Marketing in the Face of Covid-19: Senior Living Teams Get Creative

The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting the senior care industry in unimagined ways, and likely will for the foreseeable future. In spite of lockdowns and precautionary measures taken by operators and owners across the country, however, senior living communities remain open for business — and sales and marketing teams are remaining busy but working in drastically different ways than usual.

As the crisis progresses, marketing and sales teams may find themselves busier than ever in a job that normally entails face-to-face interaction. They will need to work remotely, leverage tech into their marketing and sales strategies, set up virtual tours and incorporate their communities’ responses to protecting residents from contracting the virus into the sales process. Third-party referral platforms are also adjusting in response to Covid-19.

Senior care is on the front lines of the pandemic, and there are concerns that occupancy will drop and demand may soften if people are worried about the risk of infection in congregate settings. But some industry experts believe that the outbreak will show the true value of senior care communities. The industry is well-suited to handle a coronavirus outbreak, Welltower CEO Tom DeRosa said during an investor presentation at the Citi 2020 Global Property CEO Conference in Hollywood, Florida earlier this month. Flu is a year-round risk and seniors, many of whom have respiratory ailments, are a high-risk demographic. Quality providers have protocols in place to prevent or delay the spread of coronavirus, should one occur.

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It’s not just about marketing, but marketing the community that you have.

K4Connect CEO and co-founder Scott Moody

Indeed, Juniper Communities is seeing slight and steady increases in move-ins over the next couple of weeks, Vice President of Business Development, Sales and Marketing Cindy Longfellow told SHN. The Bloomfield, New Jersey-based operator manages 20 properties in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“As of now, we remain open for business. We’re seeing scheduled move-ins happening. Families are inquiring [about availability] and we’re moving in new residents after standard and Covid-19 screenings,” she said.

A proactive approach

Showing the tangible responses to the pandemic allows marketing and sales teams to build a foundation of trust for prospects and their families that an older adult will be taken care of, should one decide to move in, Bild & Company founder and President Traci Bild told Senior Housing News. Her firm specializes in senior living marketing.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also an opportunity to build a pipeline of prospects that can be converted into move-ins, once the crisis subsides.

“[Marketing teams should be] focused on helping clients move from panic to proaction. Their top messaging is building a pipeline now and to show how communities are protecting families,” she said.

Marketing teams also need to be allowed to work remotely, which takes trust, confidence and reviewing strategy to ensure a community’s message is reaching the right audiences and that teams remain in contact with referral sources and hospitals.

[Videos] tells the community story from the resident perspective.

A Place for Mom Vice President of Partner Services Sue Johansen

Moreover, marketing teams should already be sharing best practices and resources with each other, as well as dividing responsibilities to keep the work flowing, Bild & Company COO Jennifer Saxman told SHN.

“So many of our clients are not good on the phone. [Providers should identify] those who are and historically had great [phone] conversion ratios, set them up at home, call communities and assign them with the follow-up,” she said.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Heritage Communities is on a “phone blitz,” Vice President of Sales and Marketing Lacy Jungman told SHN. The calls are an effort to “over-communicate” about proactive steps related to safety and talking through emotional concerns that people have related to Covid-19.

Addressing Covid-19 head-one is a best practice, as marketing campaigns should focus on the response to the pandemic. Bild & Company is releasing guidance to its clients, advising them to remain committed to Covid-19 protocol standards and incorporating communities’ response to the outbreak.

“We have teams [assessing clients’] leads: who visited in the past 30 to 90 days, as they have an evident need [for senior care]; messaging related to the education provided and what can be done in-between; online classes for prospects. It’s about how we can build value to lessen the fear,” Saxman said.

Third-party referral sources are stepping up their marketing efforts, as well. A Place for Mom extended customer service hours for its advisors — who already work from home — and instituted daily, real-time updates from larger providers on their Covid-19 response plans, Vice President of Partner Services Sue Johansen told SHN.

“Families want to know if now is a good time to move. We are allowing our advisors to be extensions of the caregiving network to help families know the right decisions to make, what restrictions and dispel [Covid-19] myths,” she said.

Heritage Communities is communicating with referral partners about how and when the provider will do admissions, Jungman said. Prospects who need immediate/needs-based move-ins are being prioritized and helped on a case-by-case basis. The company has also been proactively adding negative keywords such as “Covid-19” and “coronavirus” to digital ad campaigns, so that Heritage ads will not show up when people search for these topics.

Meanwhile, Heritage is maintaining contact with prospects and pepole on waiting lists through care packages via Amazon delivery. Jungman and Heritage President Nate Underwood co-wrote a book, In a Good Place, that is a fictionalized account of an adult daughter’s journey to placing her mother in senior living, and copies of the book are among the items being mailed out.

“Our prospects might have more time on their hands to read, and this is an excellent opportunity to stay top of mind with them in a meaningful way,” Jungman said.

Low-key tech solutions

One of the questions facing marketing teams working remotely is database access and management. This will impact operators of all sizes.

Bild suggests that teams bringing in new tech platforms in their Covid-19 response plans keep it simple. Marketing teams are stressed and being pulled in all directions, and marketing directors should be mindful that their staffs can only handle so much at once, she told SHN.

One platform Bild recommends is Textiful, a text-to-subscribe platform that allows marketing teams to upload and manage their sales databases, schedule targeted marketing campaigns, add new prospects, segment campaigns by new referrals, prospects and adult children of prospects, and establish preferred means of communication.

[Marketing teams should be] focused on helping clients move from panic to proaction.

Bild & Company founder and President Traci Bild

Video is another useful tool for marketing teams.

Because Covid-19 impacts daily interactions between marketing teams and prospects, these platforms are now essential to continue sales campaigns and improve the day-to-day operations of communities, OneDay CEO Clint Lee told SHN.

Based in Dallas, OneDay creates branded video content to increase resident engagement and is licensed in 2,000 communities across the nation. The app-based software as a service (SaaS) platform provides prompts to get people talking about certain topics while being filmed, and then packages the video with a company’s branding. The company closed on a $5.2 million Series A round of financing last December.

OneDay can be used to create virtual tours of senior housing communities that are under restricted access protocols, as well as share the resident’s perspective of the care they are receiving during the pandemic.

“To be able to still see [a community], get a glimpse inside those four walls, capture the essence of what makes that community unique and personalize it for [prospects], builds that trust and connection with the prospect. That’s something we’re trying to help [operators] provide — as much normalcy to their day-to-day [routines] as we can,” Lee said.

A Place for Mom is collecting OneDay videos from smaller communities that do not have virtual tour capabilities, which are then being used in those communities’ listings to give online prospects a glimpse inside. Some providers are getting creative with their videos and are even taking customers on tours outside a building.

“[Videos] tells the community story from the resident perspective,” Johansen said.

Juniper Communities is on the virtual tour bandwagon. It is offering 360-degree virtual tours of its communities. A couple are even utilizing platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime to conduct walkthroughs of communities, allowing prospects to ask questions in real time, Longfellow told SHN.

Being nimble with marketing plans and how they are implemented also serves the residents inside, K4Connect CEO and co-founder Scott Moody told SHN. The Raleigh, North Carolina-based tech firm serves over 29,000 senior living residents across the country on its K4Community platform.

K4Connect began planning for Covid-19 well ahead of its initial disruption, and began sending out “Covid 911” bulletins to communities it serves. The firm developed a hotline for communities to keep residents and families updated on their response strategy, which can be accessed via phone or Alexa-enabled devices for residents. It is also providing virtual support for on- and off-premise staff.

Moody believes that there has been bad press regarding not having good communication with the outside world. For senior care, there needs to be an immediate response to address an issue or else a community will pay for it down the road.

“It’s not just about marketing, but marketing the community that you have,” Moody said.

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