Why Senior Living Still Struggles with Digital Marketing

When it comes to senior living communities, marketers still favor the tried-and-true.

They rank “community website” as the most effective way to market senior communities, but direct mail, in-person events, and print ads follow, beating out digital marketing methods.

That’s according to 149 senior living marketing vice presidents, directors, and managers who responded to an online survey conducted in June 2016 by Brooks Adams Research and the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA). The respondents all were members of ASHA or non-profit provider association LeadingAge. Results have been compiled in a newly released ASHA Special Issue Brief.


Specifically, 68% of those surveyed named the community website among the top three most effective ways of marketing, while 51% named direct mail, and 38% said education and social events.

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It is not surprising to see community website ranked No. 1, said Sue McClure, president and COO of GlynnDevins, a senior living marketing and advertising firm. In September, GlynnDevins acquired Brooks Adams Research, the organization that conducted the survey.


“Over the past three years, we’ve seen significant increases in web site conversions and today, on average, our clients are seeing anywhere from 35% to 45% of their total leads coming from their website,” McClure told Senior Housing News. “In addition to being a primary channel for inquiries, it is also often the initial channel used to research options and narrow the consideration set prior to inquiry.”

The Brooks Adams/ASHA survey was conducted to create a benchmark for how the industry is deploying digital marketing, such as social media and email marketing. Currently, more traditional marketing channels are viewed as more effective than these digital methods.

Still, many senior living marketers are engaging in digital outreach. Less than a third of survey respondents said they believe email marketing is effective, but 81% said they are using it.

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Understanding the Disconnect

McClure and another senior living marketing expert, Bild & Company CEO and President Traci Bild, have similar ideas about why many people are using a marketing technique deemed ineffective.

The disconnect may be due to the fact that marketers have a great interest in digital marketing but lack know-how with these channels, according to Bild.

“Rather then engage in strategic discussions to understand the target audience and the type of messaging they respond to, [the marketers] in essence ‘ready, fire, aim’ rather than ‘ready, aim, fire,’” she told Senior Housing News.

McClure put it this way: senior living marketers might be doing a lot of experimentation right now, and that’s a positive. However, marketers also might have unrealistic expectations when it comes to newer, digital methods of outreach.

“For instance, if a provider is using email the same way they are using direct mail to a purchased list, it will not appear as effective, because it’s best used as a lead nurturing tactic and not a lead generating tactic,” she said.

Learning from Trump?

If marketers educate themselves on the best ways of using digital channels such as email, they will see greater success, McClure and Bild agree.

One best practice that Bild recommends: greater list segmentation to speak directly to the most relevant consumers. In the case of senior living, that would be the adult daughter and the seniors themselves. In this regard, senior living marketers might take a page out of the playbook of one very high-profile and successful, if controversial, social media user: President-elect Donald Trump.

“We just saw this with our recent election and how much social media impacted the outcome, and there’s a great lesson to be learned from this,” Bild said. “Donald Trump spoke directly to his base, and in our business we can do the same by speaking personally and directly to those adult daughters, seniors or referral sources.”

McClure also hit on this point.

“Many in senior living have focused their efforts on the top of the funnel (generating initial inquiries), but have had less focus on mid-funnel activities, like increasing levels of engagement or re-activating old inquiries,” she said. “The future of senior living marketing will put more emphasis on engaging consumers using the right channel at the right point in time–in a more personalized manner for each and every prospect.”

Furthermore, senior living marketers will have to become more sophisticated and purposeful in their use of digital going forward, McClure believes. For instance, they need to ask themselves when to use social media versus email marketing, given the “job” that each channel has in a modern marketing campaign.

“Some channels are more effective at increasing awareness and others are better at generating a lead. Some are seen as more credible, like social media or consumer generated reviews online, and others are better used for cultivating a lead,” she said. “Lead scoring is an important discipline to include in your marketing budget to target lead segments appropriately and match the right approach to the right lead.”

Written by Tim Mullaney

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