As the COVID-19 pandemic upends just about every aspect of life, senior living communities are retooling their marketing strategies.
Instead of letting up on sales efforts, communities are finding new ways to communicate supportive messages to prospects while reinforcing their brands with a positive twist.
“We recognize the sensitivity around sales and marketing at this time,” said Valerie Whitman, vice president of senior living for LeadingResponse, a Tampa-based customer acquisition service. “We can show the world what we can do for seniors and their families. This is an opportunity for us to shine.”
Whitman shared her insights during a March 31 webinar sponsored by LeadingResponse. Seniors Housing Business hosted the webinar, titled “How to Keep Marketing During COVID-19.” Over 1,000 people registered for the event.
The session was led by Barbara Kleger, president of Kleger Associates, a consumer research firm in Philadelphia. Other participants included Jesse Marinko, CEO and founder of Phoenix Senior Living, based in Roswell, Georgia; and Lou Maranto, vice president of sales for Discovery Senior Living, based in Bonita Springs, Florida.
Today’s marketing approach, during a time of crisis, will shape the perception of the industry and how well it performs as the pandemic subsides, panelists agreed. They recommended several positive steps for marketing managers to take now.
- Prioritize communication. Not every state or locality has adopted the same rules. “The first step is education,” said Marinko. Inform staffers about current local guidelines. Develop consistent and frequent communications with residents and families about how the community is handling the crisis. This provides peace of mind. “Be open and honest. Have the facts,” he added. “This is an opportunity to help consumers understand what is different about your company.” Demonstrate how the community is following recommended protocols to keep residents safe. Share success stories. Show the amazing team members and their dedication. Highlight the brand and its positive approach. For new prospects, “make sure your communication is relevant,” emphasized Whitman. Marketing messages should recognize the challenge of life today and empathize with the prospect’s situation. Don’t engage in heavy selling, advised Kleger. Instead, ask how mom is doing. How can I help? Build trust and show empathy. Connect on a different level, perhaps by dropping off a meal.
- Be creative. With in-person tours and special events out of the picture, sharpen online marketing approaches. Consider a variety of tools: social media, virtual tours, email, webinars, and video calls with families via popular teleconference services such as Zoom. Short videos of success stories can be shared and posted on social media such as YouTube and Facebook. Some communities are hosting Facebook Live events, showing activities at the property to the world. “Post something every day,” said Whitman. “Show people what you are doing.”
- Build a pipeline. Seniors’ wants and needs have not changed, but they have gone dormant under these unusual circumstances, said Maranto. Let prospects know you are there for them. Videos, while showing social distancing, can remind prospects what senior living has to offer. “The more we can engage with prospects, the better the results will be in the months to come,” said Maranto. Focus on the power of sales momentum. Communities that stay connected with prospects over the next few months will have an easier time gaining new move-ins once the crisis passes.
- Create rapport with staff. Show gratitude to the cooks, caregivers and maintenance team. “Let them know how they are impacting lives,” said Marinko. They can become a “walking sales force,” willing to help the sales effort by participating in messaging such as positive videos. Strengthening teamwork will pay dividends now and in the months to come.
At some point, business will return to normal, webinar participants agreed. In the meantime, today is an opportunity to solidify relationships with prospects and highlight the positive aspects of senior living. As Marinko noted: “While other industries are being decimated, we are grateful to be in this industry which continues to serve its customers.”
— Jane Adler