curious about my own industry and the clients we serve.
My question: Are consumers brand-savvy when it comes to retirement homes?
For sure, there are those who have a friend whose uncle stayed at home X, and others who know all the negative press surrounding the senior living industry as a whole. Overall though, no, I don’t think consumers are brand savvy when it comes to retirement living, and here’s why.
In a new(ish) and rapidly developing industry where people have less than a handful of experiences throughout their entire lives, how could anyone really become brand savvy?
Adult children, who comprise a large portion of the information-gatherers in this industry, usually have zero personal experience with retirement homes. They are often taking on the search on behalf of their parents, which is very stressful in itself, while also juggling other responsibilities and deadlines. Couple this with high emotions, and mostly… well, people just want this experience over with, but done correctly.
In my experience, the formula looks something like this:
0 experience + stress + emotions = a halted search = crisis
In all honesty, there really isn’t enough time or information available to a consumer to help make informed decisions about which retirement home would best fit their loved one's personal situation. Unless they call every home, analyze the details, and have knowledge of retirement living and health care, how can anyone be expected to feel confident in making their decision - especially in a crisis and under stress?
The senior living industry is still in its infancy and growing exponentially. With an expected growth of 68% over the next 20 years in Canada’s senior population and personal schedules becoming busier and busier, consumers are in need of help.
It’s important to appreciate that this isn’t a typical “rushed purchase.” A decision on moving to a retirement home could literally mean life or death for Ann’s grandma. It could mean no more falls for Frank’s dad or a safe place where Bev’s uncle can live happily, safely, and securely. These considerations are profound, which is why people become paralyzed about making the decision.
With growth, comes infrastructure
One look elsewhere tells us that as an industry starts to grow and there are more and more consumers, infrastructure begins to grow, and an ecosystem forms.
For example, the automotive industry began with making one car and then the next, eventually having an ecosystem of mechanics, parts sellers, online dealers, audio/visual companies - you get the picture.
The hotel industry began with one hotel and then another, evolving to a current ecosystem that includes multiple providers, travel agents, and online booking systems.
When consumers engage, industries grow to meet demand and it spurs change in what should be, in my opinion, an ever-changing and improving environment. If we aren’t growing, then we are becoming irrelevant.
A simple way for consumers to become savvy about the senior living industry is to become more aware of what exists and have access to more information. Until this happens (if it ever does), consumers are going to require assistance in their searches, and for this, most prefer an independent, unbiased source. They don’t want to be sold: they want to be heard, understood, and guided.
Retirement home consumers today need an ecosystem to help ease the stress and time constraints they are feeling. They need to be able to take a breath and have a trusted shoulder to rest their heads on. It’s too difficult and time-consuming for the average consumer to become brand savvy. It’s also not realistic.
Retirement home operators need to meet clients at their level and work with other services to help make the transition to retirement living as positive and painless as possible.
If this is done, the consumer will be taken care of properly, the ecosystem will flourish, and the retirement homes will fill.