Marketing Archives – Varsity Branding

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In case you couldn’t make it to our November Sales & Marketing Roundtables, here are some key takeaways from the month.

Rates Jump for 2023
Rate increases are expected to take a high leap in the upcoming year due to inflation and rising living expenses. Entrance and/or monthly fees are being raised across the board.

“Our rates are going up 7.5 to 8%, which is the biggest increase we’ve ever had that I can remember. Usually, it’s only 2 to 3%. I also heard the average rate increase in the country is 9%.” (Washington state)

“Yes, we’re raising our entrance fee as well, by roughly 10 to 15%.” (Arkansas)

GUEST SPEAKERS OF THE MONTH 

The Party is Over in Real Estate

Elias Papasavvas, CEO of Second Act Financial Services 

CElias spoke about the changing housing market and how it will likely impact the senior living industry. Seniors now have rising mortgage rates, lots of newer construction, and other factors that are putting the pressure on home sales and adding time to the selling process. This means it won’t be as easy anymore for seniors to sell their houses, and not as quickly as they did earlier in 2022 during the housing boom. Second Act is a senior-focused division of a Federal Savings Bank that offers a senior-focused Home Equity Line of Credit and bridge loan solutions. They work with senior living sales professionals to help with the home sale process for seniors looking to move into an LPC/CCRC.

“Studies show that if you embed the conversation with how to pay for senior living in the beginning of the journey, and communicate that you have the solutions if somebody can’t sell their home in time or doesn’t want to at their move-in time, it can increase sales by 6%,” says Elias.

Rethinking Resident Engagement

Shawn Richard, Vice President Strategic Accounts, Cubigo
Shawn spoke about rethinking resident engagement and the importance of resident experience overall. Senior living sales and marketing programs are shifting more toward selling a lifestyle, and how to tailor the resident experience to meet the needs of the baby boomers as they filter into the senior living space. Communities need to have programs and activities that are personalized to residents, as well as having the methods to track resident engagement and satisfaction. Cubigo is an app that residents can download on their device, where they can track events in their calendar, RSVP to activities, manage their transportation and dining, and more.

“A focus on resident experience is becoming more prevalent, and people are talking more and more about it overall,” says Shawn. “Programs are shifting to meet the needs of the new wave of seniors coming in. So we need a holistic and a personalized view on what they’re looking for, versus the broad brush we used to apply to it.”

“When looking at resident experience as a whole, it’s not just experience itself, but how you can tailor it to the individual,” Shawn says, “When you think about experience and selling lifestyle, there’s a company who does a phenomenal job of it, and that’s Margaritaville. They take their experience in resort living to apply to senior living, and these are properties pre-selling that are full before they even open.”

Selling Through the Holidays
After the slowdown of the summer and the mad rush of September/October, November is calming down but is still steady. Life Plan Community sales and marketing leaders are staying busy with planning for the upcoming new fiscal year, and preparing for the busy holiday season of events. Many are hosting open houses to invite people into their community during the holidays.

“We’re having a holiday dinner for residents, and that is always the event of the year. Anyone who is a depositor — whether they’re a resident, or not moving in for months — can come as a networking opportunity.” (Wisconsin)

“We’ve had snow the past few days, but we got in a turkey trot event before the snow came. We had residents from all levels of care doing laps on the grounds, dressed up as turkeys and other things.” (Illinois)

Many communities hosted successful Veterans Day events and invited military guest speakers, or even their own residents, to share about their military experience.

“We’re having a guest speaker from the local Air Force base coming out. We’ll recognize our veterans, of course, and we’ll do different military hymns. And the local ROTC will come out and do a presentation. We do offer a veterans’ benefit with a discount on their entrance fee.” (Arkansas)

Takeaways From SMASH
Several roundtable participants picked up new tools at the Senior Care Marketing & Sales Summit  (SMASH)

“Everything is all about local SEO, especially for standalone communities. Being local is so important, so [we’re] trying to have more of a focus that way.” (Wisconsin)

“Content is king. So much about the customer journey is having the right content, on the right platform, at the right time. Keywords aren’t the thing anymore, but key intent is, the intent of the person viewing your content.” (Washington state)

Join the conversation at our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtables on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

This article by Seth Anthony, Chief Revenue Officer at LW Consulting, Inc., was originally published at LW-consult.com and is reprinted here with permission.

Let’s be honest with ourselves.

For years, many organizations have viewed having a comprehensive compliance program as “check the box” activity. If there was a binder on the shelf labeled “Compliance Program,” then organizational leadership felt like they were covered.

Then, along came the role of Compliance Officer, and it became that person’s issue. Except, the comprehensive compliance program was one problem among many. While the compliance officer was busy putting out fires, programs moldered on shelves, with few tangible updates. Meanwhile, compliance requirements grew exponentially, with little opportunity for corporate leadership to integrate those changes into their daily operations in a holistic way.

Then, there was the pandemic. Businesses went from “firefighting” compliance into full operational triage. Now, as the pandemic fades, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Department of Justice (DOJ),  are getting serious about enforcing compliance failures.

And they are going to hold you personally responsible.

In the September 15, 2022 policy revision, DOJ made substantial changes relating to personal accountability, outside monitors, misconduct, voluntary disclosures, and expectations around the integration of compliance into the culture of an organization. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco made it very clear that a new era of “personal accountability” has dawned at the DOJ by stating, “[R]esourcing a compliance department is not enough; it must also be backed by, and integrated into, a corporate culture that rejects wrongdoing for the sake of profit.”

That is certainly some tough talk! But what should it mean to operators and leaders, especially those working in healthcare settings?

DOJ has said that when bringing a criminal complaint, their agents will consider a broad range of issues, including reward and compensation metrics tied to compliance, the imposition of financial sanctions for compliance failures, and the role leaders play in allowing those failures to occur. Active participation is no longer the key issue; passivity or inaction will likely be just as damning evidence going forward.

What’s a provider to do?

The answer is simple. Pick up that Compliance Program binder and get to work!

DOJ shared that an effective, updated, and independently reviewed compliance plan is the best strategy to ward off misconduct and such a plan will likely be considered if a compliance breach comes before DOJ officials. If your plan does not include actionable compliance incentives, such as those tied to compensation, promotion, and hiring practices, you are likely already behind the proverbial “8 Ball.”

Ethical behavior and compliance are no longer a “corporate” problem. It’s a “you” problem. Your career may be on the line for compliance failures if you do not take an active role, right now, in making sure your programs are comprehensive, effective, implemented, and enforced.

Is your Compliance Program up to date, or do you need assistance with reviewing your Compliance Program?  Contact one of the experts at LW Consulting Contact one of the experts at LW Consulting  to learn more about how they can help.

 

At last week’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable, we had a very special guest. We celebrated Martha B.’s 105th birthday! Martha has been an independent living resident of Parkway Village in Little Rock, Arkansas, for over 17 years.

After we sang Happy Birthday to her, Martha shared her perspective on life at a senior living community, her fondest memories, and some wise words on how to live a vibrant life, no matter your age.

Here are some questions Martha answered from participants, who were participating virtually everywhere on zoom.

What’s your favorite thing about being 105?
“I like to watch my grandkids and great-grandkids. It’s fun to watch them and see what they do. I have seven total grandchildren, and three are married now. I like to play bridge. But my big problem is being able to see, so I can’t do that as much any longer. Getting around is harder, too, but I always make it to bingo.”

What is the secret of staying so young and vibrant?”
“Well, I’ve always been active. I was always active in organizations at church. I knew the local high school principal well. After my children were grown, I went to work over there as a secretary for 22 years. Then, my husband had a small business and I kept the books. So, I did two or three jobs over the years and kept real active. I play bridge a lot, and I’ve always loved knitting and embroidery. After I retired, I did a lot of that.”

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over the course of your life?”
“I’ve seen the invention of radios, TV, cars — my first car was a Ford that my dad had to crank in the front to go forward! That was the first car I can remember.  I’ve also seen a lot of change in home appliances. I didn’t have a washing machine or a dryer growing up, and those kinds of things are wonderful to have around the house.”

Do you have any fond memories of the last 105 years you would like to share?
“I have just enjoyed my life. I’ve always gone to Sunday school and church, and I’ve always stayed involved there. I love knitting, I do a lot of that at church. I play lots of bridge, and they say that’s very good for your mind. And I try to play bingo! When I moved here, I was very active and knew everybody and enjoyed all of the activities. Nowadays, things have slowed down because I can’t see as well, but I would still be doing everything if I could.”

What is the biggest historical event that stands out to you in the 105 years you’ve lived?
“Oh, goodness. It’s hard to think of one … I watched our church burn. I lived close enough to see the smoke. When I went over with my family, I saw it burning. That was ‘history’ to me.”

What is life like there at Parkway Village?
“It’s great, they’ve really taken care of me here. It’s been a perfect place for me. I moved here after I developed macular degeneration and I could no longer drive, so my son said I needed to be somewhere with people. Since I moved here, everyone has been wonderful to me. We have excellent security. The maintenance team comes as soon as you call. I have a housekeeper who comes to my apartment once a week, but other than that, I take care of myself and live independently. And I hope I can keep doing so!”

Do you have any advice for us on helping people make the decision to move to a community?
“People always say, ‘I’m not ready.’ But what I try to tell them is, ‘You will never be ready.’ But you just have to pick up and move. My son is a psychiatrist, and he made sure I left home, because I wouldn’t have been able to get along when I couldn’t drive anymore. So, you need to move somewhere to be with others. I think a lot of people wait until it’s too late.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
“I wanted to mention that Boston University has contacted me. They do work for a lot of senior organizations. They asked me to volunteer for their Alzheimer’s research, so I’m working for them. They have a number of people in my age group in the process of testing.”

Happy birthday to Martha! We are so grateful that you were able to join us on the roundtable today. You are a testament to all we do!

Please join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtables on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

During the past quarter of the Varsity virtual roundtables, some common themes, challenges and frustrations seemed to come up over and over with our participants across the country. Here are some of the solutions they gave during our weekly brainstorming sessions.

l. How do you address staffing issues?

Many participants say staffing is a huge issue. “We have only been able to staff half the number of people that we actually need,” said one marketer. “It’s been very, very difficult to hire more people.”

      Solutions:

  • Adjust compensation/provide sign-on bonuses

“Our staffing issues seem to be getting better slowly,” said one participant. “We’ve adjusted compensation to meet demand.”

  • Brainstorm new tactics

“We have a task force that meets biweekly, and we’ve brainstormed new ways to recruit and retain,” said a marketer. “We’ve implemented gestures such as pizza parties and other events to show our appreciation to our employees.”

  • Recruit displaced food service workers

“One organization recruited by going after the displaced and unhappy food service workers and housekeepers from the service sector,” shared Seth Anthony of LW Consulting. “Their ad was basically: ‘Do you want steady hours and benefits that you’re not getting at the restaurant? Come work in senior living!’ They actually managed to really backfill a lot of their staff by using that message and hammering it home.”

  • Provide transportation

“I knew a place that offered employee transportation, where the routes were mapped in tandem with their staffing needs,” said a participant. “They provided the transport in urban areas, which allowed them to hire people who they would not have reached otherwise.”

  • Plan innovative career fairs

“I saw somebody who did a career fair with a food truck,” shared another marketer. “I thought that it was creative and fun to combine the two events.”

  • Get on TikTok

“We have a few employees at our building who graduated from dining services to becoming CNAs,” shared a participant. “They noted that being on TikTok is ideal for reaching the younger demographic.”

2. Should you put pricing on your website?

“We have put all of our pricing on our website, everything in detail for all levels of care,” a marketer shared. “We’ve done that for many, many years, and none of our competition around here has any of their pricing on the web — other than they have a ‘starting at’ or a basic range. We constantly hear from people that come in to see us that say, ‘I’m so glad you have that on your website because I knew exactly what I was getting into when I came here.’”

“I always use the analogy of when you’re going to a restaurant and you Google them, you look at the menu and they have no prices, you’re probably not going to go there,” shared another marketer. “You’re probably going to just move on until someone’s a little more transparent.”

3. How do you handle events in a changing COVID-19 landscape?

“If you have the ability to hold events in person, you may be able to offer hybrid options if people are still sensitive to the COVID-19 issue, even if regulations say that in person is safe,” shared Derek Dunham.

Another idea? Record the event. “We did a four-part dementia virtual series, and we recorded them,” said a participant from Washington state. “And we just had an email from somebody who couldn’t attend in person. They commented on how nice it was to be able to view the seminar recordings at their own pace.”

4. How do you encourage people to move from their homes when they don’t feel ready?

I’ve had my directors use the phrase, ‘Beat the clock.’ If someone is reticent, or their body language is closed off, the directors will go into the ‘beat the clock’ conversation,” said a participant from Pennsylvania. “We phrase it as such: that they have to roll the dice, and hope they do ok in the future. We give them the statistics and introduce the gamble of risk and uncertainty.”

“One of our campuses has a ridiculously long waitlist. We initiated this new program called ‘Get Ready to Say Yes,’” shared a marketer in Washington state. “We do meetings with the people on our waitlist, so that when the time comes when we call, they’re prepared to say yes. We’ve had realtors and downsizers come in. It’s a way to engage waitlisters and get them ready to go.”

5. What skill sets do you look for in a sales counselor?

“All of our sales counselors are over 60, in their sixties and seventies,” said a marketer in Washington state. “I think that having the life experience and empathy, and having gone through it with their own parents as hands-on market experience, is so valuable.”

“I agree, I think the biggest deal is with the relationship,” said another participant. “We are very lucky here to have great salespeople with diverse backgrounds. They can learn the product, but you can’t teach that relationship-building aspect.”

“A couple communities I know had luck hiring people who were previously college admission counselors,” shared Seth Anthony. “I think it’s because it’s similar, where they’re selling something big, multi-dollar, kind of intangible, and heavy on their brand that comes with a lifestyle.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

Hello, I’m Jodi Gibble, a sales and marketing consultant with more than 28 years of experience in the senior living sector. As part of Varsity’s sales consulting team, in addition to sales and marketing support, audits and training, I conduct market research and mystery shops. I’ve mystery shopped  in person, via the telephone and on the websites of 60 senior living communities in several states over the past six months.

During my mystery shop tours and calls, I noticed that some no-brainer rules of sales and marketing weren’t always being followed. I shared these insights with participants at the Varsity Sales & Marketing Roundtable.  I’m expanding on that presentation here, in case you’d find such insights helpful as well.

As sales professionals, we all know these basics, but sometimes we need a refresher — or maybe there’s a new team member at your community who could use this advice.

No-brainer rule #1: Pick up the phone.

We all know that first impressions start way before a visitor sets foot on your campus. Your responses to phone calls, emails and website requests are even more important. Many people will not leave a message and will give up if you don’t promptly follow up on their request. However, it was surprising that only one-third of my first phone calls connected with an actual sales counselor.

No-brainer rule #2: Have sales counselors available.

When I called one community on a Monday, I was told the salesperson only works on Tuesday through Saturday and that she would call me the next day. If your sales counselor is off or they are on a tour, ensure that someone can take the phone call or at the very least have someone call the prospect back the same day. I feel that more people will probably want to visit during the week. Having limited hours is a missed opportunity.

No-brainer rule #3: Know your community.

I called several multi-site communities where the calls go to a central call center. The actual person was often unfamiliar with the community, other than rates and levels of care fees. In some cases, they mispronounced the community name, or didn’t know what state it was in! Solution: Make sure to properly brief the call center staff; they should know as much as possible about each individual community.

No-brainer rule #4: Get backup.

In some cases when the sales counselor wasn’t available, the receptionist, concierge or business manager did a great job  answering my questions. The sales counselor followed up later. Make sure there is someone (a backup team) to answer the phone when the salesperson is not available and that he or she knows the basics about the community. Train weekend managers and weekend/evening receptionists on what questions to ask prospects so that they can gather needed information for you to follow up.

In my next post,  I’ll share no-brainer rules for a successful tour and follow-up.

 

One of the most mispronounced words of 2021 is disrupting senior living communities in 2022.

Near the beginning of December, our participants had heard about the Omicron variant, but it wasn’t impacting them much yet. One marketer said, “The last data I heard was yesterday in our area that there were only nine cases of COVID-19 in our hospital, which is the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Another participant commented, “Right now we’re preparing for ‘just in case’ mode, making sure our communities and departments have rapid tests and enough PPE.”

Even during the second week of December, the focus was on planning and throwing holiday parties, not on Omicron. One roundtable participant said, “We’re having all kinds of holiday activities, and it has been fun to come together as a community to do this.”

And when we asked if the Omicron variant was an issue? Responses included:  “I haven’t heard a thing” and “not yet.”

The Holiday Gift Nobody Wanted

Later in December, concern began to mount. “We’re getting anxious about the Omicron variant,” said one participant. “We’re asking families to be cautious and test before visiting. We’re reloading on PPE and N95 masks to use in the buildings for a few weeks. We’re trying to keep things safe through this surge.”

A roundtable member in Arkansas commented, “A lot more folks are taking it more seriously. People are masking up more in the community.” A participant in Illinois added:  “There is an uptick in the Omicron variant around here. We’re offering free testing for the community.” From Wisconsin, we heard: “We’re going to get through Christmas and keep moving forward until after the holiday. We held a clinic last week where 75 people got boosted, including both residents and employees. Everyone is nervous about what’s going to happen with the new variant.”

New Year, New Cases

By the end of the month, communities were shutting down New Year’s Eve parties. One couple received a celebration kit complete with filet mignon, a dessert sampler and party hats after the community’s bash was canceled due to an outbreak among the staff.

Now that Varsity has held its first post-holiday roundtable on January 6, the situation has blown up. With Omicron surging, many communities feel like it’s Groundhog Day — they closed, they opened, and now they’re closed again.

One marketer commented, “COVID-19 has definitely hit here for staff as well as our residents, and all of our areas of long-term care as well as independent living. All of our events where we’re bringing people on-site have been canceled at this time. Private appointments or tours are on a case-by-case basis.”

Reports were similar at another community: “We’ve been hit hard with lots of cases of COVID-19. The state has surged in a big way, like everyone. We’re owned by a hospital system and they offered a drive-through testing to the community. 42% tested positive.”

What Are Your Resolutions for 2022? 

With communities across the country dealing with Omicron, one participant said, “I hear a lot of defeat in people’s voices. We can be very grateful for a lot.”

Another marketer commented, “It’s been a challenging time but there is a lot to be thankful for. We have had a really good year and I think we can have that again. I think the pandemic has caused a lot of fear, but I think it’s more about being cautious. Another participant added, “Once people got vaccinated, things got into a bit more normal living. And now it’s taken a big swing back right now. It isn’t going to be like this forever.”

Some roundtable members felt that we’ll get used to it. “Hopefully it will be like the flu in the future and we just get a booster shot, just like the flu has a different variant.” And one last comment: “I think we will just start accepting this new reality for restrictions for safety.”

Let’s all resolve to think positive and support one another in 2022! We’re looking forward to coming together this week. You’re welcome to join our Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Those are the words of John Wanamaker (1838–1922), a very successful United States merchant, religious leader and political figure, considered by some to be a pioneer in marketing.

Anyone who is a marketer for senior living communities can relate to that statement. But there is a way to know where your marketing dollars are really going, and it’s by harnessing your data using predictive analytics.

That concept was the focus of a 2021 LeadingAge Conference session, “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success,” a joint presentation by Varsity, its sister agency WildFig Data and Ingleside Senior Living.

“Retirement communities in general are data rich and insight poor,” says John Bassounas, Partner at Varsity. “Sometimes when it comes to analytics and data, people get overwhelmed. Really, at the end of the day our job is to simplify that process and deliver insights that can help communities make better decisions.”

During these challenging times, harnessing your data is especially important. “As an outgrowth of COVID-19,” John says, “everyone is trying to figure out the role of digital — how organizations can establish a competitive advantage. Data is the way to do that.”

A Progressive Partner

Varsity and WildFig have been fortunate to partner with Ingleside, a forward-thinking, multi-site, nonprofit senior living organization located in the Washington, D.C., area. “Data analysis was a leadership initiative at Ingleside,” says John. “It started at the top, and leadership identified data analytics as a key priority for their organization. In doing so, they partnered with us, and we became an extension of their team.”

“This is a visionary client,” agrees Derek Dunham, Vice President Client Services at Varsity. “They have established team members focused on the digital experience in analytics — they see the value in it. They have been an early adopter of data mining and analytics.”

Here are some key takeaways from the LeadingAge presentation based on our work with Ingleside:

1.  Consider all of the digital elements as an ecosystem, not siloed tactics.

“One of the goals here is to make sure that we’re not just looking at isolated tactics. We need to assess the impact of the entire digital ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media,” says Derek.

“From a marketing perspective, understanding the relationship between the various tactics and strategies to the overall program is incredibly valuable, because we want to optimize the plan for the best results.”

“For Ingleside, an important part of the ecosystem is a fresh website that is newly programmed using all the modern tools. Technology is always changing. With a new website, we don’t have to dumb down any of the analytics because the site can plug into analytics and pull data easily.

2. Embrace the process — Each organization is at a different stage with their analytics and modernization journey.

“It’s important for any organization to have the mindset that this is a process,” says Derek. “It’s not going to be a one-off project; it’s a culture. It’s an ongoing initiative that needs to be fed over time. I would say, assess what you have and get going. Taking the first step is important as this process is never ‘done’ — there are always opportunities to refine, test and learn.”

“Some organizations might think, ‘We don’t have all the data we need.’ Others may think, ‘We have too much data.’ Don’t let a lack of data stand in the way of proceeding with initiatives,” John says. “The first thing you need to ask is, ‘What is the question that you want to answer, and how can data make that happen?’”

3. Start with the big questions — Others will emerge.

“Starting with the big questions means, don’t get mired down in the details,” Derek says. “First think about what are the big questions you want to have answered. A question might seem too big initially, but you’ll be able to break it down into smaller questions and put together a manageable process.”

As an example, here are some of the questions that Ingleside wanted to answer:

  • How do we reach and maintain 95% occupancy?
  • How can we use data to make informed decisions?
  • How can we predict future outcomes?
  • Should the website be redesigned and merged under one URL?

4. Think not just about outcomes, but about implementation, and how to create a dynamic feedback loop.

“It’s an iterative process, and you’re constantly going to be refining it,” says Derek. “You want to look at the outcomes at a point in time. With this process, you are able to have confidence that you can pull your data at any point in time and get answers.”

Once the loop is established, John says, “We can either look backward at what has happened, or we can look forward to help inform what we’d like to have happen or predict outcomes.”

5. Customize the sales experience through predictive modeling.

“The overall goal of data analytics is to be able to understand the data to provide prospects with a customized experience — making the entire process from a marketing and sales perspective more efficient,” Derek says.

“For organizations like Ingleside, we’re doing that through a predictive modeling tool that does two things — predicts what lead volume will be, and assigns a lead score to every prospect in their database. We’ll be able to map each prospect’s customer journey and know the likelihood of their becoming a depositor at each interaction with the salesperson,” says John. “This map can be generated for every prospect, providing an easily digestible way to monitor the sales process.”

Why is that so important? “We all know that it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 touches for somebody to move in,” says Derek. “The more we can make those touches relevant and purposeful and efficient, the better. Through that process, we also make the salesperson’s time efficient, because they’re dealing with the people who are most predisposed to buying. We’re offering the salesperson better information so they are better able to connect with the right prospects.”

If you’d like the Varsity team to take you through the presentation in more detail, please contact John Bassounas at JBassounas@varsitybranding.com or Derek Dunham at DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

This November, many participants in our Thursday roundtables commented that leads are still pouring in. One marketer said, “We’re getting inquiries like crazy.” Another agreed, “It’s been our strongest year in 10 years.”

But even the busiest communities are working hard to capitalize on every lead and plan for the future. While other people were getting ready to pass the potatoes, our participants were passing around both new and tried-and-true sales and marketing approaches that are working for them:

1. Keep resident encounters casual. “We are seeing success with holding more casual events where prospects can mingle with residents versus having a more formal resident panel (which can be viewed as too scripted), so prospects can ask more specific questions about things not being presented here.”

2. Stay in touch. “There are usually about eight to nine articles in the marketing newsletter highlighting all the things we’re doing within the community,” said one participant. “Our sales team says prospects comment on it all the time.”

3. Stop talking, start listening. “People need someone who listens, not somebody who talks,” said a marketer. “I worked with a sales guy who was a master of the art of silence. He’d ask a question, and he’d stop talking. If you can stop talking long enough, the other person will start talking and open up.”

4. Overcome objections. Now that COVID-19 is slowing down, people are back to the classic excuses for not making the move. Here are some comebacks our participants found effective:

Objection: “I’m not ready yet.”

Answer: “I completely understand; however, can I ask what your hesitation is?”

Objection: “Wow, there’s a lot of old people here.”

Answer: “That’s because we take such good care of people, they live to a ripe old age.”

5. Update your floor plans. “We’re filling larger apartments, but it’s the smaller apartments that are harder to sell,” said one marketer. “We’re having work done, taking a wall down to make a bigger living space. People want their kitchen table, they don’t need that second bedroom.”

6. Offer trial stays. “There is a program that a community offers where if they stay one month, they get the second one free. Marketing it that way has been successful for them,” said a participant. “There is also a community that does a Safe & Warm program, which has been very successful for them when offering people to come in and live at the community on a trial basis during the winter months.”

7. Automate insights. “We’re trying to wrap up and create a sense of urgency now, so people move in the beginning of the year,” said one marketer. “We integrated some automated marketing in our database, and that’s really delivered some tangible results from our sales team. It’s giving us insights into our inquires and visits to our websites.

We’d like to leave you with one final thought: Normalize life again. “We need to remind people that there is a life to be lived,” said one participant. Another said, “It’s not entirely business as normal, but the more we act like it is, the better.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

The treats for senior living communities this October included lots of interest from prospects. The tricky part? Staffing issues and COVID-19-related restrictions made it tough for some organizations to take advantage of the momentum.

The Treats: Lots of Tours, Applications and Deposits 

A participant in Washington state said, “Four of our areas (apartments, memory care, assisted living and duplexes) are all 100% full, and I’m not sure that’s ever been the case.” Another marketer in California agreed that business continues to be strong. “We’re going to have 10 move-ins in October. It’s really exciting to see.”  And there’s good news from Arkansas as well:  “Sales for our new neighborhood are good, with 43 of 53 units sold.”

Communities are also trying creative new tactics for bringing in business. One participant from Wisconsin said, “We’ve been really rocking and rolling. For the first time, we offered a promotion of 10% off the entrance fee to people who sign up now, and we’ve had lots of success with it.”

The Tricks: COVID-19 Restrictions and Staff Shortages

Scary Shutdowns 

Something that could scare off prospects: Communities shutting down to visitors because of local COVID-19 restrictions. One marketer shared, “We’re talking about taking everything online again.” A second participant said, “We’re unable to do events, so it’s frustrating.” And a third marketer added, “I’m seeing more restrictions. It’s sad having to see people tap the brakes.”

In some cities, however, it’s nearly business as usual. One participant from Virginia said, “Our team members are all fully vaccinated — it’s a requirement, and I think that’s helped because a lot of prospects asked that question. We’ve been busy giving tours and adding people to the waiting list.”

Creative Hybrid Events

One way of solving the dilemma when prospects are worried about attending in-person seminars: Hold a hybrid event. “As far as marketing events, we have a hybrid event — in person and on Zoom as well, so people can choose to do either,“ a participant shared.

Industry-Wide Staff Shortages

Staffing shortages continue to be a roadblock to sales. One marketer shared, “We’re getting calls and inquiries, but we don’t have enough staff to keep up with the volume …  we had to turn down seven people last week who wanted to move in!” A participant in Arkansas agreed. “Our nursing home is desperately looking for staff and we’re having a difficult time finding applicants.” Another marketer shared, “This is the #1 thing on everyone’s minds — how will we deal with this?” One final comment: “We have a waitlist that’s two pages long. We don’t have the staff at the higher levels of care to cover all the interest.”

Innovative Solutions for Recruiting Staff

When we asked participants if they’d found any effective methods for recruitment in these challenging times, they shared these creative ideas:

  • Drive-through career fairs: “We had another drive-through career fair in August, which was successful. They have been fun and an interesting way to get people onto campus.”
  • Diversity and inclusion: “We have a resident committee here working hard at looking at diversity and inclusion.”
  • Salary hikes: “The board moved our minimum starting wage to $15 per hour, so some will get up to a 40% raise in November.”
  • Using staffing firms: Several firms participated in the recent LeadingAge conference, including: Fusion Medical Staffing, Gale Healthcare Solutions, Hireology, OnShift, Intelycare, Prime Time Healthcare  and ShiftMed.  (Varsity is not endorsing any of these firms; rather, merely providing information.)

Holiday Tactics for Targeting Adult Children

Heading into the holidays, some communities are targeting adult children (but not necessarily with in-person events). One participant shared, “We changed our media messages to target adult children more.” Another marketer said, “We put together a one-sheet guide of tips on how to talk about things with your parents.” A third community published an article in a local magazine about ways to connect with adult children who are raising their kids and caring for their parents as well.

Notes From the 2021 LeadingAge Conference

Held October 24-27 in Atlanta, Georgia, the first LeadingAge conference since COVID-19 had lighter attendance than usual, but some fascinating presentations. The major focus? “Technology, technology, technology,” said Derek Dunham, who attended with his Varsity colleagues. For instance, Amazon launched its new senior living product with an enterprise solution. You can read about it in this Senior Housing News article. Varsity, sister firm WildFig Data and Ingleside also presented a session with a technology focus: “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

Guest post by Andrew Leech, Vice President, Operations Management Services, Greystone Communities

Today Andrew Leech is expanding on some of the ideas he shared in his recent presentation at The Greystone Event 2021, “The Art of the Pivot: Addressing Operational Challenges.”

With all the tragedy that has come with the pandemic, we’ve learned a couple of things. In a 24/7 operation, we never have the opportunity to retool and reopen and reboot. COVID-19 has been awful and terrible for our residents and industry, but one of the positives coming out the other side is the lessons we’ve learned. It would be a real shame to go back to the old normal.

Some of the lessons communities have learned:

  • Residents can adopt and use technology far faster than we gave them credit for.
  • Society is more open to doing things a little differently now than it did a year-and-a-half ago, so why waste this opportunity to improve and secure the future of our communities?
  • In every facet of our operations, now is the time to change.

One caveat: There is a strong regulatory component in what we do, which means some things are not going to change as fast as we’d like them to. Guidelines and restrictions are going to impact our changes.

Here are some areas that I feel communities should be looking at:

Recruiting

We’ve had hiring challenges in health care for many, many years. There has been a nursing shortage and not enough nurses to replace those that left. Now the challenges are even greater, with other industries raising their wages during COVID-19. How are we going to compete for talent with other sectors? How can we help lower costs to help pay for talent? We’ve often pitched how strong our operations were, saying things like: “You would be lucky to come and work for such a fine organization that treats employees well.” In this market, rather than say, “You’d be fortunate to work for us,” it’s a natural shift to say, “We would really love the opportunity to have you be a part of our team.”

We need to change our approach to how we’re recruiting talent in a market this tight. We spend an awful lot of time and money to attract residents and get them through the sales process. We need to start to take some of those funds and have the same vested interest in appealing to employees. Some specific tactics communities can implement:

  • Pay for time spent during the screening process
  • Make sure your community has a director level position for HR
  • Partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
  • Text candidates within five minutes of their application hitting the portal (the younger generation doesn’t read emails)
  • Offer seven days on and seven days off in skilled nursing care, or four days of 10-hour shifts — think creatively about how to offer work/life balance.

Retention

We have teams that have been through hell and back during the last 18 months to two years. We need to show them that they’re appreciated for the sacrifices they’ve made. And we also have to be realistic about our expectations for retention: A year for a certified nurse’s aide or a server is actually quite good.

Ideas for retention will vary in every single market. Offering employee meals is a great start — but we can’t just stop there. Here are some other options, many of which are also strong recruitment tools:

  • Retention bonuses. We believe that a better approach to bonuses is to space them out and incentivize even further someone’s desire to stay with the company. Part of the bonuses may come at three months, six months, nine months, a year.
  • Day care. Some communities are looking at spaces on their properties for day care and figuring how to license and run a center. We’re in the research stages, and I do have leaders of communities telling me that day care would make a huge impact. Having day care on-site simplifies people’s lives. Imagine being able to drop your child right at your workplace and go into your job each day.
  • Flexible schedules. Gone are the days that if an employee can’t work weekends, they can’t be a part of your team. Now it can be mutually beneficial to be flexible to meet the needs of each individual. We can give team members the life balance that they’re looking for, and they can provide excellent experiences to the residents.
  • Attractive employee lounges and locker rooms. We need to evaluate employee areas and solicit team feedback to determine if they are welcoming.
  • Fee structure reviews and involvement of residents. COVID-19 strengthened that desire to help, because folks have very strong ties to members of the staff and their teams. The pandemic made us all re-evaluate what’s important. The residents have realized that their communities are not the same without these amazing team members who are working hard and sacrificing day in and day out. We had actually proposed a rate increase at one of our communities, and one of the members of the resident council came to the director and asked whether that number was going to be sufficient to pay their staff a living wage. He was invested in making sure the staff were well taken care of.

Infection Control

Because of the extra precautions communities have taken during COVID-19, we’ve had tremendous success in keeping the flu at bay this past year. Through tools like visitation restrictions, PPE and social distancing, we’ve shown we can control infections very, very effectively. That’s going to be the expectation moving forward. The challenge is, how do we eliminate the spread of infection, while still having communities that are more open with visitors?

Finding Efficiencies

Here’s an example of how we need to work more efficiently: If you have a housekeeper going to three different floors in a main building, as well as villas and cottages and garden homes, are you sacrificing a lot of time and energy in having that person traveling from place to place? This is now an opportunity to reboot services like housekeeping. Let’s break out the community in a way that is far more efficient for travel time. We’re looking for little opportunities to do things smarter.

Dining Innovations

Before COVID-19, dining in was not heavily utilized — and was not experientially the best. What we did learn during the pandemic was that there’s a way to do it well and inexpensively. We strongly believe, moving forward, that there is going to be demand for in-room dining to augment regular dining. We see this through the success of services like Grubhub, Door Dash and Uber Eats. Customers are looking to have great dining experiences with gourmet food in the comfort of their own homes — and seniors are going to be no different.

Stay Virtual

What we’ve learned from our residents’ eager adoption of technology is that virtual programs will always be in demand. Make sure your community keeps up by continuing to offer them and learning to do them better.

These are just small examples of how the need to change runs throughout the entire operation. It could be that in five to 10 years, our community buses will be driving themselves. Something along those lines is coming, so we’d better be ready.

People are more receptive to new ideas than they have been in years, so let’s take advantage of that opportunity. We don’t want to lose the chance to change and go back to doing things the way we’ve done for years and years and years. However, we also don’t want people to run to their communities with all these ideas and try to cram them all in at once. That’s not going to be successful for them. Each market may have different demands.

Fast and Simple Changes

Our focus is on providing small takeaways that everyone can do something with. For example, when was the last time you did a wage analysis in your market? If it’s a year old, the analysis is highly out of date. If it’s not done in the last 90 days, you can’t trust it.

Those are quick, easy things you can do: reviewing fees, involving residents, reassessing culture, looking for opportunities to be more efficient — those are actions that would be advantageous to any operation. It’s important to do the work to figure out what’s going to be most impactful to your team and operations. Now is the time to start to ask these questions and look into these issues.

A Short Window of Opportunity

You have a window of time to make these changes. You have receptive residents, prospective residents and staff. The trick is, you can’t sit on your hands and not do anything or the window will close. Eventually people will wipe these circumstances from their memories and we’ll continue on like we did before.

Our call to action is:Please don’t do nothing.” If you do nothing, you’re going to be left behind. You can’t waste this opportunity, and if you do waste it, it will have longstanding effects on the financial health and stability of your community for years to come.

Seeing the Glass Half Full

I’d like to end this on an optimistic note. Should we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future, knowing all that has happened? I choose to look at this through a positive lens. We have had some teams that went through some extremely difficult, once-in-a-lifetime challenges, and the people who have stuck around have built more stamina and become more capable, more resilient and more optimistic. We now have these folks on our team who have managed through a huge crisis, and they will be able to draw on these experiences should, and when, the next crisis comes along. This is an industry that has been challenged by many, many things, from 9/11 to the Great Recession and now COVID-19. There are always going to be challenges. We need to take away what we excelled in and what we learned during this crisis to help our operations get stronger and more secure in the future. We believe that the future is bright.

The senior living industry is regaining speed after COVID-19, with some good surprises — and some challenges. One participant had a conversation recently in which she compared the current industry environment to a train, saying, “It takes a little time to get it going, but we continue to chug along, and we’re getting there.”

Read on for 7 takeaways from a month of conversations with communities across the country.

1.  Leads are flooding in, especially in independent living.

Communities are seeing a lot of activity — even if they’re not holding events yet.

2. The American Rescue Plan gives communities the opportunity to get funds from local government.

A lot of dialogue this month centered around the  American Rescue Plan and how senior living communities can get a stake of those funds. The money can go to any community, but nonprofit organizations have a strong story to tell. So if you fall into this category and serve seniors, you are positioned well to receive funding, as long as you know who to ask, according to Seth Anthony, a roundtable participant and Marketing & Business Development Manager at LW Consulting.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to receive these funds,  click here or contact Seth directly.

3. Marketing higher levels of care is a challenge.

Leads and sales for care higher up the continuum are improving, but lagging behind independent living. One reason for that is competition with communities that have lifted restrictions.

Another roadblock is staffing issues. One participant shared about having trouble hiring enough employees to meet staffing requirements for a higher level of care.

4. COVID-19 safety concerns are down.

Prospects’ concerns about safety and precautions related to COVID have lessened considerably.

5. Questions about the post-COVID experience are up.

Many prospects are now concerned about whether restrictions on dining, programming and visiting have been removed. They are ready to get back to normal. One roundtable participant said, “COVID-19 seems to be out of the picture, but our team is getting questions such as, ‘Can I visit as a prospect?,’ ‘Can family visit me if I move in?’ and ‘Are your dining rooms open?’”

6. Communities are offering incentives for staff vaccinations.

More team members have gotten the vaccine, but the percentages are still lower than for residents. Communities are using tools such as education, one-on-one meetings and incentives to boost participation rates.

7. Some communities have seen leads and move-ins skew younger.

Some participants are noticing that the average age of leads and move-ins is lower than it’s been in the past few years. One marketer said, “We’ve had several (new residents) in their 60s and early 70s. We’re definitely seeing a trend here. There is some feeling that after being cooped up during COVID-19, people are drawn to this environment.”

All in all, it’s been a great month! Sales counselors are busy, phones are ringing, events are well-attended and communities are filling apartments that have been empty for a long time. One participant even said, “I’ve been here 17 years and I can’t remember a time where we’ve seen the interest we have recently.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

 

 

The month started out on a hopeful tone, with some hesitancy mid-month, but in general, April seems to have ended quite positively for most participants of Varsity’s weekly roundtables! Restrictions have generally eased, although this varies from state to state. Many marketers are talking about a spike in leads, and a lot of success with more tours and people ready to make a move. People are indicating that they are “feeling good or great.”

Here are seven takeaways from our April roundtables:

  1. Sales are up. Way up.

Contrary to prior months when “people just weren’t ready,” the dam is breaking. Some positive words from our participants:

“We had a good month in IL and sold eight homes. There’s been so much pent-up demand, and people are ready to get out and ready to move, although spring is typically the busiest time. The real estate market is great. All of those things combined have contributed to a great month.”

“We’re doing better than we have in months for tours and move-ins.”

“The last few deposits I’ve received have been pretty quick. People have been thinking about it for a while and are ready to make a decision.”

  1. Digital is hotter than ever.

One marketer shared, “A majority of leads are coming from the internet and family referrals. Really the online space is what’s driving the most traffic.”

According to another participant, “We’ve been super busy with a lot more leads (especially email leads). We do a lot of digital ads, which direct people to our website to fill out a form. We also get a lot of requests through our autochat.” Another participant shared the love for online marketing, saying, “We have that constant flow to the website. It’s been a nice flow in light of us not making a huge effort.”

  1. Outdoor events are popular, with virtual still in the mix.

One community hosted an outdoor Earth Day event. “It’s a grab-and-go event, and the purpose of it is to get people to step on our property, get a goodie bag and say hello,” the participant explained. Another community is focusing on virtual seminars: “We had 14 people join the first one (on incontinence, promoting our short-term rehab offering) and it went really well. Tonight’s webinar is a food demo (brownies with blood orange-infused olive oil).”

  1. Staging is selling.

Many communities find staging to be a tried-and-true, but highly effective, tool that sells units faster.

“We have a flat rate with someone local who does our staging, and these apartments always go quickly when people see what she’s done,” said one participant. Another community calls the area where future residents can select their finishes their “Design Center.” New residents can pick paint colors, finishes, flooring, etc. Another participant also referenced the staging of AL apartments as a marketing tactic.

  1. Marketing AL to IL residents is working.

Some communities are finding that their best customers for AL are already living on campus in IL.

“We actually did an open house with our IL residents to showcase AL,” one marketer said. “We had four AL residents show their apartments, so residents can see what it looks like living in an AL residence. Another community had a different tactic: “Moving forward, I would consider inviting the IL family members to our next open house to showcase AL.”

  1. There are almost too many CRM choices.

Marketers have a bewildering number of choices in Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs), with a wide array of high-tech bells and whistles. One participant said, “We use Enquire and have for a little over a year. It has a marketing automation platform called MAP that we’re in the process of implementing now. It looks like a very robust platform.” Another marketer commented, “We use MatrixCare Marketing for everything. It’s a good system.” Other communities referenced using Sherpa, SharpSpring, Mailchimp, RHS, HubSpot and Yardi.

  1. Staffing issues are rampant.

Staffing in senior living has always been a challenge, but in the post-COVID environment, the competition for team members is even more competitive. One participant said, “As we’re staffing up our new building, literally no one has applied for housekeeping.” Another marketer commented, “We’ve hired a few people, but within a week or two they get paid more somewhere else. We’re having a hard time with the pay scale. They just don’t stay.”

One community has found a solution: “We’ve offered a signing bonus with a time limit, so we know that we will at least keep them until that bonus.” Another participant, who is having a particularly hard time filling CNA positions, said, “We started our own CNA school and do all of the training at our community, which has helped a lot.”

Here’s hoping May is filled with more good news, from reopenings to move-ins! Look for our next recap of our roundtable discussions in your inbox.

Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our 46th Sales & Marketing Roundtable, professionals around the country shared the latest news at their communities: Virtually all residents are getting the vaccine, families are impatient with CMS regulations, and prospects are slowly opening up to the idea of a move.

Please check out the recap below, and join us for our next roundtable this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, March 4, at noon ET. For login information, please email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

During our 45th weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable, we heard positive news: The vaccine is working, cases are down and marketers are feeling optimistic overall, although they’re adjusting sales goals because of the pandemic.

Check out the recap below, and please join us for our next virtual discussion this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 25, at noon ET

For login information, please email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

During our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable, communities shared how they are struggling to manage family and resident expectations amidst shifting state and national quarantine policies.

Check out the highlights below, and please join us for our next virtual lunchtime session this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 18, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

As the long-awaited vaccine arrives in senior living, some communities are using access to it as a selling tool to attract potential residents. But should they proceed with caution?

This topic, which has come up in Varsity’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable, has also caught the attention of McKnight’s Senior Living. In this recent article, they reached out to Derek Dunham, Varsity’s VP of Client Services, for his take on the issue. Read the full story here.

 

Last Wednesday, we held our first monthly virtual Continuing Care at Home Roundtable! A group of professionals from across the country pooled their knowledge and shared sales and marketing tactics that are succeeding during COVID-19.

Please join us for our next Continuing Care at Home Roundtable on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com. 

At our 42nd sales and marketing roundtable, we learned how residents are eagerly getting the vaccine (and communities are telling the world), but team members are dragging their feet.

Check out the recap below, and please join us for our next virtual discussions this week: our new Continuing Care At Home Roundtable, to be held the first Wednesday of the month, and our regular weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable every Thursday.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 4, 2021, at noon ET.

We will also be starting a similar Continuing Care At Home Roundtable discussion, to be held the first Wednesday of the month. Our first meeting will be Wednesday, February 3, at noon ET.

To receive login information for one or both roundtables, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

At our 41st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, the mood was on the upswing as the vaccine gave inquiries and sales at communities around the country a boost.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 28, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our first sales & marketing roundtable of the new year, communities discussed the exciting news of the COVID-19 vaccine and shared tips for virtual events and video floor plans.

 

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 14, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

During our final roundtable of the year, communities shared what they learned in 2020 and how they’re anxiously awaiting the vaccine.

Check out the highlights below, and please join us for our first roundtable of 2021 after the holiday break.

Please join our first roundtable of the year on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 37th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities discussed the light at the end of the tunnel and shared how they’ll be implementing the vaccine.

Dig into the recap below, and please join us for our next roundtable this week.

Please join our last roundtable of 2020 on Thursday, December 17, at noon ET.

This will be our last discussion of the year, but we will start back up in early 2021!

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As they deal with cases and closures during the holidays, participants of our weekly sales and marketing roundtable are experiencing a mix of emotions: worry about current COVID spikes and hope for the coming vaccine.

Check out the recap below, and please feel free to join us for our next roundtable, later this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 10, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

At our 35th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared the spiking COVID rates in their respective states, and how they’re marketing differently in this environment.

Please check out the recap below. We also invite you to attend our next roundtable, the Thursday after Thanksgiving Day.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 3, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

 

At our 34th sales and marketing roundtable, we shared our successes and setbacks during the pandemic. We were also fortunate to have one participant share takeaways from this year’s SMASH conference.

Check out the recap and conference takeaways below. We also invite you to attend our next roundtable this week.

Takeaways from the SMASH Conference 

Over 200 sales and marketing professionals from senior living organizations of all sizes across the U.S. participated. One of our roundtable attendees shared these takeaways:

Biggest Sales and Marketing Trends

  1. Since COVID-19, leads and occupancy have plunged across the board.
  2. The deepest occupancy decreases have been in assisted living, with the toughest objection being “Why would I move my mom into assisted living when I know I won’t be able to see her for months?”
  3. Marketing budgets are not being cut and, in many instances, they are being increased.
  4. Marketing dollars are being reallocated from events and on-site activities to digital, SEO/SEM, virtual tours, videos and webinars.
  5. Marketing automation (automated lead nurture) is by far the #2 marketing priority after digital paid search and search engine optimization (SEO/SEM).
  6. Marketing messages have pivoted for assisted living and memory care to safety and security. IL messages are still about lifestyle, with a bit of safety and security in the message mix.
  7. Website — making sure the messages are appropriate/correct for the times. For most senior living communities, COVID-19 info has recently been moved from front and center to a smaller tab on the homepage, still easily accessible.
  8. Salespeople across the board are still focusing 100% of their time on sales, including nurturing the wait list/depositors, cold calling, working through the database, delivering treats/meals to depositors, virtual tours, apartment tours, answering website/call leads, etc. Activity team members, as well as social workers and front desk team members, are taking care of all window/outside visits, temperature taking, Facetime/Skyping with family members, virtual doctor visits, etc.
  9. Sales messaging, especially for assisted living — do not lead with COVID-19. We are living with COVID-19 24/7; however, prospects are calling us because mom/dad needs more help. They want to know how we can help them first and foremost.
  10. “Backstage Pass” — can’t tour the community, but can tour individual apartments.

Interesting Sales and Marketing Stats

  • New reality — 90% of prospects do not want to talk with us. They just want more information (which they are finding digitally via Google, website, videos, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Across the U.S. in CCRCs:
    • 43% increase in cost per conversion in digital search
    • 39% decrease in goal completion (filling out a form, calling, etc.)
    • 103% increase in phone calls (these are not all sales calls)
  • 70% of adult daughters find care for their parents through digital (up from 50% not so long ago)
  • Google will drive 90% of digital leads
  • 77% of searches for senior care begin online … even for skilled nursing
  • 80% of senior living search online is Google, Facebook and individual community websites
  • 6 billion minutes of content per week are consumed via video
  • 3 connected devices per person — and we switch between them all day long
  • Average number of brand touchpoints = six per person … up from two 10 years ago.
  • 92% of consumers begin their healthcare search online — with 6,000 searches related to long-term care EVERY HOUR
  • 88% of residents overall would recommend LTC. (Perception: 24% of seniors don’t want to move to LTC. Reality: 88% who live in LTC really love it.)

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 19, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@Varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our 33rd weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we shared how we’re feeling this week. We also discussed a plastic wall that was set up by one community to allow residents and family to hug, shown below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 12, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we all shared creative tactics we’re using to attract prospects as COVID-19 rates spike in some areas. We’d especially like to thank Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) for sharing the latest insights from executive surveys completed since the pandemic hit.

Check out the insights and survey results below. We also invite you to our next roundtable this week.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

The full report is on the NIC website. Wave 14 findings can be found here.

We had 70 organizations respond to wave 14:

  • Not the same 70 for every wave, but 60–70% are repeat takers, so there is some continuity.
  • Geographical dispersion of respondents:
    • There’s a slight underrepresentation in the Northeast compared to national coverage of the NIC map.
    • For the most part, participants are coming from all over the country.
  • We’re promoting this more strongly with operators, as we’re getting some national media exposure.
    • It is important for operators to know that, by participating in the survey, they have the opportunity to ensure that the narrative is accurate.

  • We went from ⅓ in wave 10 (early August) to just under ⅔ in the most recent wave — a lot more organizations are offering rent concessions.
  • 90% of organizations are paying overtime to mitigate staffing issues.
  • Staffing/temp agency usage has grown throughout the pandemic.
  • About ⅔ of organizations that have IL in portfolio are offering rent concessions.
  • Organizations with nursing care are less likely to offer rent concessions.
  • Discussion from the group:
    • We are giving concessions on entrance fees and support on moving services.
    • We are offering $3,000 toward moving expenses and incentives to get people to move more quickly.

  • Organizations reporting no change in pace have been growing. It’s the highest it’s been in wave 14.
  • Deceleration of move-ins is lower in IL, AL and MC in wave 14.
  • Most respondents are citing increased resident demand (increase in move-ins).
  • Fewer organizations with nursing care beds in wave 14 reported acceleration in the pace of move-ins, with the fewest respondents citing hospital placement since wave 7 surveyed mid-May — presumably due to anecdotal reports of hospitals sending patients straight home to recuperate from surgeries or illnesses with in-home health care.
  • A quarter of organizations have a backlog of residents waiting to move in.

  • Organizations may be providing incentives. The month-over-month change in occupancy has been starting to rise.
  • About ¼ of the organizations that have IL in their portfolio; ⅓ of those with AL; ½ of those with MC; and about ½ with nursing care are seeing an upward change in occupancy rates in the past 30 days.
  • Fewer folks that have IL are seeing a decrease in occupancy.
  • 48% in nursing care are seeing increases, and 37% are seeing decreases.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 5, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 30th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared out-of-the-box, socially distanced ideas they’re using to get people to campus.

Find out how to make these ideas work at your community by checking out the recap below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 22, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

During our latest COVID-19 roundtable, communities talked about the changing moods in their respective states and exchanged advice for successful virtual events.

Dig into the summary below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming this week!

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 10, at noon ET.

Aging-services expert Scott Townsley from Trilogy Consulting will join us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Last week, at our sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared creative ways to drive move-ins and brainstormed solutions to their biggest reopening challenges.

Dig into the recap below. Please also join us for our next virtual roundtable, coming this week!

 

Please join our next roundtable discussions on Thursday, September 3, and Thursday, September 10, at noon ET.

On September 10, aging services expert Scott Townsley from Trilogy Consulting will be joining us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, Varsity team members Cory Lorenz, Media Director, and Cara Stefchak, Senior Social Media Strategist, joined us to share their thoughts on social media and digital media use during the pandemic.

Check out the highlights below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable next week!

Thoughts on social media from Cara Stefchak: 

Hello, everyone! Last time I joined you, I talked about content creation and brainstorming around what makes good content and best practices. I wanted to keep it more informal this time. I wanted to address some things I saw in last week’s roundtable—activities that I thought would make great social content.

  • Think about how a video tour or other event can be leveraged on social
    • I encourage you to work with whomever is filming and editing to get multiple deliverables out of a project. Engagement falls off at the two-minute mark for Facebook content, and one minute for an Instagram post. Always look at what your video is—how you can slice and dice it in different ways to provide you with legs on social media.
    • Design for sound off. We always encourage people to keep in mind that viewers may have their sound off. If someone is narrating the tour, include captions and include your logo early in the video to help communicate your message.
    • Two minutes is the longer end of things. Really, you have probably just a few seconds to get your audience’s attention. With a community tour, you probably have more leeway, but it’s still a good idea to catch their attention in the first few seconds to get them to hang on a little longer.
    • Question: How do you upload a longer video?
      • Answer: If you upload a video that is longer than one minute to Instagram, it will prompt you to go directly to Instagram TV. It will sense that it is too long for the feed, and that it should go to Instagram TV.
    • Question: Can you add captions to an iPhone video? 
      • Answer: You can’t do Instagram Live or Facebook Live with captions—you have to add them post-filming. Facebook has smart captioning, and it might be able to detect your voice, but I would still go back through and make sure everything is correct.
  • Virtual events make great social content—whether it’s bingo, or happy hour, or having folks share a meal in their room.
    • Always try to remove as many barriers as possible for participation.
      • Prepare for the event in advance (provide the cards, markers, and step-by-step directions for logging on) to make it as user-friendly as possible.
      • Snap a photo of care packages/prizes outside doors, and share on social media channels. Doing so shows that, even though there’s social distancing, your teams are doing their best to keep residents engaged.
    • Question: Do you keep the activity in small groups of 5 or 6 or a bigger group of 30?  
      • Answer: Smaller might be helpful depending on how much participation you anticipate. You can communicate more easily that way and have more back and forth. When you get in those larger Zoom meetings, it’s hard to jump in and speak up. Smaller breakout groups are definitely a nice idea.
    • Tip: It doesn’t have to be: “We need to do something for social content.”

A lot of things you’re already doing. Ask yourself: What activities do we have that could be nice to capture and share out on social? It’s a smart way to show people that life is going on, and life is still great in the community. It’s always nice when you can share a virtual event. It gives an impression of vitality and vibrancy.

  • What virtual events are you doing right now? 
    • We’ve posted some of our activities on Facebook—short programs with people exercising in the courtyard.
    • One community wanted to have a celebrity chef do a cooking demonstration, so they sent ingredients to those who RSVPed. We’re still working on setting it up
  • What moments are coming up that you could build an event around?

September 16 is National Play-Doh Day. Maybe artists can create with Play-Doh. It’s an excuse for something fun. There’s never a shortage of those interesting holidays that you’ve never heard of.

Grandparents Day: What a time to highlight intergenerational connections.

Instead of having grandchildren visit, grandparents can make gifts for grandchildren, and they could be delivered.Grandparents can share advice for grandchildren, and it can be shared on social.

  • Is anyone addressing COVID concerns directly in social content? If so, what response have you gotten?
    • I follow a lot of clients and I haven’t seen much lately.
    • We’ve been sharing our COVID status and policies via Constant Contact. People are sharing how grateful they are that we are taking care of the community. We’ve been COVID-free since June 1.
    • Have you purposely not put that content on social? No, we just haven’t thought about it, but I guess we also haven’t wanted to brag about being COVID-free because that could change tomorrow.
  • Question: A lot of people I know had their Instagram accounts hacked. How can we stop that?
    • Answer: Update your passwords. (Since our personal Instagram is our gateway to community sites, it’s even more important to make that more secure.) Another person said, “I recently had my accounts hacked. There’s a link you can use to report to Facebook that this isn’t you.”

Cory Lorenz presented an Enquire data slide showing recent media trends:

Cory: Social media inquiries are up year to year, and email is up huge. Conversely, direct mail is taking a hit, and out-of-home and paid referrals are way down. We’re curious whether this looks accurate to you for your specific communities. Are you seeing the same trends?

  • Internal referrals are down a little, but we’re working on a new testimonial campaign
  • We’re getting more leads from the internet and email; direct mail has flattened out.
  • We’ve cut way back on direct mail and advertising—it’s expensive in big-city markets. Most of my referrals are coming fromfriends, family and other people who are aware of the community.
  • We are getting more internet advertising referrals, and paid professional referrals are down. Since you can’t have events anymore, that’s one reason direct mail is taking such a hit.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 27, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

As communities gathered virtually last week, most people seemed to be feeling frustrated, finding that prospects of late are need-driven. On a positive note, salespeople realized they aren’t alone, and it was comforting to know that others are in the same boat.

Check out the highlights of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up next week.

J

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on August 13!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 13, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

Last week, communities swapped ideas about marketing during challenging times. Varsity partner and WildFig President John Bassounas joined our roundtable to share his thoughts on the importance of using data to drive decisions.

Check out a recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next roundtable coming up this week.

Recap of John Bassounas’ discussion on data and analytics:

We believe that:

  • The future belongs to organizations that embrace a data-driven approach.
  • A comprehensive data strategy is at the core of a winning organization.
  • Analytical applications transcend disciplines and drive efficiency across the entire organization.
  • First-party data, plus open-source data, has significant potential to transform strategy and drive positive outcomes.

Why be data-driven?

  • Consistency
  • Longevity
  • Awareness
  • Responsiveness
  • Reason-based decisions
  • Dynamic feedback

What are common obstacles to using data?

  • Lack of strategy
  • Poor objective mapping
  • Resource limitations
  • Lack of integration—data is in silos
  • Poor collaboration
  • Technology crisis
  • Situational awareness
  • Skill deficits
  • Organizational culture
  • No adaptive response
  • Scalability issues
  • Institutional bias

Analytics continuum

  • Keep things simple—ask what questions need answers, and what data can help provide insight?
  • It’s valuable to look at data through a descriptive lens.
  • The more forward-looking the question, the more value it has for the organization.

Who is responsible for analyzing the data you collect?

  • We have a web partner that does Google Analytics, and a digital marketing person on staff who pulls data. I was also a market analyst, so I do a lot of the analyzing myself, through Enquire. We’re not currently using open-source data.
  • Once you collect and analyze the data, it’s important to get it to the right person, and teach them how to act on it/make it actionable.
    • Situational awareness
    • For example, we take fall data and present to a fall committee, which can make the findings actionable and integrate changes seamlessly into day-to-day behavior.
      • Fall data may inform decisions about ramps, bars for walking, needed staff, etc.
      • Frequent fallers may have decreased engagement in wellness programming, and there may be an opportunity to re-engage them.
    • Allows for proactive vs. reactive decision making
  • We are in a position to predict the likelihood of a person contracting COVID-19 when they onboard to a community.

If you’re interested in seeing data and analytics examples, or tools that we use, please let us know. We would be happy to share any of the tools and walk you through the process in more detail. This is an opportunity for differentiation, growth and efficiency, and we would love to share more information. Contact John Bassounas directly, at JBassounas@VarsityBranding.com, or contact Derek Dunham at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on July 9!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 9, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

As more areas open up, communities met virtually for roundtable #14 to discuss this week’s reopenings and answer one another’s questions.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Questions from attendees:

What can our resident panel talk about in an upcoming Zoom call?

Ideas discussed:

  • Ask residents to share what they’ve been up to on campus (and the fun they’re having)
  • Talk about dining and activities
  • Discuss safety protocols in place
  • Talk about how the administration communicates with residents and keeps them engaged
    • Were you respected as a resident and individual?
    • How did the community try to keep life as normal as possible?
    • Do you have any regrets or wish you were still at home? (Use caution on this one; make sure you know what the resident will say)
  • Contrast social engagement vs. social isolation

One participant asked about struggling with visually interacting with prospects since they can’t meet in person. How do residents interact with people? Is a Zoom meeting better than a Zoom webinar platform?

Ideas discussed:

  • Webinars are good for larger conferences, and meetings seem to be better for more personal interactions with fewer than 10 to 15 people
  • Zoom meetings allow for breakout rooms and more personal conversations
  • Strive to book a private Zoom meeting in the days following a presentation to have a more personal conversation

We will explore this topic more in next week’s roundtable.

Join the next roundtable on July 2!

Come kick off the holiday weekend at our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 2, at noon ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As more cities opened up, communities met virtually for roundtable #13 to discuss this week’s triumphs and tribulations.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

 

Join the next roundtable on June 25!

You are welcome to join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, June 25, at 12 p.m. ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Last Thursday, communities came together to talk about the need to market their communities differently in the current environment.

You’ll find a recap of the discussion below. Please also feel free to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on June 11!

You are welcome to join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, June 11, at 12 p.m. ET. Our Senior Social Media Strategist, Cara Stefchak, will share social media trends and best practices against the backdrop of Covid-19.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

As social distancing continues, communities came together for roundtable #9 to share their ideas and challenges. Robinson Smith, creative director at Varsity, joined our discussion to share insights on brand-centric messaging during quarantine.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Insights from Rob’s discussion on creative messaging:

Rob shared this video, which essentially highlights how painfully similar much of the COVID-19 advertising is.

  • Every commercial is exactly the same, with catchphrases like: “uncertain times,” “home” and “together.”
  • Brands want to let you know they were there for you in the past, are with you now and will be with you moving forward. While these messages of hope and empathy are important as we move forward, it’s critical not to lose sight of the brands we’ve worked so hard to establish. We need to make sure we’re not abandoning them, especially as normal community marketing will not return for quite some time.
  • While all communities want to communicate that they care about the safety of their team members and residents, they also should make sure that they are talking about their BRANDS and are leveraging the messages that they have put out into the marketplace and established over time.
  • At Varsity, we talk about branding and brand personalities in terms of archetypes. The caregiver archetype is typically the archetype of industry, so it’s not a long-term solution for individual community branding as we go forward. Communities need to be intentional about expressing their own voices — explorers, magicians, lovers — and make sure that the things that set them apart from competitors are being stated in true, unique and compelling ways.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on May 28!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, May 28, at 12 p.m. ET.

Jackie Stone, Varsity VP of sales, will be joining us for part of the session to share her insights on virtual event topics and processes.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Response to our COVID-19 conversations continues to be enthusiastic, so we held Sales & Marketing Roundtable #3 last week. For those who weren’t able to make it,  the high points are below.

We’re gathering for our next virtual discussion this week, and all are invited to attend.

 

Join the next roundtable on April 16!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, April 16, at noon ET, for a sales & marketing discussion.

You don’t have to be a client to join the conversation — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

Today’s blog is contributed by Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR Strategist. Kim has more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing public relations campaigns for a diverse roster of clients, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ad Council, The Coca-Cola Company, Kohl’s, Johnson & Johnson, Messiah Lifeways, Presby’s Inspired Life and many more.

Kim has placed stories for her clients with top-tier and trade outlets, including Today, Good Morning America, Real Simple, The New York Times, O —The Oprah Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Business Journals, WSJ, USA Today, 50Plus Life, McKnight’s and Senior Living News, among others.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself an important question: Are you telling your organization’s story? Every organization has a story to tell — you just need to find the most impactful way to package it up and deliver it to a broader audience.

Here are some time-tested tips and strategies that have proven effective in telling the stories of my clients’ communities.

Tip 1: Contact the media when you don’t have anything to announce
It’s so important to build relationships with the industry and your local journalists so that when you do need to make an announcement or handle a crisis, you have already made a connection. It can be as easy as sending a quick email or making a phone call to introduce yourself as a resource for future stories.

Tip 2: Know the reporters that cover your market
Learn who covers senior living, then read their articles and follow them on social media. Drop the person a note and say, “I found your article about (TOPIC) interesting because…”  Take it a step forward and share his or her article on your social media channels. Everyone likes a good share!

Tip 3: Attend conferences
Many times, industry journalists are open to learning more about your organization. Book 15-minute one-on-one interviews with these reporters and offer something of value or uniqueness to them. It’s a great way to start building relationships.

Tip 4: Think local
Everyone wants stories in large dailies, but the hyper-local papers are just as important and most often are looking for content.

Tip 5: Spotlight the people that make your community unique
The residents and staff who live and work in your community are what make you truly different. Think about how you can highlight their special qualities in feature stories. Tell these stories through traditional media outlets and share them on your social media channels.

Tip 6: Tap into teachable moments
Look at events that happen throughout the year, such as Older Americans Month in May. Create an editorial calendar to make sure you don’t miss out on times of the year to pitch a story about your community.

Tip 7: Always ask, “What’s the visual?”
If you want coverage for an event, you have to think about what’s going to be visually interesting about it, especially if you want local TV stations to attend your event. Most newspapers and magazines are online too, so think about what the visual is for them, as well. They, too, are looking for video content and photography that can bring a story to life, be shareable and get clicks.

Tip 8: Connect with local universities
If you don’t have money in your budget to hire a professional photographer or videographer, communications departments can connect you with students looking to gain experience.

Tip 9: Think intergenerational
One of our clients hired high school students to help set up residents’ iPads and their mobile phones, download apps, etc. Bringing older adults and high school students together made for a great story!

Tip 10. Have a crisis plan
If there’s any type of incident at your community, it’s really important to have a strategic plan with a designated team in place to execute it. Stay tuned for more about this in an upcoming blog post.

Tip 11: Get social
As traditional media continues to downsize, social media is going to be even more important in your overall communications strategy. It’s important to have a cohesive plan among all of your teams and communities.

Tip 12: Position yourself as an expert
Journalists are always looking for unique stories and fresh perspectives that include new data and research findings. Op Ed pieces, proprietary research and participation in polls are all effective ways to position your community as an expert.

Tip 13: Ask, will the audience care?
Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. You may think something is really interesting, but not everything is newsworthy.

Tip 14: Take advantage of outside expertise
If you are struggling to uncover your story and tell that story in a meaningful way, then look to hire an agency with a PR strategist. They most likely will have existing relationships with the industry media as well as local market outlets that they can leverage on your behalf. They will be able to assist you with crafting key messaging, media training your spokespeople and pitching your stories to media outlets that matter most to your organization.

Tip 15: Have fun!
Telling your community’s story can be fun — whether you’re throwing an event or sharing a story about a resident who skydives. Incorporate these tips and you’ll be on your way to telling your unique story to the broader community.

Coming in a future Varsity blog: I will share my thoughts on crisis PR.

Like many Americans, I took time out of my schedule to watch the recent hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And I’m sure that many of you are growing as weary as I am with the whole process. It seems that every media outlet has been constantly covering the political theater that has unfolded. To me, it’s felt nearly inescapable. Recently, I came across an interesting news article that relates the current political situation with the work that I do.

According to an article on readsludge.com, there has been a concerted effort by politically motivated groups to target female Baby Boomers, just like me, with Facebook ads that are opposed to the Kavanaugh nomination. In reviewing two days’ worth of new Facebook ads that mention Kavanaugh, nearly 37 percent of those ads were targeted at women over the age of 55. But why target Boomer women?

It has to do with the era in which they came of age — the late 1960s and the early 1970s. This was the time of women’s empowerment, the hippie movement and the Roe v. Wade case. Positive societal changes for women occurred at a rate previously unseen. At the forefront of those changes were young women in their teens and 20s. Now those same Baby Boomer women are becoming part of the debate about women’s rights in our modern age.

The Facebook ads that are targeting these women demonstrate the power of social media marketing. One political organization is spending $110 million on more than 100 different Facebook campaigns. If you are an American woman over the age of 55 who uses Facebook, you’re probably going to see one of these ads. This demographic also happens to be one of the fastest-growing and most-engaged groups on the platform. It’s a perfect storm for politicos, marketers and unknowing Boomer women.

As aging services marketers, what can we learn from this? First, the power of social media to market directly to Baby Boomer women is immense. We know that these women are the ones who will likely make health care and housing decisions in the next two decades. They also control a large amount of personal wealth in the form of homes, retirement accounts and pensions. Woe to the providers who do not keep up with the services and options that this consumer group desires. There is no doubt that they have an unprecedented ability to make or break senior living communities across the country.

Facebook offers a great way to provide targeted marketing to this demographic, but it has to be done in a way that is unobtrusive, intuitive and that provides value. In our daily work, the Varsity team specializes in deploying tactical social media marketing initiatives that reach the same consumers that these political ads are going after — and we only expect that to rise in the coming weeks prior to the mid-term elections. We are eager to see what kind of impact these political ads will have on female Boomer behavior and whether that will reverberate into our marketing efforts on behalf of our clients.

Do you know what the world’s best-selling album is?

Up until early-September 2018, it was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” A masterpiece of modern musical artistry, few thought it would be dethroned anytime soon. Then, something unexpected happened: Baby Boomers started buying one of their favorite records — “Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)” by the Eagles. Suddenly, the King of Pop found himself dethroned by Don Henley and his crew.

It’s been said that musical tastes are solidified in your early 30s. Whatever music you are jamming to during that phase of your life will probably become your sound for decades to come. For Baby Boomers, this means that Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, the Bee Gees, Queen and the Who (just to name a few) are most likely responsible for the tunes that most Boomers enjoy. This probably isn’t a surprising idea, but for retirement communities, it can open up a whole new world.

Often, we encounter senior living organizations that want to recruit from the youngest demographic of Baby Boomers — and for good reason! They have plenty of income, will probably be stable residents once they move in and lend an air of vibrancy with their presence. Yet, when we look at the events that communities are using to attract these types of buyers, we find a disconnect. Swing music and big-band acts top the event circuit, when in reality, a Chicago cover band might be more in order.

It’s an important question to ask yourself — are you tailoring your events to the residents that you want, or are you creating events for the residents that are showing up? It’s a “chicken-egg” question, for sure. As senior living marketing professionals, we have to keep our communities filled and functional, so taking a chance on an act or event that appeals to a younger crowd — which might take longer to make a buying decision — can be a hard choice.

We’re not saying that you must change your event plans overnight; rather, we’re advocating for you to think of the big picture. In three to five years, how will your community be engaging with Boomers? What music is playing when they come in the door? Are the activities appealing to the right age demographic? It’s easy for us to get stuck in our day-to-day roles and suddenly find ourselves unable to step back and look ahead.

Source

https://musicmachinery.com/2014/02/13/age-specific-listening/

How do you define “seniors” for the purpose of marketing a product or service?

Are they age 55 and over?

Past the age of 62?

65 and up?

Our society has created several colloquial break points in age that serve to denote when someone becomes a “senior.” But, as aging services marketers, we know that the views of a 55-year-old are very different than the views of a 75-year -old. Heck, would you lump a 25-year-old person into the same demographic as a 45-year-old? Probably not! Yet, a significant number of marketing platforms do just that.

Take Google Ads, for instance. This platform is responsible for delivering most search engine marketing ads, sometimes abbreviated SEM (or PPC, for pay-per-click.) Within Google Ads, you can target your messaging to specific age ranges. These are:

  • 18-24
  • 25-34
  • 35-44
  • 45-54
  • 55-64
  • 65+

This provides a real challenge for those working in our space. If someone is retiring at 62, they are lumped in with people who are only 55, and might be several years away from retirement. Alternatively, someone who just turned 65 will not be receiving ads that could be meant for a far older crowd. This really makes marketing products to so-called “seniors” very hard, as Google’s arbitrary age break doesn’t follow standard societal conventions.

Google isn’t alone in this, however. Facebook uses the same arbitrary age break points that Google does. In fact, most online (and even some offline) marketing services use these categories. This puts us in a quandary – how do we, as people working in this space – advocate for our needs and still find success in the meantime.

At Varsity, we are taking a two-pronged approach. First, we are beginning to advocate to our partners for more granular demographics, especially for those in the over-65 category. At least give people over 65 the same 10-year break points that others get! We are also gathering demographic and psychometric data for those over the age 65. This data will continually impact our digital marketing strategies. We are always learning and trying to work smarter for our partners, and this kind of data forms a cornerstone of our success.

We are calling on other senior living marketers to advocate for this change as well. The more voices that can be heard, the better! 65+ isn’t an age. It isn’t a mindset. It’s an arbitrary demarcation that doesn’t represent the vibrancy, intelligence and diversity that older adults show.

We hope you’ll join us in making our voices heard and providing a “fresh perspective” to our media partners.

Aging services marketing is becoming more sophisticated each day. Providers continue to add tools to their marketing toolboxes, including a plethora of new digital marketing options. From IP targeting to marketing automation and display retargeting, each of these tactics comes with benefits as well as costs. How well do you understand them?

Created by our in-house communications team, and based on real-world experience in managing digital marketing campaigns for aging services organizations, we believe this publication will be an excellent tool for you and your team to better understand the digital marketing options available to you.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the guide, complete the form below, and we’ll send it your way!
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Last week, it was announced that Toys “R” Us, the ubiquitous American children’s retailer, is filing for bankruptcy and shuttering a huge number of locations. As we read this news, it struck us that the retail chain is really a Boomer brand in a lot of ways. As of 2018, Toys “R” Us was a 70-year-old company. While it didn’t start specializing in toys until the late 1950s, the retailer has certainly been a part of mainstream American life for the better part of a century. Always curious, we asked ourselves what the demise of this brand says about Baby Boomers and changing generations.

First, we recognize that only a small part of the Baby Boomer generation would remember Toys “R” Us from their youth. As a brand, it was headquartered where it was founded, in Maryland. Of course, that means much of the early growth for Toys “R” Us was in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, limiting its initial exposure. Sure, some Boomers may remember the organization and its giraffe mascot from their childhood, but for most Boomers, this is a brand that has memories tied to the rearing of their children — rather than to their own younger years — which makes it an especially interesting brand to understand.

Boomer parents built Toys “R” Us; Millennial parents and Boomer grandparents killed it.

For many Generation X and Millennial children, Toys “R” Us was a fabled destination that their parents took them to as a treat. It was a fantasyland where kids ruled and toys were the only product to look at. For Boomer parents, it’s where they would go to purchase the hot toy at Christmas, a child’s first bike in the spring and that newfangled Nintendo that hooked up to the television. By being a category-killer retailer, the brand was able to push out any competition, helping it to corner the market. Because of this, Toys “R” Us found that it had become a part of the American experience of raising children. Family memories were created at and because of Toys “R” Us stores — but the retailer failed to keep up with the times.

First, came the big-box stores, especially Walmart and Target, which have continued to expand their toy selection throughout the years. Why would a parent go to Toys “R” Us when they could just pick up a treat for their child at the store they were already at? This turned Toys “R” Us into a destination store rather than a habitual stop. From that angle, it makes sense. We’ve all seen the unbridled passion of a child let loose in a toy store. This excitement can easily become a parent’s worst nightmare — screaming children begging for an expensive toy, as well as tantrums galore. A trip to Toys “R” Us could just as easily devolve into a parental hellscape as much as create a lasting memory.

Then came the Generation Xers and the Millennials. They were the ones who had thrown themselves to the tiled floor of a Toys “R” Us as children, crying until a toy was purchased. Having been the child in that situation, newer generations eschewed the brand, opting instead to purchase toys in a different way — online and at steep discounts.

Why chance a tantrum in the aisle when you could just sit at home on your laptop and make a purchase? Plus, as a consumer, you were no longer limited to what was on the shelf. If little Emma wants a Malibu Barbie, why go to a store that is probably sold out? Surely Amazon has the exact doll in stock and ready to ship, arriving at your door in two days or less.

Convenience. Service. Choice.

These are the factors that lead to the downfall of Toys “R” Us. As aging services providers, we can learn from this very public brand collapse. Are we repositioning our services and amenities to appeal to a changing consumer? When the Boomer phases out as our target consumer — which is still a decade or more down the road — how will we change our marketing strategy to appeal to Generation X and, later, to Millennials?

While many aging services marketers will retire before that reality hits, we must recognize that the marketing coordinators and salespeople that we are hiring today are the marketing directors of tomorrow. They are learning from our leadership, and we must be conscious of the future to come. Otherwise, we could end up just like Toys “R” Us: a fond memory of a brand built by the generation before, which just didn’t keep up with the times.

Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toys_%22R%22_Us

At Varsity, we’re always looking for inspiration and ideas on ways we can improve communications and marketing for our clients. Like any industry, we review what thought leaders are doing to help us keep current with trends and innovations, but that strategy can only get you so far. If you’re always working to keep up with the competition, you’re never really taking the lead. This caused us to ask, “What industry is like ours, has a similar sales funnel and encounters the same kinds of challenges?”

The answer was simple, really — post-secondary education.

Today, colleges and universities spend millions of dollars each year trying to attract just the right mix of students to their institutions. They build beautiful campuses, filled with state-of-the-art learning facilities, luxurious amenities and grandiose sports fields, all in an effort to entice potential students to choose them over their competitors. They aren’t just selling the degree; they’re selling the lifestyle. It becomes about self-identity and being part of something bigger than yourself.

The marketing techniques being employed by these schools aren’t entirely dissimilar to those that retirement communities are beginning to use.

Selling someone retirement at a community isn’t about whether you have the right floor plans or enough square footage for their furniture. Today’s retirees are looking for a well-rounded community that provides a variety of engaging activities, high-quality dining options, beautiful living spaces, security and a sense of belonging. Just as students are proud to show off the school they attend, our residents are proud to talk about the community they chose to retire to — and why not? They spent their hard-earned retirement investments to enjoy their lives at a community full of their peers, just as college students do.

As we reviewed marketing materials from post-secondary schools, especially their websites and social media presences, we found similar themes to the messages we need to convey in retirement living.

Schools provide communications targeted at several varying audiences:

  • Current students
  • Potential students
  • Parents
  • Alumni and donors
  • Employees

In the same vein, senior marketing strategies work to reach the same types of groups:

  • Current residents
  • Potential residents
  • Families
  • Community partners
  • Employees

While not all of these groups will directly lead to a sale, interacting with them provides a complete and holistic view of our brand and communities. It shows that we care for all who support our mission.

This revelation has led us to look for inspiration. How do colleges and universities market themselves? How can this guide retirement living marketing? While the target audience is slightly different, the driving forces are the same. By understanding the drivers and emotions at play in that decision process, we can better communicate with our audience, providing them with easy access to the answers they’re looking for. This, ultimately, puts us in a better position to demonstrate that one community is the best place for them compared to others.

While your retirement community may not have a popular mascot, a well-known sports program or scientific research lab, it does have one important thing in common with college: heart. The years spent in retirement are just as important — if not more so — than the years spent in college. They are to be enjoyed and cherished.

That’s the message we try to convey every day at Varsity, and it’s a challenge we love.

 

“I just don’t like the look of our website,” says the sales & marketing director.

“Our printed material feels dated and isn’t representing us,” remarks the CFO.

“Life in our communities is bright and vibrant. I don’t get that feeling from our communications,” laments a board member.

These are all paraphrased responses that we’ve heard from organizations with which we’ve partnered. They aren’t uncommon sentiments, and it’s these types of opportunities that we work with every day. Having encountered these statements many times, we’ve learned that there is usually one common thread:

The design isn’t dated, but the photography is.

Having a repository of high-quality photos that can be used for your marketing efforts is one of the most overlooked resources in the aging services space. Everything that marketing does is affected by not having a file of up-to-date imagery from which to draw. Additionally, in our field, these images routinely become stale because of resident transitions and health concerns. A great photo can become unusable overnight, leaving you with a gap in the marketing imagery that is crucial for your success.

As a creative director, one of my biggest challenges is working to keep an organization’s marketing efforts fresh and interesting. While graphic design is a key part of each piece of collateral, having a strong library of photography is so very important. I liken it to having to work with a limited palette of colors — it can be an enjoyable challenge, but eventually, everything starts to look the same. Refreshing photographic assets can help shift a brand from stagnant to vibrant once again.

When a situation like this arises, we sometimes look to stock photography to fill in the gaps. Stock photography can provide the high-quality pictures needed to produce marketing products, but it also has the effect of feeling inauthentic, especially if someone sees the same piece of stock photography that is used for your community in another ad. Obviously, we want potential residents to feel engaged with your unique brand platform, making a library of photos that depict your organization appropriately much more valuable. For additional thoughts on how we’ve used stock photography at Varsity, check out our Engage: Boomers article, titled “The Real Way to Reach Baby Boomers.

At a minimum, you should refresh your photography once every two years. If you can afford to do it every year, that’s even better! If you’re thinking about developing new marketing materials, whether they be print or digital, we at Varsity fully recommend that you engage a professional photographer sooner rather than later.

At Varsity, we’ve worked with some outstanding professionals who specialize in working with communities and residents like yours. If you need help finding the right photographer, let us know, and we’d be glad to help!

DRAGON: Divorced, Rich, Aged 65+, Overseas traveler, Networker

If you were to ask an aging services provider what his or her ideal potential resident looks like, you’d find many different definitions. In most cases, leads are qualified based upon income-producing assets, home value and, perhaps, some additional savings and/or investments. These people are ideal leads because they meet all of the financial criteria for moving into a community.

For this reason, they are prized candidates, often being competed over by several different aging services organizations. From the point of view of prospective residents, they are evaluating the amenities and floor plans that communities offer. But, at the end of the day, the biggest determining factor for choosing a community is culture. This is where understanding the DRAGON can help you convert those high-quality leads into residents.

The idea of the DRAGON coalesced around 2014, as marketers began to identify trends in the Baby Boomer demographic. For retirement communities, DRAGONS are ideals candidates because of their demographic profiles. They are wealthy, usually working with two retirement incomes. Being aged 65+, they meet the age requirements for community entry. As frequent travelers, they like the maintenance-free lifestyle that many campuses offer and, for the same reason, are less reliant year-round on on-campus amenities, such as restaurants, wellness centers and programming. Last, as natural networkers, they become excellent word-of-mouth marketers for your organization and can sing your praises to their friends and family, who may also fit the DRAGON demographic.

Identifying DRAGONs, and understanding why they are especially important leads for retirement communities, is just the start. How do you win them over and make them choose your community over all of the other options? The answer is simple — culture. As noted earlier, individuals make their retirement choices based heavily on the culture and feel of a community. Making your community physically appealing to DRAGONs is the first step. The harder step is getting the culture right. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and look at what might be appealing to DRAGONs.

First, they may look to more open and accepting cultures, especially in light of being divorced. Obviously, the community needs to be well-appointed and include many options and amenities. These work best in a community atmosphere where DRAGONs can spend time with friends and neighbors, where their natural networking talent shines. As travelers, they desire easy access to transportation, whether that is a train station or airport (but probably both!). Obviously, issues like location and access to transportation aren’t easily addressed by providers. In those cases, organizations should be ready to demonstrate what kind of accommodations they can make to ensure DRAGON needs are met, or alternatives offered that may better suit their lifestyle.

Take a few moments to put yourself in the shoes of a DRAGON and look at your community through his or her eyes. By doing so, you might be able to adjust your sales & marketing strategies, even if only slightly, to make a big difference in your appeal.

Poverty affects people of all ages and demographics. It is an especially relevant strain for those in the senior community. If trends continue, it is estimated that those 65 and older will face poverty rates similar to those during the Great Depression. Women are particularly vulnerable to this struggle. While the poverty rate of all seniors is alarming, studies show that women ages 65 and older are 80 percent more likely to be impoverished than men the same age. Regardless of race, marital status or educational background, senior women find themselves facing a 4.7 percent higher poverty rate than their male counterparts. In addition, those women 65 and older who live alone encounter the most extreme rates of poverty, with one in five suffering financially.

Why is there such a difference for this particular group?

Statistically, women live longer than men. The national average life expectancy is currently 79.13 years. For males, specifically, that average drops to 76.73. For females, it increases to 81.64 years. With the extra years come extra costs: housing, food, health care, etc. — and that is typically extra money that women might not have.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, for every dollar a man earns, a woman only earns around 79 cents. In addition, many women put careers on hold to become stay-at-home mothers. This means that women start out at an economic disadvantage coming into their retirement years, especially if they are alone.

Marketing to this group is important. Not only is made up of people who need what you may be offering, but it can fill a void you may be having in your communities. Those ever-tough-to-sell one-bedroom units could be the best fit for a single, widowed or divorced woman. These are the people who are looking for comfort and care but don’t have the money or need for certain amenities or extra space.

Another selling point for a community is that, generally, it is filled with women like those in the target group. The commodity of friendship can attract those who might not live with others or who think they are missing out on social activities because of where they are living.

When marketing to these women, focus on the benefits that a community can bring: security, socialization and a space meant for them. Know your audience and listen to their needs. In this case, the needs of your audience include an affordable place to live without the burden of too much space or upkeep. Give these women ways to live without breaking the bank. Provide opportunities for them to interact with others. Offer them an answer to their worries about retirement.