Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) has launched both an internal and external branding initiative, including five television commercials to be aired nationally, featuring real-life associates employed by the senior living giant. The goal is to demystify senior housing for the general public but also to forge a more unified and inspired workforce—which has proven challenging as the company has worked through its post-acquisition integration with Emeritus Senior Living.
Following last year’s mega-merger with Emeritus, which created the nation’s largest senior housing owner/operator, Brookdale undertook about 300 hours of research, speaking with associates, families and residents in markets across the country, Senior Director of Brand Experience Jonathan Ruchman told Senior Housing News. That research was in part meant to help the post-merger company determine and define its brand essence, and the key idea to emerge was the close relationships of residents, staff and family members, Ruchman said.
“It started as a way to rally the new company,” he said. “How do we rally 80,000 associates internally? There’s something bigger there, we discovered. What started as an internal exploration about our brand essence transformed into an industry leader mantra.”
Rooted in those research findings and the determination that there was a message to be spread outside the company, there now is a consumer-facing campaign as well as one within Brookdale, explained Ruchman and Vice President of Corporate Communications Rob Borella.
The consumer-facing portion of the campaign includes the national TV spots, in which Brookdale associates describe their relationship with residents and other aspects of their jobs. The commercials began airing Monday, and the media buy runs through the end of the year, Ruchman told SHN. Advertisements in daily newspapers, a direct-mail campaign and online marketing will coincide, to create a fully integrated marketing push.
The advertising includes the tagline “Bringing new life to senior living,” and has the objective of creating a new perception of what senior living has to offer, based on the personalized caregiving and emotional connections between associates and residents.
“We continue to move forward on our objective to develop the preeminent senior living brand, and we believe this campaign will create a cultural redefinition of the value that an innovative senior living provider can bring to people’s lives,” said Will Clark, Brookdale’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation, in a prepared statement. “We focus our energy on enabling seniors to live their lives to the fullest – and in doing so changing the myths and perceptions of senior living. As the largest senior living provider in the country, we have the opportunity and I believe the responsibility to lead this conversation.”
This is not the first campaign of this scope for Brookdale—in 2013, the company launched the first-ever national ad campaign for a senior living provider, around the message “All the places life can go.” While that campaign was “the right thing at the right time,” now the time is ripe for the new push, Ruchman said. In large part that’s because the post-merger company is a national presence in an even truer sense than when the first campaign aired, and the initial rebranding work is now complete—for example, all the Emeritus signs have been replaced with Brookdale signage, according to Ruchman.
Yet the campaign also is launching at a time when Brookdale’s stock is down, after successive quarters in which disappointing results were pegged in part on integration issues. CEO Andy Smith singled out turnover of management staff at the facility level, as well as ineffective marketing campaigns, in a call with analysts after second quarter results were announced. While putting frontline staff front-and-center in the new campaign arguably could boost morale, the company is taking a more direct approach as well.
Coming out of the post-merger research, Brookdale has formulated the slogan “Enriching lives every day” as a summation of the company’s mission. This language does not appear in the new ads, but is being circulated within the company, guiding the internal effort that also now is underway.
That effort is meant to be a “high-impact, low-maintenance way to get [associates] fully engaged in bringing the brand to life internally,” Ruchman said.
Specifically, Brookdale communities and corporate offices are engaging with the “enriching lives every day” idea. As an example, Ruchman said associates might change their email signatures to include examples of how they aim to enrich lives on a daily basis. Interactive posters that pose questions such as “Tell us about seniors in your life who have inspired you” are going up in hallways, and associates can share their responses. And Brookdale also has built a feature into its intranet, through which associates can write and share their stories.
A longer-form video featuring real-life associates also has been produced as part of this internal push.
Ruchman did not disclose costs associated with the consumer-facing or internal campaign. As for how success will be measured, they will be looking at both the “top and bottom of the funnel,” Ruchman said. That is, they’ll be looking both at how it is generally raising awareness and getting people considering Brookdale as a senior living option, as well as measuring calls, website clicks and other more granular metrics.
They will be doing tracking studies in certain markets meant to track key brand attributes over time, getting internal feedback from associates as well as residents and family members, added Borella.
Anecdotal feedback will be “great,” he said, emphasizing a key objective that can be hard to quantify:
“We want to get people talking.”
Written by Tim Mullaney