It’s no secret that senior living communities are popping up across the U.S. at a challenging pace.
Fresh operators are shaking up markets in cities where new senior housing construction is booming, such as Dallas, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. These days, many operators throughout the country are asking the same question: What should I do if a competitor opens a shiny new community down the street? An important part of the answer lies in marketing, and some big providers and marketing experts recently shared some top tips for what moves to make.
Tempting as it might be, it’s likely a fool’s errand to try to beat your competitors at their own game, says Susan Bogan, chief client officer at GlynnDevins, a senior living marketing and advertising firm. Instead, she says, providers in crowded markets should find and embrace a few of their most interesting selling points.
“Stay true to your brand and own those unique differences,” Bogan says. “With senior living, there’s a tendency to want to change what you’re doing, even if it’s been very successful, when competition comes into the marketplace.”
Bogan’s employer uses a system called “RED” (which stands for real, essential, distinctive) to help their clients figure out what aspects of their business to be homing in on for marketing.
One way to find what makes a community unique is to ask its residents, she explains. Questions leaders might want to ask include: What amenities or programs do residents or their families especially like? Why did they choose this community over the others in the area? What do they visualize when they think of your brand?
Before making a major marketing decision, communities should ask themselves what they offer that their competitors don’t, says Traci Bild, whose consulting company Bild and Company services senior living providers.
“Another… big area of opportunity is to truly differentiate,” she says. “With 95% of what senior living communities offer being the same, buyers get confused and oftentimes stop looking altogether.”
Though many senior living providers try to beat the competition on pricing, it’s really emotion that drives the buying decision, Bild adds.
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“If a community wants an advantage, it should put heavy focus on creating a raving fan customer experience,” she says. “People will pay more if the value is there.”
Better than a chandelier
Obviously, there are many ways for senior living providers to stand out.
Casa de las Campanas, a not-for-profit life plan community in a suburb of San Diego, found a new niche through a resident-focused repositioning project. Erickson Living, on the other hand, totally overhauled its dining program to set itself apart from competitors.
Again, the goal is to find and market what you do best, says Rob Poyas, vice president of sales and marketing at Massachusetts-based Five Star Senior Living, one of the largest senior living providers nationally. For Five Star, digital marketing has been key in winning over new residents.
“With most new competitors, we’ll have to boost our online presence because the competition is trying to make a splash,” Poyas says. “Focus on online reviews and positive comments.”
Poyas also recommends enlisting the help of a trusted third party that shops the competition and provides occupancy and rate information. Some things to look for in a good analysis include room types, major levels of services, and a comparison of all properties similarly, he says.
“If you don’t have a clear picture of the market, then you’re in trouble,” he adds.
Juniper Communities, a New Jersey-based operator of 20 senior living communities, also knows a thing or two about duking it out with the competition. Many of its properties are in crowded markets such as southwest Florida and Denver.
The company touts programs like Connect4Life as a serious competitive edge, says Cindy Longfellow, Juniper’s vice president of business development and sales and marketing. Juniper also showcases its expertise, knowledge, and reputation as a clinical-focused provider. At its community in Cape Coral, Florida, for instance, the company’s hospital readmission rate for seniors is less than 5%, a fact it isn’t shy about sharing.
“That particular community, because of a very strong focus on our clinical outcome, has remained full and often with a waitlist,” Longfellow says. “Even with fierce competition.”
Like Casa de las Campanas did in San Diego, Juniper also uses “strategic renovation” to boost its image, Longfellow says. Still, even if you spend a fortune on remodeling, you probably can’t match a competitor’s latest, greatest facility. And that’s where expertise is essential for standing out.
“In Aurora… we have team members there that have been with us since we opened in 1999,” she says. “That’s experience that you can’t replace with a new chandelier.”
Written by Tim Regan