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Senior living marketers and sales professionals have been trying to figure out what words we should use when speaking to older adults for a long time. Much of this is a tremendous effort to not offend – which invariably leads to a bunch of jargon that is either coddling or incomprehensible.

A couple of weeks ago I asked my 92-year-old mother if she still feels a strong connection to the woman she was at 18 or 35 or 50, and she responded with a resounding, “Yes!” While she may have a few (not many) physical challenges, her likes, dislikes, passions and communicative skills are the same as what they have always been. So why do many marketers and providers speak with older adults as if they need to be cared for or overprotected?

Look at this article for a great perspective: http://bit.ly/2eMlBc1

Age Isn’t an Illness

A session at LeadingAge in New Orleans last week tackled some of these exact challenges. The Psychology of Language, presented by Susan Brecht, President, Brecht Associates; Kristen Crawford, Marketing Director, Transforming Age; and Karen Adams, Vice President Planning and Relationship Management, GSI Research & Consulting, explored the language of senior living sales and marketing.

It was pointed out that in many ads geared toward older adults, the wording used indicates that aging is a mistake, a condition, something that is broken. Do you disagree? Take a walk through a pharmacy and look at the boxes in the healthcare aisles. What do you see? Age-defying. Anti-aging. Ageless. These messages reinforce that something bad is coming and the only hope you have is to hold it off for as long as possible.

The speakers also pointed out that marketers tend to group people in a category of 55 to 100+: old. One more time, 55 to 100+. That’s like having a marketing category of 15 to 60. Yeah, that’s narrowing it right down. You know what, I probably wouldn’t even have a problem with that type of category if it meant that they were treating the 100-year-old like a 55-year-old, but here’s the problem, we are talking to people who hit certain milestone ages like they are ready to be put out to pasture. Made it to 65, congratulations! Now relinquish all your responsibilities and accept your care for the rest of your life. Are you kidding me? If anyone out there is putting their kids through college, you are probably with me on something, we aren’t retiring until we’re 80. Don’t talk to me about the golden years for a long, long time.

Aging and the Power of Perception

Another point made in the presentation was that adults with a positive self-perception of aging can live up to 7.5 YEARS longer than adults with a negative self-perception. What are we doing to older adults with this onslaught of messaging that reinforces that advanced age is a time of loss and decline? What type of negative impact do we have on the health and well-being of older adults?

At Creating Results, we made a point years ago to say if we are going to work with firms who actively market to the mature consumer, it isn’t enough to speak with our clients about their consumers; we consistently speak with their target customers. This isn’t rocket science, a team of 10 marketers and sales professionals sitting around a table theorizing about how to sell to a target market won’t be nearly as effective as actually speaking to members of that target market.

Shameless plug: we do an intensive study called Social, Silver Surfers which discusses how best to market, present and sell to the mature consumer online. These aren’t theories, we speak to approximately 1,000 consumers for each of our research projects. If interested, you can find the eBook here: http://amzn.to/2hj1PHp

What to Avoid in Marketing to Seniors

Other solid takeaways from the presentation included words and concept to avoid in marketing and sales materials:

  1. Making older people “different” than younger people
  2. Uncharacteristic characteristics – using unusual examples to represent older people (e.g., senior jumping out of a plane); glorification of “super seniors.” When does aspiration go too far?
  3. Old as negative
  4. Youth as positive
  5. Infantilization

In short, it’s a twist on the golden rule, speak unto others how you want others to speak unto you.

About The Author

Patrick McShane

Patrick has more than 25 years of sales, marketing and public relations experience on both the senior living provider and communications agency sides. He is a vice president with Creating Results, where he works with clients to strategically develop positioning and offerings to drive sales and occupancy. Patrick is a featured speaker on the subjects of marketing, branding and sales at local, regional and national conferences.