• Transform magazine
  • September 25, 2018

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Opinion: Rebranding the retirement sector

Mark Davis.jpg

With the retirement housing sector the preserve of stale branding and lacklustre design, developers fail to capture the attention of a lucrative demographic. Mark Davis examines how retirement housing can address its image problem through branding

People have a strong emotional connection to their family homes; they set the scene for so many of life’s important moments. To let go of one emotional connection, one equally as compelling needs to be created – people should be as excited about buying their last home as they were their first.  Retirement living has really moved on in the last decade and there are some great products out there, with great lifestyle and community amenities, but they’re not being marketed as attractive propositions with effective branding.

Brands in this market simply aren’t communicating effectively with their target consumers – people need stronger, more attractive reasons to downsize. Moving into age-exclusive properties should represent a fresh opportunity, the chance to free up revenue to enjoy all the things in life that aren’t possible when part of the workforce or raising a family. Yet many developers persist in projecting an image that is at best stale and un-aspirational, and at worst patronising and rooted in knitted-cardigan territory.

There’s no doubt that the retirement property sector suffers from an image problem. Selling the family home and buying a retirement property is traditionally seen as a sign of decline rather than as a way of leading a more active, sociable and independent life. According to Age UK, two thirds of older people feel misrepresented by brands in general, and the retirement real estate sector is especially guilty.

The cliched, limited stereotypes fail to see retirement as an empowering, inspirational life stage. Emotional attachments to family homes are notoriously hard to break, especially when there is apparently so little to aspire to in the age-exclusive arena.

Marketers and branding experts in other sectors, for example fashion, have been quicker to keep up with the oldies. US author Joan Didion (83) for Céline, Woodstock veteran Joni Mitchell (74) for Yves Saint Laurent, UK model Daphne Selfe (89) for D&G, actress and lingerie model Lauren Hutton (74) for Calvin Klein. And there wasn’t a model under 40 in Zara’s autumn/winter 2017 campaign. It’s cool to be grey – Kylie Jenner, Mel B and Kate Moss have even hit the bottle in pursuit of grey locks. The property branding sector needs to catch up.

Developers could learn a thing or two from property development company Helical. When the property investor and developer handed over the keys of its retirement property brand, Renaissance Villages, to Legal & General at the end of last year, it got branding right in the UK’s retirement living sector, with transformative results and boosted value. Helical recognised that it needed to reposition its retirement brand to connect with target consumers.

A more celebratory take on mature living was adopted, with youthful, aspirational, fashion-inspired imagery. Out went adverts depicting sedentary ‘old folk’ wearing unfashionable clothes in staged scenarios and in came a vibrant, urban energy, with up-to-date images of people pursing relevant, modern activities. This life-embracing strategy saw a 460% uplift in weekly average reservations and a 247% increase in exchanges at Renaissance Village’s Millbrook development, and a boost of 150% in average weekly completions at Durrants in West Sussex.

Traditionally there’s been a complete misunderstanding of this age group’s needs that has remained unchallenged for too long. If developers want this asset-rich group to downsize and buy into retirement living, it needs to be an attractive, sexy option. People in this category don’t want vanilla. They’re too switched on and excited about what life has to offer.

Mark Davis is co-founder and creative director of integrated property branding agency, me&dave

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