VOICES: Katie Roper, Vice President of Senior Living, G5

This article is sponsored by G5. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with G5 Vice President of Senior Living Katie Roper to learn the impact that the pandemic has had on senior housing marketing messaging around care vs. hospitality, trends in G5’s new marketing technology report and top tips for generating leads in 2021.

Senior Housing News: What are the most informative stops along the way that you think you’ll most draw from in your current role with G5?

Katie Roper: I’ve been with G5 since early January, so it’s very new. The stars all aligned, because my background is not only in senior care, but also in digital marketing, where I’ve been involved with selling internet advertising, really since internet advertising started back in the dot-com boom.

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My background at Caring.com gave me exposure to the industry and my background in broader digital marketing gives me a more broad-based overview into what people outside the industry are doing. Then in my consulting practice, I got the operator’s perspective. I’ve also, in the last couple of years, been through senior care situations with both my mom and my mother-in-law, so I’ve walked the walk.

As head of the Senior Living team at G5, my job is to listen to the industry’s needs and challenges, and then bring that intelligence back to the G5 team to improve our products and services. This enables us to assist senior living communities, so they can better connect with prospects and their adult children online.

Tell me a little bit about G5. What should the industry know?

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Roper: When people start their senior care journey, they have a real understanding of what online shopping experiences are like, but most don’t know anything about senior care, and so they end up floundering around, bouncing from Google to provider websites to aggregator websites, back to the providers and back to Google. At G5, we believe that every moment along that online journey matters.

What’s exciting for me is to see the marketing software and services we offer help providers monitor and measure and be present at every one of those touchpoints. We have cutting-edge technology like AI, but we also have people with real senior living experience who are smart, capable and knowledgeable. They can translate all of this complex digital data and explain what it actually means, so senior living communities can better connect with seniors and their loved ones.

It’s such an interesting time right now for senior living and how things are shifting after last year. Messaging is now more about care, because people are making decisions based on a different set of factors than they did a year ago. How does that create a new challenge for you, and a new opportunity?

Roper: Like so many things with the pandemic, rather than being something new, it accelerated trends that were already happening. For instance, the last conference that I attended before everything shut down was the NIC Spring Conference, almost exactly a year ago. The entire focus of that conference was on how senior housing can align more closely with the rest of the post-acute care continuum. This is something that I’ve been tracking for a while now.

Decisions have always been made on care. When I was at Caring.com, we did a survey and asked family caregivers of IL/AL residents, Why did you decide to move your loved one into a senior community? Overwhelmingly, the reason was because they needed care. At the same time, Varsity Branding did a survey of the actual residents of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) and asked them the same question: Why did you choose to move into a CCRC? Those residents said it was because of the care.

While the whole industry was so focused on lifestyle, that’s not what was driving most of the decisions, either for residents or for their adult children. Yes, it’s now front and center, but it was an acceleration rather than a radical shift. The smart operators have been tracking this for a long time.

I understand that G5 is releasing a new report on marketing technology. What are some of the top-line trends that you’re seeing?

Roper: Same theme: accelerating trends rather than setting trends. Adult children have been online for a long time now, but what really happened in the pandemic was that the prospective residents got online as well.

There was a recent article in The Washington Post reporting that consumers who are 65 and older are the fastest growing demographic of e-commerce shoppers. The people who weren’t using technologies like Instacart prior to the pandemic are now using them. For senior housing marketers, it used to be that digital was an important piece of their marketing mix and now it’s basically the only piece, so you’d better be doing a good job.

G5 is a Premier Google Partner, so we get access to a lot of their thought leadership. Google data shows that search volume for senior housing has returned to and exceeded 2020 levels, which tells us that people have started to think about care for their loved ones. Now is the time to invest in digital advertising so that communities can stay ahead of their competition and show up in prospects’ searches. After Google looked at data from 2020, they recommended that senior living marketers increase their digital advertising budgets by about 15% in 2021 to keep up with everybody else who’s raising their digital advertising budgets. That’s really important.

G5 just launched new technology that automatically adjusts campaigns to reach people with higher leasing intent, while reducing spend on ads that aren’t driving these higher quality leads. Now more than ever, it is important for operators and marketers to make sure they get the highest ROI for every dollar spent. This new technology will really be a game-changer for senior living marketers in 2021.

There are also a lot of tools coming out that enable you to much more deeply engage with prospects who are on this senior housing journey. From video to virtual tours, we are seeing communities get more creative in how they build trust and make connections with future residents and their families.

What are your other top tips for getting leads in 2021?

Roper: One is to up your digital game. Don’t be afraid with your digital marketing to talk about topics like care or anti-infection protocols. People are way more interested in that than the size of your chandelier. We talked a little bit about data, but one challenge with digital is you get a ton of information all mixed together. For instance, you can track phone numbers coming in from your Google My Business listing, but those phone calls probably include not just adult children looking for a residence for mom, but also a lot of vendors or people trying to reach a loved one.

There can be a lot of noise in marketing data. There are more sophisticated tools available today that can help you make sense of it. G5 has a new product called Intent Trends that actually uses AI and natural language processing to listen to calls and distinguish people who are asking about care levels from people asking to speak to a resident. The technology provides intent data that is used to automatically adjust paid campaigns to drive more qualified leads from ads. As a result, marketers can make sure they get the highest return from their digital ad budgets.

Through forward design and disruptive technology, we can transform your marketing, making it possible to be proactive and predictive. G5 gives you the power to automate marketing decisions that lead to better experiences for your residents and their loved ones, and higher occupancy for your community.

Do you have a personal care experience that drives you?

Roper: Both my mom and my mother-in-law are in senior housing decision-making cycles. I think the journey that we went through with my mother-in-law is illustrative of everything we’ve been talking about. When my father-in-law passed about five years ago, she was living on her own in a big house in which they raised four children. It was way too big and all of us were terribly worried about her, but she kept saying, “You’re going to have to pull me out of here in a pine box. I’m not moving.” It took us three years to convince her that making a move to a senior community was a smart idea, get all four kids aligned, find a community, and get her settled into her new community.

We used everything: online aggregators, community websites, reviews on Google. We asked for recommendations from her doctor and reached out to our network of friends. The family did local tours and then eventually selected the community that was closest. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong one for her. They couldn’t actually handle her care needs.

Even though they had a beautiful lobby, it didn’t matter, because that wasn’t what was important. Then we had to go through the whole process again to find a place that actually could take care of her properly. We are among the fortunate ones. I know the questions to ask and we are blessed that money wasn’t an issue.

And it was still, three-plus years, multiple touchpoints and tons of stress for everybody involved. Imagine how hard this is for people who aren’t as fortunate as we are.

At what point do you think senior living will reach something akin to normal, and what would “normal” be?

Roper: I think this is normal. I think people have been concerned about care from the beginning — we just couldn’t see it as clearly. I don’t think people are going back to a non-digital approach to this stuff. That hasn’t happened on anything else. Nobody has gone back to going to the library now that Google’s available. We’re not shopping in our local independent bookstores now that Amazon’s available. I don’t think people are going to say, “Oh, well, I’m not going to read online reviews, I’ll just ask my friends.” I think the savvy operators have been moving toward a care-based model, or at least a care-plus-hospitality model for a long time. I think everybody who isn’t is now scrambling to get there because we’re already in “normal.”

There was a lot of pain in 2020, but there are reasons for hope in 2021. Why are you hopeful about senior housing in the year ahead?

Roper: I think COVID has made us all aware of how hard it is to be stuck in your house. For older people who were less mobile, maybe couldn’t drive, maybe found it difficult or scary to be out in public and were just staying home maybe with a home care aide, now we’ve all lived that. We all know how isolating it can be. I actually think some of the emotional objections to congregate living are going to be much less now that people have experienced it.

I think the industry is on a trajectory of growth. I think one key is going to be to make sure as a marketer that you have a list of partners who are really going to support you in your digital marketing initiatives and help you make sense of all the different options out there, help you sort through all of the data, and find the things that actually matter. I’m really excited to be here at G5 because I know we’re a great option for people and can really help be a smart and trusty guide in navigating all of the trends in digital advertising right now.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

G5 is the leading digital marketing software and services platform for senior living communities. G5’s mission is to empower clients to outsmart and outperform their competition through smarter marketing, unmatched marketing technology, and a deep bench of talent that puts marketing performance first. Learn more at GetG5.com.

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more — shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact sales@agingmedia.com.

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