Digital advertising continues to be an important part of retirement home operators’ sales and marketing strategies, but the way they market to residents has changed in 2022.
Unlike the early days of the pandemic, senior living operators now have an effective playbook for reaching seniors that includes more than emails and Zoom calls. And more and more sales teams are now emphasizing the value of their communities as carriers seek to raise prices and increase margins.
Discovery Senior Living, based in Bonita Springs, Florida, is one such company employing this strategy. As rising expenses in categories such as food and labor eat away at net operating income (NOI) and operator margins, the company is prioritizing value with consumers. potential residents, according to senior vice president of sales Lou Maranto.
“This year, more than ever, we need to raise rates,” he told Senior Housing News. “And because we have to ask for more from a price point of view, we absolutely have to drive the value home.”
Elsewhere, companies like MBK Senior Living and The Springs Living are stepping up their efforts in digital marketing and online outreach.
“The pandemic has reminded us how important this is,” Christy Van Der Westhuizen, vice president of sales and marketing at MBK Senior Living, told SHN.
Although average occupancy has rebounded across the industry this year, margins for many operators have squeezed. Higher-than-normal expenses are the culprit, with labor costs often identified as the primary driver of expense growth.
At the same time, many residents can afford to pay higher rates. On the one hand, currently high housing prices give many seniors a significant amount of money to spend on senior living. The boom in the housing market also means that many seniors can sell their homes more easily than in the past.
Seniors are also getting larger paychecks thanks to recent cost-of-living adjustments, a trend that is expected to continue into 2023.
Discovery Senior Living has responded to these pressures by moving away from sales concessions and other monetary incentives to help residents move in.
In January, the operator held a two-hour “selling value” training. During the training, sellers learned tricks for showing, not telling, what a senior resident stands to gain by moving into a community.
For example, a salesperson in Discovery might point out all the money and hardship a potential resident can save by moving into a seniors’ residence, even if that community is more expensive than another one a mile away. The company also offers above-market commissions for sales staff.
“People get into the dollar-for-dollar mindset, and they lose that second factor…of convenience and safety and security,” Maranto said in February. “[We] paint this picture of all of our communities bringing value to all of the different shapes and sizes and dollar amounts.
The company also points to the fact that many of its 111 communities have earned distinction in US News and World Report’s Best Housing for Seniors list as a way to drive home the value proposition.
The Springs takes a similar approach with residents. COO Brenda Connelly said she is focused on getting residents to move in before they need to, which has been a challenge to do during the pandemic.
“An additional element that prospects want to know is how far they will live,” Connelly said.
And MBK takes the approach that “we don’t sell apartments, we sell lifestyles,” according to Van Der Westhuizen.
“If you’re going to increase your occupancy very quickly, you need to do the things that make people feel seen, heard, and valued,” she told SHN.
The digital approach is evolving
At the start of the pandemic, many operators increased their marketing budgets as they “go digital”.
This trend continues in 2022: Discovery Senior Living and MBK Senior Living are slightly increasing their marketing budgets. The Springs Living, on the other hand, spends less on marketing.
Operators initially adopted more digital marketing practices to deal with restrictions on events and in-person visits. But with these restrictions eased in many markets, they are taking a hybrid approach to touring and events.
For example, Priority Life Care, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has upped its digital game during the pandemic in response to the growing technological proficiency of the baby boomer generation, whom Petras called a “different generation.”
They know the internet,” she said during a recent appearance on SHN+TALKS. “Baby boomers are doing their research.”
But as important as digital marketing is to the operator, Petras said many leads have returned to in-person events these days.
“When I look at what we have planned as a whole, it’s all happening in person,” she added.
Initially, the digital shift surprised Julie Podewitz, founder and CEO of senior living company Grow Your Occupancy and former director of sales at Vitality Senior Living.
“At first I thought ‘no way, we’re a very busy company,'” Podewitz told SHN.
But since then, digital marketing “has had an incredible impact on the business,” she added. Operators are using digital tools to create more personalized experiences for prospects and generate data they can use in the sales process.
For MBK, based in Irvine, Calif., a revelation was how effective its website’s chatbot functionality was in selling to leads. In fact, it’s MBK’s best source of lead generation, according to Van Der Westhuizen.
“It was surprising,” she said. “I thought it would be [spam] in our databases, but they’re actually qualified people who just want information quickly – they don’t want to have to pick up the phone on that first contact.
MBK’s portfolio, based in Irvine, Calif., covers 35 communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Providing unit floor plans online was a strategy that Discovery’s sales staff used.
In fact, it’s the most visited section of the company’s websites, according to Maranto. The company also provides pricing information online.
To reveal a specific unit price, users must enter their name, email address, and phone number. By offering price information online, but also controlling the numbers, Discovery is able to both soften the initial sticker shock that prospects feel while ensuring they are serious about of their requests.
“The reason we haven’t done it in the past is so [a prospect] has been living in a house for over 40 years with a mortgage paid off… seeing $3,000-5,000 a month for rent with assistance is a shock,” Maranto told SHN.
When it comes to choosing where to live, seniors start where most people start when making a big decision, on the internet.
Creating an intuitive online experience is important for prospective residents because it gives them and their families “the ability to research on their own,” Connelly said. “Who [is something] we found it to be very appealing to people because they do it anyway.