Of all the senior living unit types, memory care is the one most rooted in residents’ needs. And yet, memory care operators in 2023 can’t simply sit on their laurels and wait for prospects to arrive.
The reason why is that residents and their families are doing their research online prior to moving in, and likely more so than ever before. As the world moved online during the pandemic years, so too did prospects’ research habits. While they may have previously been swayed by the basic features of memory care, in 2023 they are looking for more.
At the same time, residents and their families usually have a range of options to choose from, and they are not always able to differentiate one company’s programming or services from another.
Proof of that trend is seen in the length of operators’ sales cycles. For example, the average memory care sales cycle at Artis Senior Living has almost tripled in the last three years, going from an average of about 104 days to nearly 300 days, according to Vice President of Sales and Marketing Amy Beth DePreker.
“We’ve seen quite a change in our consumers in the past 18 months,” DePreker said during a panel discussion at the recent SHN BRAIN conference in Washington, D.C. “They come to us pretty well-educated at this point.”
Memory care operators are dealing with that new savviness by upping their sales and marketing games and touting their deep expertise and person-centric operational practices when they are in front of prospects.
“You have to build that trust with them, and the way to build that trust is … having empathy, really asking the questions and doing that discovery with families about how it’s affecting them, not just how it’s affecting their loved ones,” DePreker said. “It can’t be just features, benefits and [community] design.”
Prospects want more than a ‘bill of goods’
Three years ago, as Covid-19 ravaged the U.S., the senior living industry’s sales and marketing practices were in disarray. Many operators shifted from selling a luxurious lifestyle to simply selling peace of mind that residents were safe and secure under their roof. Occupancy dropped precipitously as senior living companies held on for dear life.
Fast-forward to 2023, and the pandemic is not at the forefront of normal community operations. As such, memory care salespeople have an opportunity to sell more than mere safety, DePreker said. But there is a catch: Families want to know they are being assisted by an expert with passion and empathy, not somebody simply “handing them a bill of goods,” DePreker said.
“You really have to be able to … have a human side to the sale,” she added.
McLean, Virginia-based Artis operates 24 standalone memory care communities and one blended assisted living memory care community.
Because families are taking their time researching memory care, DePreker said today’s memory care salespeople need to be in it for the long haul. She described how it’s not uncommon for a resident’s family to engage the community two full years before their loved one moves in.
“There’s less decisions [made because of] urgency, and people are really keeping their loved ones home as long as they can,” she added.
Some senior living operators have taken the stance that standing out requires creative branding and messaging. Given the clinical and sometimes standardized nature of memory care services, differentiating a community from its competitors can be a challenge.
That is why Inspirations Assisted Living & Memory Care touts some of its more unique offerings, like its animal and music therapy programs, when it is talking to new and potential customers. The company has four communities, all of which house real live animals such as birds, goats and alpacas.
“It’s really focusing on that individual, and making sure that we’re branding ourselves as joyful, purposeful, and [having] laughter in our communities,” said Christina Green, regional marketing director and executive director at Inspirations.
Isolation has been a real cause of decline among older adults living with dementia, and families are now also looking for communities that offer residents not just safety, but engagement and an enriching life.
That is why Inspirations during the pandemic shifted its marketing strategy to focus not only on dementia as a disease, but also on what people can still do and experience while living with it.
“Our staff is trained not only on the activities of daily living, but … lifestyle programming for residents,” Green said. “Families are now looking for our residents to be able to still have a really active lifestyle out in the community.”
Both companies have seen benefits to their census by taking this approach. Average occupancy at Artis has ticked up 14.5 percentage points since December, 2022, while inquiry-to-tour ratios are up 23% and tour-to-move-in ratios are up 13%.
Similarly, Green said Inspirations is seeing an uptick in people coming through its doors, including move-ins from other memory care communities.
“That demonstrates we’re not all doing what we need to be doing out there: Making sure that we’re doing the education and the training, and really understanding what the behaviors are,” Green added. “The sale really needs to be supported by the operations.”
Marketing strategies for memory care
Both Artis and Inspirations have embraced new marketing strategies in the midst of the pandemic in response to the growing savviness of residents.
Physical media was once a mainstay marketing tool for senior living operators, including Artis. But over the years, the company started to see declining returns, recently as low as about 3%.
“We had invested a lot of money in print and traditional media,” DePreker said. “So, to see a return of 3% was a pretty awakening moment for us.”
That necessitated a shift from physical to digital media and in 2022, the company completely stopped advertising in print media sources. These days, Artis entices families not through ads in newspapers or magazines, but by holding events like family nights where prospective customers can dine and mingle with current residents and their families.
“They’re hearing from people who are living it, and who have made the decision already,” DePreker said. “It’s been a great thing for us.”
Both Artis and Inspirations have also embraced social media in their marketing campaigns. In the case of the latter, Green said that the company now uses a variety of social media platforms, from Facebook and TikTok to Instagram and Pinterest.
“Our boomers are getting more active on computers — that’s how they’re finding us, for the most part,” Green said.
Price transparency is another strategy both companies have employed to success. In fact, Artis has been able to secure a more targeted prospect base by being upfront and open about costs.
“Having that price transparency has been key for us,” DePreker said.