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  • Writer's pictureMatt Thornhill

Affinity-Based Senior Living

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

The Importance of Finding Your Tribe

Birds of a feather flock together.

Such a simple and timeless concept, yet one almost totally ignored in the senior housing and senior living sectors.

Wait, you say. That’s not true. Senior living is all about creating spaces where older adults can live together in community.

Therein lies the mistake: Age is not an affinity.

My father-in-law, Art, was a bomber pilot in World War II. At the end of his long life, when he was a widower and in his 90’s, his daughters got him to visit a local assisted living community in hopes of getting him to move out of his home into a safer environment. During the tour, all of the conversation was around Art’s daily needs and the services and resources available at the community, as if he was touring a hospital.

No one asked Art about his background, told him anything interesting or unique about the people who lived there, or even shared with him the number of single, older men who lived there. On the way home, Art said “I can’t picture myself living there with a bunch of old people.” He felt no affinity with the older adults.

Turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, there were four other WWII vets living in the community when Art visited. Two of whom flew planes. Wonder if he could have pictured himself living there with them, who had similar life experiences?

What is an Affinity?

In the active adult space, there are operators building new affinity-based communities like Latitude Margaritaville, in Florida and South Carolina. That’s right, they licensed Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville song and built an entire lifestyle-based community around it.

This isn’t about age, but attitude:

[Margaritaville has] always been that happy place in your mind, the spirit of adventure in your soul. It’s the state of mind when it all comes together in one of life’s perfect moments.

Tapping into shared values and mindsets like this is a great way to be intentional in creating community. And to attract like-minded people.

One risk with using affinity is that it can also be limiting if you go about it the wrong way. Interests like hobbies can’t be too specific because for many people, hobbies don’t define their tribe. It’s just that, a hobby. Creating a community exclusively for people who love fly fishing is not as smart as creating one for people who love spending time in the outdoors. One is a hobby, the other is a mindset.

In a previous post about who is creating community in senior living communities, I shared that people want to live where they’ll feel they belong. They’ll feel they belong if they have something in common with the people already there. That connection can start with a similar interest, but it’s better if they have a shared story, similar background, and/or similar mindsets and attitudes.

For example, specific interests like photography, music, art, or cooking are a great connector to create community, but many potential residents may be interested in one, two, or all of these. They won’t want to limit themselves only to art. It’s better, then, to create a tribe around “the arts” or “life-long learning,” rather than a specific area of interest.

A few years ago, I shared this during a keynote presentation at a state-level LeadingAge event and an operator came up to me afterwards and eagerly said, “I get it. My community is filled with life-long learners and I’m going to change my marketing immediately.”

Two weeks later he sent a photo with a new banner he had put on his sign: “Lifelong Learners Live Here!!!” (The three exclamation points really drive home the point, don’t you think?)

Right idea, but not something that will attract like-minded people to visit. Instead, I suggested he put up a sign that says, “Home for those with endless curiosity.”

People want to live where they belong. Who flocks to your community?

Matt Thornhill is the nation’s authority on marketing to boomers, and recently retired from a career in marketing and advertising to start Cozy Home Community, a new type of senior living for middle-income older adults.


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