Memory Care & the Role of Emotions in Designing More Effective Marketing Communication

By admin

There is no denying that our senior population is expanding at a rapid pace, thanks not only to the aging of Baby Boomers, one of our largest age cohorts, but also to innovations in healthcare, which have allowed for greater life expectancy.  In fact, the group of Americans age 65 and over is expected to double in size to 74 million by 2030.  And as it does, the number of dementia cases will follow: The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that approximately 500,000 Americans developed Alzheimer’s last year alone, adding to the 5.4 million cases already in existence.  And the Association further suggested that by 2030, there will be as many as 615,000 new cases per year.

In acknowledgement of this trend, senior housing owners and operators are responding by expanding their services accordingly.  They are growing their footprints and capacity, too, with the number of memory care units increasing 52% since 2010, as reported by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.  Yet as their marketplace grows and the competition intensifies, their marketing strategies must evolve accordingly.

Until recently, communities filled the majority of their memory care units from within, as existing residents in lower levels of care faced declines in their cognitive abilities.  To leverage demand in today’s environment, however, providers are now looking to the outside, too, where there is a growing number of seniors with signs of dementia still living in their longtime homes or with family members, in surroundings that can be unsafe and with care that can be inadequate.  But in targeting this audience, the underlying emotional wants and desires of family members (i.e., the key decision-makers when it comes to care options for their memory-impaired loved ones) are frequently overlooked and/or misunderstood.  And therefore, marketing messages tend to focus on a facility’s tangible features, without adequately addressing the core emotion-based triggers of caregivers.  Yet these emotion-based triggers are often the guiding principles as families explore memory care options for their loved ones. Indeed, a winning marketing communication strategy would be one in which providers could credibly demonstrate an understanding of and ability to fulfill those emotion-based needs.

But how can such an understanding be achieved?  This white paper explores the emotion-based motivations that drive consumers’ decisions regarding memory care.  And it further introduces the use of consumer research to uncover many of the barriers that come with marketing to an audience that may not fully comprehend the importance of identifying quality housing and services for the cognitively-impaired.


A vast number of seniors with signs of dementia still live in their longtime homes, while countless others reside with their grown children or other family members.  And as their dementia progresses and cognitive abilities decline, their need for memory care support intensifies and their existing settings become unsafe and inadequate.  Yet despite this situation, families often choose to keep their loved ones at home and take a “wait and see” approach, rather than proactively seek out high quality housing options.  While incomplete information may contribute to this situation, the choice is often grounded in emotion.  More specifically, the reluctance of family members to explore facilities with memory care resources can often be based on feelings of guilt and avoidance of confrontation.  Moreover, families can be unaware of or in denial about the extent of their loved ones’ frailties.  Finally, they can be largely unfamiliar with the overall senior living category and/or misinformed about the available options.  As such, a common response is for them to continue to allow their loved ones to live on their own and to “be available” themselves if the need arises or, alternatively, to bring them into their own homes for closer supervision.  The idea of finding a properly equipped facility may not even enter their minds until a critical incident occurs (e.g., a fall or death of a spouse) and when it does, their expectations of care and recovery time can be unrealistic.  This can lead them to a less-than-optimal solution.  For example, if a loved one is injured in an accident, family members may decide that a stay in a short-term rehab facility is warranted and they may further expect their loved one to return home afterward.  However, if further physical and/or cognitive decline occurs, the family may need to move its loved one again, to a second facility with “the right” complement of resources and support.

So, herein lies the challenge: How can branding and marketing messages for memory care be developed to effectively capture the attention of this segment of prospects?  Providers that can overcome such a challenge will differentiate themselves among the competition in an increasingly crowded marketplace.


It is widely known that market research is a key component of prudent project planning.  For example, providers considering the development of a new senior housing facility or an expansion of an existing community will often commission a market feasibility analysis to quantify market demand.  Yet while a feasibility study is an invaluable tool, helping to determine target markets, unit count, financial viability, etc., its findings do not provide insight into the underlying wants and desires of actual consumers, which is essential in the design of effective marketing communication.  It is those wants and desires, often deeply rooted in emotion, that drive the memory care selection process and without that insight, marketing communication tends to focus almost exclusively on community features, such as amenities and accreditation, without effectively addressing the fundamental emotion-based triggers of decision-makers.  While community features have merit and should not be disregarded, they may not be such strong differentiators in the minds of family members, particularly when compared to factors that fulfill their more emotional needs.

To stand out among the competition, memory care facilities must be able to demonstrate an understanding of (and ability to fulfill) family members’ emotion-based needs, such as quality of life assurances.  Yet, these motivators often exist at a subconscious level and, therefore, are difficult to uncover.  To get to these often deeply rooted emotion-based triggers, consumer research is key.  For Joan Schimmel, Vice President Consumer Research at PMD Advisory Services (a national market research and consulting firm specializing in senior living and health care), qualitative consumer research approaches, such as focus groups or a series of one-one-one interviews, are the methodologies of choice for successfully going beyond the superficial and revealing the subconscious.

Schimmel notes that during these types of research sessions, participants are often quick to indicate their opinions of memory care’s more tangible attributes, such as amenities and services.  But as noted, while that information is beneficial in and of itself, when it comes to making the ultimate decision for their memory-impaired loved ones, families are often driven more by their subconscious desires.  As such, Schimmel goes one step further when conducting qualitative research related to memory care.  More specifically, she has found that with a more in-depth level of questioning, she is able to uncover the emotions that strongly influence consumer perceptions and the overall selection process.  She has discovered, for example, that family members place a surprisingly high value on facilities that display evidence of patience, attentiveness, flexibility, and compassion when it comes to providing quality care for their memory-impaired loved ones.  Concerned that “strangers” will be caring for their loved ones, families value not only an experienced, accredited staff, but also one that is nurturing and “really cares about Mom.”  Then, with this knowledge in hand, Schimmel can suggest branding strategies that utilize messages to address those expressed needs and, ultimately, to capture the attention of family members.  And by implementing those strategies, providers can develop more meaningful brand differentiation, thereby creating a distinct advantage over the competition.


PMD’s Joan Schimmel has found that with a deeper level of questioning, focus groups and one-on-one interviews become excellent forums for exploring subconscious triggers.  She notes that when the underlying emotion-based drivers of family members are exposed, new, “unexpected” insights surface.  For her clients, these newfound insights can be game changers, often steering them toward otherwise overlooked, yet highly effective marketing communication strategies that may differ from those that would have developed otherwise.

Schimmel has found that four “unexpected” insights can be gained from her “deep-dive” approach to memory care focus group, each helping to guide her clients’ strategic actions in meaningful directions.

Insight A: When consumers’ inherent values, beliefs, and other emotion-based needs are exposed, a greater level of granularity surrounding their perceptions of “good care” can be identified.  These revelations allow providers to tailor their messaging utilizing consumer-defined terminology and language to maximize relevance to family members and other caregivers of loved ones in need of memory care.  By addressing their emotion-based needs, in both marketing communications and during on-site visits, providers can capture the attention of decision makers and more effectively set themselves apart from the competition.

Insight B: Consumers’ perceptions of a client’s memory care capabilities and offerings, along with those of competitive communities and/or facilities, can be captured, thereby allowing for an assessment/comparison of each entity’s unique strengths and weaknesses.  With such insights, clients can then adjust their brand positioning and related messaging to have maximum impact.

Insight C: Consumers’ emotion-based triggers and other feedback can aid in the identification of improvement opportunities, which providers can address with operational and/or marketing modifications.

Insight D: Consumers’ opinions and receptivity to new memory care services and/or products can be introduced and tested.

Schimmel and her clients have found these insights to be helpful in devising marketing communication strategies that better target both the tangible and emotion-based needs of consumers and more effectively build brand awareness, facility consideration, and prospect conversion.


It is without question that our senior population is expanding rapidly and as it does, the number of those diagnosed with dementia is rising at a breakneck speed.  Memory care providers have taken notice, rushing to broaden their footprint and capacity in order to secure a share of this growth.  Yet many of those afflicted with the disease continue to live at home, in potentially unsafe environments and with inadequate care.  And family members can be reluctant to consider a solution that takes their loved ones out of their current living environments.  In the quest to capture their attention, however, retirement communities and facilities often miss meaningful and impactful marketing communication; their messages often lean toward the more tangible features of memory care and fail to address the underlying emotion-based triggers that ultimately drive family members’ selection process.  As such, communication attempts often go unnoticed, particularly as the marketplace becomes increasingly crowded.  As the competitive landscape builds and the scramble to fill units intensifies, it is more pertinent than ever for entities offering memory care services and resources to differentiate themselves by addressing those otherwise overlooked needs.

With in-depth questioning in a focus group or one-on-one interview setting, emotion-based needs of family member caregivers surface, allowing for the development of more effective marketing, branding, and related sales strategies.  Insights gained with Joan Schimmel’s “deep-dive” approach can be game changers, such that providers may use the findings to follow a path that would otherwise have been overlooked.  By tailoring marketing messages and modifying brand positioning to address those emotion-based triggers, retirement communities and facilities will gain a leg up over the competition by grabbing the attention of decision makers and increasing the likelihood of higher prospect-to-sale conversion ratios.


With more than 30 years of experience, PMD Advisory Services is well versed in quantitative and qualitative research alike and offers a comprehensive package of market research services to those in the senior housing field, including market feasibility, consumer research, and strategic development.  As PMD’s Vice President Consumer Research, Joan Schimmel provides her clients with custom-designed consumer research solutions, through which she uncovers value-added insights and offers guidance in project, strategic, and master planning.  Having completed more than 150 qualitative research engagements throughout the United States, PMD and Schimmel are skilled in interviewing a range of consumers on a variety of topics.  And with the intuition she gains during her “deep-dive” approach to questioning, Joan works with memory care and other senior housing providers not only to fine-tune their development plans, but also to refine their branding and marketing strategies.  To discover the conscious and subconscious motivations and preferences of your consumers and to increase the likelihood of capturing their attention, contact Joan at (513) 604-9109 or

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