Flexibility Is Key in Marketing to Boomers

A single medium won’t do when promoting multifamily properties to the 55-plus set. To maximize visibility, ad campaigns should be as diverse as the age group itself.


To market its independent living community Portera at the Grove in Wilsonville, Ore., Holland Partner Group used a mix of print and online advertising. Newspaper ads helped double the project's Web traffic.
Courtesy Holland Partner Group To market its independent living community Portera at the Grove in Wilsonville, Ore., Holland Partner Group used a mix of print and online advertising. Newspaper ads helped double the project’s Web traffic.

A full-page advertisement in a Sunday newspaper recently helped double the number of visitors to the website of the Portera at the Grove in Wilsonville, Ore., where leasing started in April.

No, we’re not talking about April 1995, when the Internet was essentially in its infancy. Rather, the project opened this year, when you’re as likely to gain substantial Web traffic from a print ad as you are to find employment that way.

“The overwhelming majority of our advertising happens online usually,” admits Josh McDonald, director of marketing for Vancouver, Wash.–based Holland Partner Group, the community’s developer. “[But] the Portera is much more balanced between print and Internet.”

Perhaps part of the reason the Portera did so well in the paper is based more on its intended audience than on what’s trending in apartment marketing these days. The property is an independent living community for residents 55 or older and, as such is one of the many apartment communities in the United States that are hoping to attract the growing number of baby boomers who reach that age each day.

Today, with the oldest of them approaching their 70s, many of America’s boomers are old enough to move into seniors housing. Many boomers, also, however, feel young enough to move into new rental apartments built primarily with millennials in mind, in hip, downtown urban neighborhoods. Others are content, and able, to remain in their large single-family homes in the suburbs.

In a word, boomers are a diverse lot, spanning not only the years between 1946 and 1964, but an array of interests and lifestyles, as well. They’re tech-savvy, yes, but they still read the Sunday paper, too—often, in print. To market to them, multifamily executives need a flexible strategy that’s as mixed as boomers themselves.

Multipronged Approach
Despite the diversity among the boomer demographic, two-thirds of them have no plans to move from the single-family home they currently own, according to a recent survey from The Neilson Co. And when they do move from one place to another, nearly half leave for a larger single-family home, the research firm found.

“You could have a boomer who’s 60 years old who has had a prosperous career and has bought a bigger house,” says Stockton Williams, executive director of the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Urban Land Institute. “Many are still looking for their dream house.”

However, because so many people are AARP eligible today, even a minority of them can still be more than enough to fill an apartment community. “Even a small percentage of 75 or 76 million is still a lot,” says Williams.

The lease-up rate at Portera bears him out, with the property enjoying a rate of about 10 a month. “It’s going well, and we have good interest from the community,” says Brenner Daniels, development director for Holland Residential.

The average new resident at Portera is in his or her 70s. That’s just slightly older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now 69. Many boomers are already moving into the community, and many more are likely to arrive over the next few years.

To attract these relatively young seniors, Holland uses several strategies. It sent out its first major direct-mail campaign in years this past May, with 10,000 pieces sent to high-earning seniors in nearby ZIP codes. The campaign had a 2.3% response rate—very strong for a direct-mail program. “We were very, very happy,” says McDonald. Holland is planning to mail another 15,000 pieces this summer.

Online advertising, too, is important for the Portera. However, even Web ads work a little differently for the 55+ crowd than for other demographics. For example, Craigslist ads, usually an effective means of drawing visitors to a multifamily property website, are much less important to boomers.

Instead, Holland is finding that the Portera is attracting more visitors from an online ad it placed on a real estate website that appeals to homeowners.

“We have eight times as many leads from Zillow [as from Craigslist],” says McDonald.

Many of the community’s prospective residents are homeowners who may already be used to checking the likely value of their single-family house on websites like Zillow.

The Portera, also, isn’t a typical independent-living facility.

“There are no meals or medical services,” says Daniels. Instead, the Portera offers a package of activities including cooking and exercise classes organized by the property’s lifestyle enrichment coordinator.

“Portera offers exclusive programs and services we termed 55Alive that enhance your pursuit for knowledge, inspiration, and vitality,” according to the community’s website.

Portera’s marketing materials show off its 12,000 square feet of amenity space, including a putting green and a 6,000-square-foot sky deck. “The amenity package is higher than conventional in a typical multifamily product,” says Daniels. “The only thing we don’t have is a swimming pool.”

The apartments also show off high-end finishes. “They’re more condo-quality than other apartment or seniors housing properties in the area,” Daniels adds.

Bozzuto Group, based in Greenbelt, Md., isn’t content to focus just on marketing its properties individually. Rather, the developer plans to emphasize the entire brand in creating a new line of boomer-targeted rental apartment properties, the first of which will be built in Valley Forge, Pa.

Company president Toby Bozzuto has hired IDEO, one of the leading branding companies in the U.S., to help the developer name the new line of properties and create an identity for them. “The concept of brand in our industry hasn’t been pushed as far as it can go,” says Bozzuto.

IDEO will also help Bozzuto identify how its rental communities could lure boomers out of their single-family homes.

Mixing Boomers and Millennials
When wooing boomers away from homeownership, apartment operators may find the demographic isn’t averse to a mixed crowd; many renters over 50 prefer communities with residents of various ages.

“Consumers are aspirational,” says Bozzuto. “Millennials want to feel they’ve arrived, and baby boomers want to feel younger. To only be building for millennials is to be ignoring half the equation.”

Alliance Residential Co. is likely to agree, having attracted many baby boomers to its Broadstone Koi property in Seattle. “I was very surprised when I walked through there,” says Rachel Davidson, director of revenue and sales at Phoenix-based Alliance. “It was refreshing to see that we really ran the gamut of ages.”

These boomers truly enjoy living in a building with younger residents. “People assume they want to be separated, but they really appreciate the energy,” says Davidson.

Boomers at Broadstone Koi also embrace modern trends their millennial counterparts enjoy, such as telecommuting. “We see just as many 55-year-old executives in the lobby utilizing the [business] space,” says Davidson.

At its properties, such as Broadstone Lincoln in Scottsdale, Ariz., Alliance Residential is taking a “consultative” approach to leasing, getting to know individual prospective residents and what they need. The tack has shown the developer that boomers often enjoy living in buildings with younger residents.
Courtesy Alliance Residential Co. At its properties, such as Broadstone Lincoln in Scottsdale, Ariz., Alliance Residential is taking a “consultative” approach to leasing, getting to know individual prospective residents and what they need. The tack has shown the developer that boomers often enjoy living in buildings with younger residents.

To help the company serve customers with different needs and ages, Alliance takes a “consultative” approach to leasing. That means spending more time to get to know individual prospective residents and finding out what they need, as if the leasing team were consultants working for the renter.

“Our sales experience needs to be relevant to them,” says Davidson. “We need to get to know them in ways that are more meaningful than before.”

This approach helps the leasing staff focus on the features and amenities that prospects actually care about.

Generational Divide
Though they may enjoy some of the same communities and amenities, the paths boomers and millennials take to get to them can differ significantly.

Boomers, for example, can take much longer to decide to move—often for the simple reason that they may have been living in the same home for quite some time, with a significant amount of furniture and other possessions to deal with.

“They’re much more thoughtful about the decision [to move],” says Davidson.

Boomers are also likely to pay several visits to an apartment development before they’re willing to commit. “One we gain their initial interest, it’s a much more intensive process of selling,” says Holland’s McDonald.

However, when boomers do finally decide to sign a lease, they can move quickly. “Their decision is much less influenced by others when they know they’re ready,” says Davidson.

In contrast, millennials often bring friends and family to see an apartment they’re seriously considering—in addition to sometimes posting photos on Facebook.

Boomers can also require more personal attention from property owners after move-in. “Once they’re customers, they require a lot more communication and a lot more face-to-face time,” says Davidson.

And when it comes to renewing a lease, millennials are more likely to complete the whole transaction by e-mail or chat. “Baby boomers are going to want to come down and talk it through with you,” says Davidson.

Diverse, sophisticated, and thoughtful—traits that describe not only baby boomers themselves but the marketing approach best likely to win their hearts.

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