Active Adult Marketing Involves Five Key Elements
Many companies encounter a steep learning curve in their marketing for active adult buyers. On the whole, these buyers are well-educated, savvy, demanding and value-conscious. They are also affluent (and many have sterling credit), flexible, and, with proper communication, a pleasure to deal with.
Based on our experience, your overall marketing strategy should include the following elements:
- Marketing — Your entire presentation should match the home and community you intend to deliver. If you show lifestyle in your advertising, don't let images and copy drift too far from the prospect you want to attract. Make sure your sales display, brochures and marketing collateral are 100% complete before sales get under way. You need to create a strong first impression, so don't go to market too soon.
- Pre-Sales Facility: The Sales Trailer — An active adult community requires a significant up-front investment and involves a high degree of risk. However, the cost of a first-class presentation is minimal compared to potential losses if the pre-sales effort fails. Spend money to ensure your pre-sales presentation communicates the quality you intend to produce. Our company customized a triple-wide trailer for about $90,000 to drive sales. It looks great and tells the customer we are a class act. It was a terrific investment, and we're now using it to sell our third community.
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- Sales Staff — It is difficult for active adult buyers to put this critical transaction in the hands of someone many years younger than they are. Salespersons don't have to be “seniors,” but they must understand the 50+ buyer. Your salespersons are the most important people in your organization. Your customers' expectations of how your company will treat them throughout the entire transaction will be based on the impressions that the salesperson leaves with them.
- Well-Informed Staff — Active adult buyers don't read floor plans well. They have difficulty visualizing how a home will look until it is completely finished and furnished. That's why it's important to make sure your entire organization — sales, design, construction and purchasing staff — completely understands what is being sold. They must know what is “standard” and what is “optional,” and which designs are “offered” or “featured.” They must know whether a customer can make changes to a plan and, if so, how late in the process. Ensuring that each part of your organization is fully informed before you go to market will avoid hours of problem-solving.
- Graphic Presentation — Does your site plan show trees in front of or behind houses that don't really exist? Do the elevations in your brochure truly depict the way you intend to construct the homes? Are there changes in the home floor plans that aren't reflected in your brochure? Be sure your graphic displays are clearly presented, because active-adult customers will feel entitled to receive what they see in the plans.
- Documents and Disclaimers — Your brochures should help customers understand the buying process. Many companies pore over contract forms and various disclaimers to ensure they are correct before going to market. Unfortunately, these documents seldom are updated after the initial sales effort commences — and that can get you into hot water. Develop a procedure to periodically review these documents as construction and sales conditions change over the life of a project. Potential buyers review these documents carefully and take the information at face value. If you state something, they expect you to deliver it.
- Promises — Our sales materials promise a product, community and lifestyle we intend to deliver. The sales, design and construction staff meet with customers throughout the process and make verbal promises daily. Model homes illustrate a quality of construction that customers expect to find in their own homes. These are real promises, and the customer expects you to live up to them.
- Say "No" — Active adult customers won't accept “no” from the sales person and they will want to go up the ladder to speak with the decision-maker. Don't avoid the request when it comes your way. Be prepared to explain why you can't grant their request, and then stand behind your staff and say “no.” Your customers will be more accepting of an honest response.
- A Home to Sell — Most buyers have existing homes to sell and many need the funds from those sales to close on their new homes. You can sell homes to seniors without “sale of home” contingencies, but by mentioning this concern during your sales presentation and being prepared to help buyers sell their existing homes, you will rise above the competition.
- Significant Emotional Events — Many times, senior buyers move because their spouses have fallen ill or died or their grandchildren have arrived and they want to be closer to their children. The sales staff must be sensitive to these situations and compassionate. Seldom will they just be “selling a house” to a senior buyer.
- A Very Emotional Move — Imagine moving out of the home where you raised your family and leaving several decades of memories behind. Your customers may be on an emotional roller coaster, and you need to be prepared to help them deal with it.
5. Customer Service
- Make A Promise and Deliver — Continued sales success depends on delivering quality service after the sale. All seniors talk to each other. In most cases, buyers will knock on existing home owners' doors and ask how they were taken care of before and after the sale. Provide the details of your customer service commitment to prospective purchasers in your marketing brochures. I strongly recommend you make similar, realistic promises up-front to your prospects and deliver as promised.
Steve McKenna is president of Mignatti Companies, a fourth-generation residential and land development company that builds active adult, single-family, and multifamily communities in central New Jersey and suburban Philadelphia. McKenna can be reached by e-mail or call him at 215-947-2800.
A longer version of this article appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of Seniors’ Housing News, a quarterly magazine from the NAHB Seniors Housing Council. For more information about the council and its member benefits, click here, or e-mail Jeff Jenkins or call him at 800-368-5242 x8292.
BuilderBooks.com offers a variety of publications about seniors housing online. To view or purchase these publications, click here and type "seniors housing" in the search box.
Learn more about marketing and building for the 50+ seniors housing market at Seniors Housing Symposium 2004. Mark your calendar and plan on joining us on April 14-16, 2004, in Chicago.
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