Virtually every marketing book and many articles will advise you to tap into your customers' Zen.
They will tell you to figure out what they want, how they want it delivered and what they are willing to pay for it. While this can be valuable information, it can also be a handcuff that limits creative, innovative thinking.
A Story . . .
I love potato salad! Growing up my mother made great potato salad. I got married and my wife also made great potato salad, and by adding mom’s secret ingredient it became the best potato salad in the world.
Potato salad takes a fair amount of effort to make and so was reserved for a few special occasions each spring and summer. She would have made it even more often except that our six year old son could not stand potato salad. We would beg him, plead with him, bribe him and at times even threaten, in an effort to get him to eat the best potato salad in the whole world. It was a futile effort, he would not allow the tiniest taste to pass between his lips.
Then one Sunday morning he came crawling into bed with us and as he climbed into bed we could smell something on his breath. Yep, he was up before us, and hungry, he knew better than to wake us on the one day we could sleep so he went looking for something easy to eat. There on the bottom shelf where he could reach it was the leftover potato salad. In an act of foolish desperation he grabbed a spoon and took a taste he was hooked.
Asking him what he wanted would have never in a million years lead him to potato salad.
Why Senior Housing Consumers Often Get It Wrong
Senior housing consumers only know what they have seen and been told. Which means their expectations, their desires will always fall in the norm. Even this is not quite right . . . the 90% of eligible seniors who choose to not take advantage of senior housing make that decision because “the norm” does not meet their expectations and desires. While they are not able to tell you why, the one thing they do know is that it is not for them.
Consumers will almost never be able to tell you how to innovate and that is not their role. They can’t experiment or explore. They can only tell you what they like and what they don’t like based only on what they have seen. Perhaps what is even more scary is the reality that consumers will tell you what they like and would be willing to buy, then when you actually offer that thing for sale, they will not actually buy it.
When Rush Limbaugh started his syndicated national radio show he had a fairly easy time getting airtime, because everyone knew that “middle of the day” play slots had little value. Yet for something like 25 years running he has dominated the syndicated radio market place. No focus group could have ever told him that.
What this means to Senior Housing
Most of the really good ideas already exist – What I mean by this, is that while it may not look like it, the most revolutionary ideas in senior housing are already being done by someone. They may not be done right; They may need some tweaking, some refining, but they are already out there in some shape or form.
Innovating means taking some risks – This does not mean taking foolish risks. Take a look at what people are doing and figure out how to do it better. Try it in one community or in one part of a community and see what happens. If the results are not quite what you hoped for, examine it for ways to make the idea better before abandoning it. If you discover that it just doesn’t work the way you wanted it abandon it quickly and do something else.
Much of innovating is remixing existing ideas - Take two or three ideas and meld them together to create something even better. Talk to people who are doing cool stuff and ask them why they are doing it, how it is going and how they came up with the idea.
Innovating will take conversation and collaboration - This means we need to be talking to each other about what works and what doesn’t. We need to share our failures and our successes. This may seem counter intuitive in a competitive environment, but honestly, if we were doing this well, we would increase the market penetration where not only every community would be full, but there would be seniors standing in line to get into our communities.