The COVID-19 pandemic has turned senior living upside down, and that includes sales and marketing. No longer can sales teams rely heavily on in-person events to meet their occupancy goals. Digital marketing is more essential than ever and will continue to be essential in 2021 and beyond.
Specifically, inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy designed to organically bring potential customers into the sales funnel by using fresh, original content to attract them to the community’s website. It’s a method that Atlanta-based senior living operator The Arbor Company began using prior to the pandemic and has proven extremely effective during it.
It was important to The Arbor Company that it select an agency with a broader wealth of experience beyond just senior living. They needed an innovative approach, and a team willing to blend new marketing techniques with their industry. Here is a look at that company’s experience with inbound marketing, and why it matters for senior living now, and beyond.
400 blog posts and dozens of e-books: The Arbor Company takes to inbound marketing
In the summer of 2015, The Arbor Company launched its inbound marketing content strategy, partnering with marketing agency SmartBug Media® for a cascade of content in a range of formats. The goal was to increase the number of website visitors that convert to new contacts.
“When I started with The Arbor Company, we had flat websites for all of our communities,” says Chris Harper, vice president of communications. “We didn’t have a blog. And as I started researching what we should do to enhance our marketing and enhance our digital presence, I became more and more convinced that we needed to focus on content.”
That focus has led to a prodigious output. Over the past five years, SmartBug has written more than 400 blog posts for the Arbor Company, created over a dozen e-books that are free to download and executed other web-based marketing strategies, including growth-driven web design.
Crucially, Arbor never abandoned traditional marketing. Inbound marketing and other digital marketing strategies simply became part of its mix, along with community events, public relations, paid media and brochure inserts.
“We were not looking for an agency experienced in senior living … because we worried that niche agencies recirculate content,” Harper says. “When we discovered SmartBug Media, it felt like a good match because they were a really well-run marketing agency that delivered solid strategy and executed on it, and also had a good baseline level of knowledge about senior living and the personas.”
An influx of contacts: How inbound marketing helped Arbor
The strategy worked.
In 2016, Arbor’s first full year working with SmartBug, the company had 350,000 website sessions and 2,400 new contacts. In 2019, the last year with full data, those numbers skyrocketed. Website sessions tripled to 970,000, while new contacts increased six-fold, to 15,000.
Impressively, the Arbor Company saw a 148% increase in move-ins from internet sources when comparing 2016 to 2019 data. Although some of this increase was due to the company adding communities to its portfolio from 2016 to 2019, most of the gain can be attributed to inbound marketing efforts.
What Arbor found, and what SmartBug zeroed in on, is a simple concept.
“Consumers are just that: consumers. They are consumers of all things,” Harper says. “So your competition is really Marriott and FedEx and Amazon and eBay — whatever people are consuming online, that’s your competition. You’re not necessarily competing for their business, you’re competing for their attention.
Let us be the experts in senior living and let SmartBug be the experts in marketing, and then we can come together to do senior living marketing.Chris Harper, Vice President of Communications
“I wanted to get people in the room who were smart in marketing,” Harper adds. “We can teach someone senior living, but it’s harder to teach them the latest and greatest in the inbound marketing world.”
Why senior living needs to pivot to digital marketing
Harper had not heard much about inbound marketing in senior living prior to Arbor’s work with SmartBug, yet now when he attends industry conferences, talk of the strategy is everywhere.
“I remember pretty prominent people in senior living marketing at conferences saying, ‘You don’t need a blog. That doesn’t fit within our traditional sales process,’” Harper says. “Now, many senior living conferences are all about digital marketing. It really has shifted in the last seven years.”
Along with digital marketing’s advantages for the immediate future, there are long-term advantages, too. Because COVID-19 has altered and will continue to alter all aspects of senior living, operators can no longer expect to execute traditional marketing plans.
Today, senior living marketing teams must be versatile, with a mastery of digital marketing strategies of all kinds, such as webinar programs. The reality is that an agency’s digital marketing capability is no longer something that sets it ahead; conversely, it’s the agencies that can’t run a digital marketing program that are behind.
“Eight months ago, the only people who had heard of Zoom were tech savvy professionals,” he says. “Now it’s a household name like Google. There’s definitely a shift toward more things being digital, and people being open to that. Thankfully, with SmartBug’s assistance, we’re on the front end of that ongoing shift in senior living marketing.”
SmartBug Media delivers intelligent inbound marketing for revenue growth. To learn more about how inbound marketing and SmartBug Media can help your organization, visit SmartBugMedia.com.