Senior living communities today have an unprecedented array of options for reaching consumers, including websites, social media, television, print media and direct mail. But to engage potential customers effectively, operators need to determine what content to distribute and what channels to use, experts advised Wednesday during Senior Housing News’ webinar “Content Marketing: Driving Profitable Consumer Engagement.”
Shifting consumer habits explain the growing importance of content marketing, said presenter Brandi Towns, associate director/public relations at GlynnDevins, an advertising and marketing agency dedicated to senior living.
For example, 90% of seniors with a household income of at least $75,000 are going online, and about half of these people use social media, Towns said, referencing Pew data. Even more to the point: It’s not unusual for consumers to look at 10 different sources of information before reaching out to a senior living community or making a purchase.
The good news is that providers have a tremendous opportunity to engage with prospects, if they can deliver the right content at the right time through the right channel, Towns and her colleagues emphasized.
They outlined a five-step process that senior living operators can use to achieve great results.
Develop a Strategy
“The first thing I’d recommend is to set up a strategy session with the key decision makers at your community,” said Janel Wait, vice president/digital at GlynnDevins.
The overarching goal is one of the most important factors to determine. The goal might be to solidify the community’s brand. A well-established operator with strong ties to the surrounding area and great healthcare services might want to double down on its strengths by deepening its reputation as a quality care provider and community resource, for example.
A second priority should be defining who the community’s customers are and what they need, Wait recommended. The community might want to create a detailed profile of the typical adult child influencer to reach. The presenters offered the example of “Betty Sue,” a 58-year-old woman with children and a career, looking for an assisted living community for her mother.
Another important consideration should be identifying the biggest pain points in the community — for instance, low occupancy among single-bedroom assisted living units.
Knowing the target customer and the community needs will enable planners to think about what type of content to disseminate. “Betty Sue” will probably be looking for educational resources about assisted living, cost information, and content to get a sense of the lifestyle offered by a particular community. An operator can move forward with content that meets these needs but that also serves the goals of the community — in their model scenario, by focusing on strong healthcare and quality assisted living inventory, the presenters said.
“Define and match customer needs and community needs to give content a strategic direction,” said GlynnDevins Vice President/Creative Jeremy Johnson.
Sort Content Into Buckets
Not every piece of content will be able to address all of a target consumer’s needs or the community’s goals, noted Towns.
Rather, a community should begin to think of content “buckets.” In their example, the buckets might be “quality health care,” “community resource” and “quality AL inventory,” the presenters said. As long as a piece of content fits into one of these categories, it will be able to support the overall strategy.
“Divide the content into lots of digestible pieces to regularly serve your audience,” Towns said. “Attention spans are short.”
Gather and Generate Content
Once the buckets are created, the next step is to “fill” them with content. A smart first step is to take an inventory of content already on hand, Towns said.
Any community likely already will have newsletters, photos, press releases, pamphlets, direct mail pieces, online testimonials and a great deal of other material, and much of it could fit into a bucket. Many providers are surprised by how much they have at their disposal, Towns noted.
However, smart providers will be selective in choosing their best content and weeding out the rest. If a piece of content is informative, entertaining, humorous or inspiring, it likely will engage “Betty Sue” and might even get her to share it, leave a comment or otherwise engage, Towns said.
Of course, new content also will be needed. The GlynnDevins experts advocated for a process that begins with interviewing residents, their family members, staff and other community supporters. Their stories and comments should be rich fodder for content that can be shared across multiple platforms.
“You might still need to expand by having your audience co-create with you,” Towns said.
This could mean asking followers on the community’s social media pages to respond to a question such as “What does caregiving mean to you?” Their answers could, say, be adapted into a blog post.
Organize, Plan, Promote, Engage
Before launching the content marketing push, consider creating an editorial calendar, Wait advised. That way, all the content that is shared in a given time period can be coordinated to convey a particular message or support a specific goal — such as getting the word out about a community’s great health care outcomes or its beautiful assisted living apartments.
Considering the variety of different ways content can be distributed, a provider also will have to select a few channels to focus on, such as the community’s website and Facebook page, local newspapers, newsletters and mailed event invites. Wait notes that it’s shrewd to aim for a good mix of owned media (self-created channels such as a website or social media page), paid media (direct mail, advertising) and earned media (social media sharing, news coverage).
A single piece of content also can be used across multiple channels, perhaps with some adaptation, she emphasizes.
“Leverage focused content across multiple channels to reach consumers,” Wait said.
Indeed, some channels might be used to promote a piece of content that “lives” someplace else. A Facebook post might lead “Betty Sue” back to the website, where she will find a new downloadable resource on assisted living options, for example.
Test and Analyze
With communications increasingly being digital, providers also have useful new metrics to gauge how well their marketing efforts are working. Once a content marketing effort is underway, analyzing this data and adjusting the approach accordingly is essential, the GlynnDevins presenters stressed.
From email open rates to website views and social media shares, a community has many ways to ascertain consumer behavior. If “Betty Sue” opens only certain kinds of emails and ignores others, it could be a sign that the community should stop sending a particular type of message.
Providers also should be open to making even fundamental strategic shifts, such as eliminating a content bucket or swapping out one channel in favor of another, the presenters said.
Ultimately, this data is a huge boon to marketers. For one, it arms them with the type of information that a community’s senior leadership loves to see. Even though content marketing often demands a more substantial commitment of time than money, executives still appreciate metrics that quantify success and give some idea on the return on investment for marketing dollars, Johnson said.
The information also might encourage the marketing team; it’s not uncommon for engagement to tick up quickly once a content marketing effort is underway, according to the GlynnDevins experts.
Even if the data shows that a particular approach isn’t working, it empowers the team to make changes that ultimately will result in more consumer engagement and, in the end, increased occupancy and brand equity. But it takes commitment.
“Your content marketing investment is an ongoing process,” Johnson said. “You have to keep fueling that fire.”
Written by Tim Mullaney