On December 17, Arrow Senior Living released a video showing residents in communities throughout its portfolio singing “White Christmas.” The viewer travels a narrative arc about what the holidays mean to residents, all while residents serenade the viewer with Irving Berlin’s classic song.
It’s a small example of how there’s no going back to the pre-Covid way of doing business for the senior living industry, but the future won’t be limited to an all-digital, online-only modus operandi, either.
Sales and marketing teams across senior living are grappling with how to best utilize new digital tools at their disposal to emphasize the value proposition to residents and maintain the personalized feeling of home.
“Video… is the best way to showcase what life is like at a Legend community,” Christy Van Der Westhuizen, the company’s Senior VP of Sales & Marketing, said in an appearance at the 2022 Senior Housing News Sales Summit earlier this month.
While social media and video posting platforms have been around for more than a decade, the Covid-19 pandemic expedited how seniors use and understand the technology. This means that prospects are doing enormous amounts of research on their senior living journey before they even make contact.
But, once a prospective resident and their family make the journey to a community, sales and marketing teams still need to maximize that time. And with macroeconomic pressures, operators will need to maximize budgets as well.
Goodwin’s pivot and 2023 strategy
For Goodwin Living, the 2023 sales and marketing battle will include a tightened budget. The company’s fiscal year — which began in the fall — included rate increases in the neighborhood of 3.5%, significantly smaller than typical rate increases across the industry, as reported by SHN.
Alexandria, Virginia-based Goodwin Living operates three life plan communities with more than 1,300 residents in addition to its other service lines that include living at home, home health, rehabilitation and hospice care.
“We worked very hard to keep our monthly service fee increases down for our residents,” Susan Dolton, corporate director of sales at Goodwin Living, said at the Sales Summit. “And inflation is much higher than that.”
As a result, Dolton is finding the best ways to use the tools she has. Goodwin has found out that direct mail marketing does not work as well as email for getting leads to events, and email is also “basically free,” she said.
So, with tighter budgets, Dolton is finding ways to use the tools she does have that don’t cost as much, like email invites for events. She invites people who have given Goodwin their email address. She completes normal follow-up procedures with those who want to attend the event, but then she does something different. About five days out from the event, Dolton re-invites everyone who didn’t respond the first time.
“And we get twice as many people responding the second time,” she said. “We can’t afford to do that with direct mail.”
Currently, a Facebook campaign proposal from Goodwin’s marketing firm Varsity is sitting on Dolton’s desk, but she is still weighing the cost-benefit balance.
“I have a budget that will support it, but I ask myself every day before I sign this, ‘Do I need all of this? Do we really need to spend this money?’” she said. “The great thing about digital is that you can turn it on now and turn it off later … if you don’t need it.”
Operators are considering other ways that prospects’ behaviors have changed, as well.
For Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Priority Life Care, one post-Covid realization is that the adult children of a prospect often work from home now and therefore have more flexible schedules. This changed how the company scheduled in-person events, according to CEO and Co-Founder Severine Petras.
“Instead of having those evening cocktail parties … we did a lot more of them during the day to accommodate the children while their kids were at school or daycare,” Petras said.
And she emphasized the need for a practical approach.
“Does anybody here actually put their phone number in the phonebook?” Petras asked the audience at the Sales Summit. Her point was simple: if it doesn’t work anymore, Priority doesn’t do it.
Among the media that Petras is looking to move away from includes newspaper space, email blasts, brochures/pamphlets and especially posters and flyers.
“In the next five years we can probably start taking those out of our marketing budgets,” Petras said. “It’s very expensive … and it’s collateral that nobody really wants. We’ve moved away from the huge [posters] to these tiny little squares.”
For Petras, the reason for the shift is simple: it’s what the prospects want.”They would rather have the electronic follow-up,” she said.
Video tells the truth
In addition to moving away from what doesn’t work, operators are moving toward what does. And that means video.
Since November, Arrow Senior Living has been immersed in what it calls “45 Days of Holiday Cheer.” And, they’ve been sharing that with the world. It’s part of a strategy that aims to both enrich the lives of residents and share that enrichment with family, but also to showcase what living in an Arrow community is like.
Legend Senior Living’s Christy Van Der Westhuizen endorses prioritizing as much visual representation of senior living communities as possible when marketing to prospects and their families.
“I have one word… video,” she said at the Summit. “To me, video is better than pictures, but pictures are better than words.”
She believes videos that are short and to-the-point are the most effective so long as they’re done well.
“I would like it to be clean and with no background noise … I think that helps build trust as well as to create quality content,” she said.
Arrow’s White Christmas video was shot, edited, and mixed at a high level. In fact, some residents even recorded their parts of the song in recording studio-like set-ups. And it paid off.
The video — part of Arrow’s 45 Days of Holiday Cheer program — collected more than 1,500 views n less than five days and seems to showcase the exact positive and honest message Arrow wants its prospects to receive.
“[During the program] we post videos of what we’re doing each day for that day … so any of our family members and residents are able to tap into the experience of the community because of what we’re presenting to them on that platform,” Nicole Rozsa, managing director of marketing at Arrow, said during a panel appearance at the Sales Summit.
But, Arrow still uses older methods of brand awareness campaigning when communities are being constructed.
“We’ve really had to tap into old ways like print newspaper and radio ads … that traditional marketing strategy,” Rosza said. “Because what we did before wasn’t working.”
Figuring out what works for communities during the construction phase is something that Rosza and Arrow will have to continue to nail down. St. Louis-based Arrow has about 12 communities that are either planned or under construction.
Still, Rosza believes in the future of digital marketing.
“Stick [to] digital,” she said. “It’s a playground. You’re able to do so much with it.”