Thoughts to Share with Senior Living Clients

By Rick Barrow

We have been creating cutting-edge marketing for senior living communities for the past decade.

But everything we have been winning awards for yesterday is out the window today.

Brainstorming the new message for 2021 and beyond, working with experts across the board, these are some of our early and important conclusions for senior living:

  1. “You cannot open or promote a 2020 community with a 2019 message.”
  2. “In fact, you shouldn’t even open a 2020-style community…because you need to sit down now to rethink and retool and create a 2021-style community, today.”

What is a 2021-style community?  Start with this fact. Everything you wanted to brag about six months ago is now secondary.

You only have one priority and one message: Peace of Mind.

That single umbrella message will convey your credibility, your responsiveness, your selling proposition. And your all-important “perceived value.”

“Price value” is your position in the marketplace. But “perceived value” is far more important. It is your target customer answering, “What’s it worth to me?”

Last year, your target customer wanted to know what value you added to his or her quality of life. Now she wants to know, first and without question, if you can add to expectation of life.

Have no doubt, your customers are about to get a tsunami of education about sanitization in public/private places, anywhere people gather outside of the family home. Here are just a few of the voices you will be competing with, at the highest level and standards, for the foreseeable future:

  1. Restaurants …if they cannot persuade you that their workers, kitchen, dining rooms, and protocols are as bulletproof as technology can make them, you will pass. Dining out is an option, it can’t be a risk.
  2. Fitness Centers…same thing. They have to persuade you that there is little to no risk to being in their environment and using their equipment…or you keep working out at home.
  3. Theaters, arenas, airplanes …any place you will be voluntarily trapped in a closed environment with lots of strangers have an almost insurmountable task. To convince you, the risk has to be reduced to the very minimum.
  4. Hotels & Resorts…Can they convince you to sleep in a bed a stranger just used? To spend hours in a room whose cleanliness you have to take on faith? Travelers have no choice, they must stay somewhere, but they will choose the one that convinces them it offers the lowest risk.

As a senior living community, you have all of the above challenges. You have dining rooms, fitness centers, salons, theaters and lobbies. And, many proudly operate like a resort-hotel (don’t even mention cruise ships). But you also have another huge area of risk. Because you also provide a level of health care.

So, in addition to meeting the highest standards of cleanliness that all of the above must meet, you also have a staff that must meet the highest standard of  24/7 care of residents.

Here’s just one example:  If you operate as Assisted Living, you’re in charge of medication. If I say my community handles all residents’ medications via our private, sterile facility, manned by computer-controlled robots managed by our pharmacists…how does that compare to your nurse phoning in orders to the local drugstore?

If I say our residences are deep-cleaned every night by electrostatic sprayers that are harmless to humans but lethal to virus…that all of our public space and equipment is scanned by robotic UV light daily…that our HVAC systems are already upgraded to HEPA standard and our air is circulated and filtered fresh every four hours, you might be impressed. But all we have done is meet the low bar that hotels, airlines and hospitals are already moving to meet.

Everyplace and every industry that greets the public are going to have an impressive story. No one who deals with the public can survive without “cleanliness credibility.”

And because all of the places listed above are ultimately optional, they have to persuade you that the choice to use them is okay.

But we have made senior living seemingly indispensable, a desired and acceptable alternative to seniors living alone or moving in with their children. In effect, we have made it the option everyone doesn’t want to do without. And in times of crisis like the virus, everyone now knows the burden of healthcare required is beyond the time, abilities or resources of almost any family or adult child caregiver. But even with that demonstrated need and motivation, no one will knowingly or voluntarily put their parent at risk.

Last year they wondered if senior living would give their parent a full and happy life as well as the health care they needed every day.

If those two questions were answered positively, they had the “peace of mind” knowing they were making the right decision.

Now the pandemic has raised another question: “Am I putting my mother in danger?”

What is your answer going to be?

If we cannot give them real peace of mind, nothing else will suffice.

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Rick Barrow, creative director, partners with The Ehlers Group for advertising projects. His background includes managing two full-service advertising agencies in Florida. He’s a former award-winning journalist, public relations executive, political campaign consultant and Washington lobbyist who evolved into a highly successful advertising-marketing consultant. 

He has been honored with over 500 national and regional awards for advertising and creative and successful marketing campaigns including Clio’s, Emmy’s, Addy’s and senior community housing awards from the National Association of Home Builders. 

His agency clients have included large real estate developers such as Rouse, Lennar, Toll Brothers, NVR, Trump and The Related Group and he has launched new towns, master-planned communities, luxury condominiums and resorts. Most recently, Rick has pivoted toward the growing but under-marketed niche of senior housing. After working with industry leaders such as Sunrise Senior Living, he collaborated with visionary Florida developers to create a new concept for urban senior luxury living called City Club. 

Subsequently, he has rebranded Florida’s successful The Palace Group, (, including the company’s luxury independent and assisted living communities. His advertising campaigns for their luxury product have won national awards.

Today, he is actively involved in a strategic partnership with senior housing expert, Janis Ehlers, and her industry leading company, The Ehlers Group. 

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