Through the looking glass at a CCRC

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Shane Swisher
Shane Swisher
In 2007, two researchers spent an entire month living 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at a continuing care retirement community to gain a better understanding of the mature market. They kept diaries and blogged; conducted interviews, focus groups and town hall meetings; went on shopping trips; ate with residents; and participated in social activities. They became a real part of the community.

Both residents and leadership at the community believed that the process would give them and other organizations beneficial information about the needs and preferences of older adults.

They were correct. That effort, Project Looking Glass, provided some groundbreaking insight into the mature market — insight that has changed the way marketers communicate with and develop better products and services for America's most powerful audience; insight ranging from their psychographics to physiology and decision to move.

A lot can change in five years. Flash forward to 2012. According to the U.S. Census, by 2016, one-third of the U.S. population will be over 50 years old. Today's mature market controls 75% of the nation's wealth and 70% of its disposable income. In addition, the first baby boomers turned 65 on January 1, 2011, signaling what many see as a paradigm shift in the mature market, a shift that will impact everything from wants and needs to marketing strategies. This “next generation” continues to change the rules by redefining the concept of retirement and even aging itself.

Since that first study, the world of retirement living has changed dramatically, thanks to  economic issues, demographic trends, and incredible advances in technology (and let's not forget the recent debate over healthcare reform).

That shift is the focus of a follow-up research study, Project Looking Glass II.

Project Looking Glass II places researchers at Boulder, CO-based Frasier Meadows Retirement Community for one month. While you're reading this, they're working to uncover the mind-sets, lifestyles, life stages, limitations and expectations of today's mature market, and see just how the times have changed a generation.

This project will reveal how wellness, technology, finance, healthcare and other topics have both affected and shaped the lives of today's older adults, and if marketers are truly ready for the coming changes. Methodology includes in-depth interviews, focus groups, personal observations, and even shop-alongs to retailers like Best Buy, Target, Safeway, restaurant chains and other outlets. When the findings are delivered later this year, the goal will be to provide actionable insights to decision makers in the retirement living, healthcare, technology and consumer goods industries.

Organizations must address this shift in order to stay competitive in an ever-changing marketplace and with people in need of these services.

This is not a shameless plug — Project Looking Glass II is your study for your industry. As an open source project, any and all are welcome to check in daily through a dedicated YouTube channel and other social media, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and to contribute by offering topics to research during the stay.

For more information on Project Looking Glass II, visit .

Shane Swisher is a senior public relations strategist for Varsity, a Harrisburg, PA-based communications agency.

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