Emily Runyon

At Varsity, we’re always looking for inspiration and ideas on ways we can improve communications and marketing for our clients. Like any industry, we review what thought leaders are doing to help us keep current with trends and innovations, but that strategy can only get you so far. If you’re always working to keep up with the competition, you’re never really taking the lead. This caused us to ask, “What industry is like ours, has a similar sales funnel and encounters the same kinds of challenges?”

The answer was simple, really — post-secondary education.

Today, colleges and universities spend millions of dollars each year trying to attract just the right mix of students to their institutions. They build beautiful campuses, filled with state-of-the-art learning facilities, luxurious amenities and grandiose sports fields, all in an effort to entice potential students to choose them over their competitors. They aren’t just selling the degree; they’re selling the lifestyle. It becomes about self-identity and being part of something bigger than yourself.

The marketing techniques being employed by these schools aren’t entirely dissimilar to those that retirement communities are beginning to use.

Selling someone retirement at a community isn’t about whether you have the right floor plans or enough square footage for their furniture. Today’s retirees are looking for a well-rounded community that provides a variety of engaging activities, high-quality dining options, beautiful living spaces, security and a sense of belonging. Just as students are proud to show off the school they attend, our residents are proud to talk about the community they chose to retire to — and why not? They spent their hard-earned retirement investments to enjoy their lives at a community full of their peers, just as college students do.

As we reviewed marketing materials from post-secondary schools, especially their websites and social media presences, we found similar themes to the messages we need to convey in retirement living.

Schools provide communications targeted at several varying audiences:

  • Current students
  • Potential students
  • Parents
  • Alumni and donors
  • Employees

In the same vein, senior marketing strategies work to reach the same types of groups:

  • Current residents
  • Potential residents
  • Families
  • Community partners
  • Employees

While not all of these groups will directly lead to a sale, interacting with them provides a complete and holistic view of our brand and communities. It shows that we care for all who support our mission.

This revelation has led us to look for inspiration. How do colleges and universities market themselves? How can this guide retirement living marketing? While the target audience is slightly different, the driving forces are the same. By understanding the drivers and emotions at play in that decision process, we can better communicate with our audience, providing them with easy access to the answers they’re looking for. This, ultimately, puts us in a better position to demonstrate that one community is the best place for them compared to others.

While your retirement community may not have a popular mascot, a well-known sports program or scientific research lab, it does have one important thing in common with college: heart. The years spent in retirement are just as important — if not more so — than the years spent in college. They are to be enjoyed and cherished.

That’s the message we try to convey every day at Varsity, and it’s a challenge we love.