Operators can make their communities more appealing to prospective residents by focusing on lifestyle and avoiding phrases such as “age-restricted” and “active adult” in their marketing materials, because they make prospective residents feel old, according to new research from Tempe, AZ-based research firm Zion & Zion.

The national survey, conducted online earlier this year with 3,254 people who were aged 50 to their mid-80s, centered on active adult 55+ communities, but Zion & Zion CEO Aric Zion, one of the report’s authors, said operators of other senior living settings could benefit from the findings as well.

“Knowing the boomer generation will be researching retirement living options — life plan communities, independent living, assisted living, etc. — now or in the near future, forward-thinking retirement community operators should make a shift to position or reposition offerings and marketing messaging now,” he told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Tomorrow’s consumers are seeking lifestyle experiences, increased variety in activities, amenities and dining, etc., and overall offerings than what their parents may have experienced.”

Researchers found that 43.8% of survey participants felt “older” than their actual age, and 29% felt “significantly older,” when they were presented with the scenario of moving into a community described by the words “active adult 55+,” even when amenities and lifestyle factors also were described. When the words “age-restricted” were used, 47.8% of survey participants said they felt older than their actual age, and 31.7% said they felt significantly older.

When asked about moving into one of Jimmy Buffett’s Latitude Margaritaville communities, however, people felt older at a much lower rate: 32.6% felt older, and 19.9% felt significantly older than those considering a typical active adult 55+ community.

The communities, Zion & Zion noted, are marketed as being for those “55 or better” and convey a “no worries” tropical vibe.

The Margaritaville communities are not clients of the research firm, Zion said.

“Zion & Zion regularly conducts independent research studies on a variety of topics in an effort to better understand the verticals and industries in which our clients operate,” he said. “We work with a number of clients in the active adult and senior living markets, so we felt it would be beneficial to explore this topic to gain further insight into how a person’s perception of themselves as being older than their actual age comes into play when they consider moving into an active adult community.”

To control for the celebrity “Buffett effect,” the researchers also tested a scenario with a community described as having an “island theme” but with no mention of Buffett or Margaritaville. The results were almost identical to those in the Margaritaville scenario, with 31.4% of respondents saying they felt older and 22% saying they felt significantly older.

How can operators use this information?

“Marketers of active adult communities should focus on branding or repositioning in a way that doesn’t stereotype the consumer into a ‘senior living’ audience segment that causes people to feel older than their actual age, which, in turn, could suppress conversion,” Zion said. “Instead, age-designated master-planned neighborhoods and communities should focus on building and promoting an overall lifestyle experience. Our research suggests that creating or re-positioning a community with a youthful, fun and unique vibe can reduce a person’s subjective age perceptions that they feel older or significantly older.”

Read the full results of the study on the Zion & Zion website.

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