MARKETING IN SENIOR LIVING – A Series by Senior GuidePost
From ‘Drive-By’ to ‘Internet Lead,’ the Dramatic Change in Marketing in Senior Living – Volume 1, What happened?!
As recently as a few years ago, our primary source of lead traffic was ‘drive-by,’ and it had been for decades. In some communities, as much as 90% of our leads ‘have been driving by for years, and now mom is needing some help, and we thought we would stop by and learn more.’ This long-standing fact was like Newton’s Law of Gravity, and made life in senior living simple, and manageable. The corporate management team had to be focused on the first impression that each community presented to a cold customer walking into the community, and as long as that was a positive experience, a marketing director with disciplined follow up processes would have success in maintaining a strong occupancy.
I’m not sure exactly when things changed, but looking back today at a dramatic shift in the industry, it is obvious that things did change. Speaking on behalf of a company that was too slow in understanding the gravity of this change, I understand only too well that the impact on those communities that were left behind has been great.
After years of making sure that the dining room smelled like fresh baked cookies, the community concierge had a winning smile, and the fireplace in the living room was roaring, seemingly overnight, these factors no longer had any bearing on whether we were well occupied. Tour traffic fell dramatically, and census slowly softened. Certainly, there was new competition, but historically that did not result in lower tour volume. This cycle, in our markets, started in about 2015, and it took a couple of years for us to truly understand the difference this time around.
The new communities that opened in our markets were very nice, and larger, but many only took a few months to build a reputation of sub-par care and a revolving door of employees. Even with this weaker reputation, they seemed to be filling faster and performing better than our established communities with stable teams and quality care. In 2017, we began to figure out the single variable that differentiated this cycle from those that we had fought through in the past… the internet. Not only was it the internet itself, but it was the ability for those well-funded communities to navigate it as a true tool for their marketing efforts. We had a good website that had been up for years, with newsletters, menus and floorplans to share our amenities with the industry. On its surface, it was no different than the ones for the new buildings, but digging deeper, we came to realize that there was a huge difference, that we didn’t appreciate at the time, but we certainly do now.
These well-funded new buildings had a team of people that manage more than just their sites by optimizing their presence in search engine results (which is critical), they also methodically pushed social media messaging, monitored review sites for reputation risks, solicited (and sometimes paid for) online reviews, and truly engaged with their audience by providing truly beneficial content and building an emotional connection with their brand. This happened well before someone even considered walking through the front door for the first time. We were still baking Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, while they were cultivating relationships with future customers and their families in their homes, on their phones and in their hearts.
In this series of articles, we will evaluate what has happened in the senior living industry with regard to marketing over the last 5 years, where we are currently, and some ideas on the future of senior living marketing. Please watch our Knowledge Center for the next post in this series.