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Grant Harder

The boomer generation changed advertising forever. For decades, marketers have chased this influential group, trying to get their attention and sell to them at every life stage. Now they are approaching retirement, and old age, and upending the standards of marketing to the elderly.

Vancouver-based Nurse Next Door, which provides at-home caregiving services, responded last year by revamping its brand to speak to this generation. Its emerging client base has a new view of old age that involves playing Wii with the grandkids, hanging on to that electric bass, and hitting the beach. Nurse Next Door has already seen a revenue boost from its efforts, says co-founder and president John DeHart, who believes the way companies market to seniors is about to change advertising again.

Goodbye, clinical look

In 2001, when DeHart and co-founder Ken Sim launched their business, the Canadian caregiving industry was fragmented, with a number of small companies providing services. But the rapidly aging population has attracted bigger competitors. U.S. franchise Comfort Keepers has already set up shop in Canada, and another U.S.-based business, Right at Home, is looking to expand here as well.

Nurse Next Door has focused on marketing that separates it from the pack. While much of the industry has a clinical image, the firm sought a sunnier brand. It eschewed a planned $2,000-a-month billboard campaign, and instead wrapped a minivan in bright pink signage with yellow daisies. It now has 60 branded cars on the road. The company has a "we love caring for seniors day," when it hands out flowers to elderly people in the community. Anything to get folks talking. "We fear getting older, and a lot of the advertising reflected this," DeHart says. "We thought, you know, getting older can be celebrated. It can be fun."

Are you experienced?

"Fun" is what DeHart says boomers are searching for as they age. While the pre-boomer generation of clients tends to be very frugal, early signs are that the new seniors want to take charge of their golden years, and they will pay to do so. "They will spend money on experiences. It's important to them. They want fun. They want liveliness," DeHart says. For years, home care services have been very task-oriented in their branding - focusing on cooking, bathing and laundry, for example. Last October, Nurse Next Door began using active images of real clients, and even a few saucy shots, like men at the beach watching the pretty girls go by.

The effort contains lessons for any company marketing to boomers as they age: The status-quo ways of thinking about elderly folks don't cut it any more. Boomers want to be spoken to on their own terms.

Tech-savvy septuagenarians

The boomer generation represents a game change for the home care industry: They are emerging from a labour market where tech skills are essential. That means clients are about to get a lot more vocal, and they will make themselves heard - not just if the care is subpar, but also if they feel bored or underserved. Nurse Next Door's marketing campaign relies heavily on social media and word of mouth. In order to compete, home care nurses will have to nurture a social-media presence, and go above and beyond to become part of a service industry, not just a care industry.

"Our clients will be using Twitter," DeHart says. "We'd better be really good at what we do."



You can't outspend the big guys

With big companies eyeing the rapid growth in the seniors' market, small businesses need to realize that their marketing dollars are perhaps not best spent on ads. Nurse Next Door has invested heavily in its 24-hour call centre, for example, at the expense of some advertising.

Keeping healthy staffing levels means that representatives have time to speak to each caller.


20%: Nurse Next Door's revenue growth in 2011, which the company attributes to its brand refresh last October, including a website revamp and the use of real clients in marketing materials. Revenue has continued to grow this year, says DeHart

49: The company's franchise locations across Canada (and two in the U.S.), which serve roughly 5,000 clients

25%: Proportion of the Canadian population that will be 65 and older in 20 years, or double what it is now

Special to The Globe and Mail