It’s that time of year again: time to get out the calculators and figure out what your community’s marketing budget will look like next year. That’s a tedious process during normal times. Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have a topsy-turvy situation that might just have you throwing darts at the wall to set numbers. (Please don’t. We don’t recommend it.)
“Every industry has been touched by the pandemic, and that includes the marketing industry,” says Melinda Schmitz, President of SageAge Strategies. “We at SageAge find ourselves in a unique situation because we also are part of another incredibly affected industry: senior living. I don’t need to tell you that this pandemic has changed business as normal for the foreseeable future, and may indeed change our approach to the industry as a whole.”
Melinda says that there are many lessons from 2020 that senior living marketing can learn as we move forward into the next year. “We have seen very clearly that the way we’ve always done things has to be adapted to reflect current times,” she says. “Much of 2020 was spent helping our client-partners experience paradigm shifts in their marketing approaches, adopting new technologies, focusing on crisis communication and providing practical yet optimistic messaging to residents and family members as well as prospects.”
What will senior living marketing look like in 2021? Melinda says there are plenty of watch-fors as well as plenty of opportunities.
“One thing’s for sure: marketing to your current and future residents is going to be even more important in the coming year,” she says. “Our industry is very well-suited to handle pandemics and outbreaks, and many of our client-partners have demonstrated that through their thoughtful, proactive approach to keeping team members and residents safe and healthy. Still, there are fears we must address and overcome to inform and reassure future residents that a senior community may, in fact, be the safest and best place to be if another pandemic wave hits us.”
What will it you need to do to create a successful marketing plan for 2021?
Audit your current plan.
Before building your 2021 budget, it’s essential to sit down with your current budget and plans. Does your lead generation email campaign need to be paused and re-worked to reflect the reality of pre-COVID life? Are there major campaigns or events that were scheduled early on in 2020 that now need to be rethought or canceled altogether?
Melinda cautions senior living operators to fight the urge to throw everything out the window and start from scratch. “You’ve dedicated a lot of time and money to building your current marketing campaigns, and you honestly don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “Like it or not, COVID-19 is here to stay and will more than likely shape our industry for the next several years. In order to maintain a strong presence, you’ll want to pivot your marketing to incorporate your branding along with more timely and appropriate messages that speak to today’s seniors and family members.”
Show off your value.
Once you’ve audited your current marketing plan, it’s time to dig into the ways your brand can specifically add value to your prospects and customers. This may mean rehauling your website or changing your social media strategy, says Melinda.
“Ultimately, your community exists to provide a safe, healthy home for older adults, and you want to make sure that benefit rings loud and clear on whatever platform you’re marketing on,” she says. As more and more communities invest in technologies like video tours, increased communication options and updated sanitation practices, your community will need to adapt appropriately and find ways to show off intrinsic value in ways that differentiate you from your competitors.
“Your prospects and families are looking to you to be a source of information and education, as well as a potential place to live,” Melinda says. “Building out your social platforms and website as a valuable resource will help you gain traction in the market, positioning you as an industry leader who can be trusted. When you’re able to get in front of your audience with information that is helpful and eases their concerns, they’ll be more apt to choose your brand over a competitor. However, this means you need to be in front of them where they are and when they are.”
Focus on specific outcomes.
Instead of focusing your marketing budget on specific tactics or channels, Melinda challenges communities to switch their thinking and instead focus their budgets on results. “Results do drive everything we do,” she says. “And although all our client-partners have similar goals, you need to think about how you can effectively use your marketing dollars to target, inform, nurture and build in very specific ways. By focusing on specific outcomes instead of specific channels, we can increase engagement, experience and growth holistically throughout all channels and all interactions of your brand.
What does this look like? One potential outcome, Melinda says, could be increasing current resident engagement and experience. “We spend so much time marketing to potential residents and prospects that it’s easy to forget about marketing to family members and current residents,” she says. “However, by marketing to your base – the people who call you home – you can end up with a halo effect that can influence those who are seeking the services you provide.”
For example, you could reframe parts of your website to be resident and family focused, providing information specific to your current community and encouraging interaction. Not only does this help build your internal community, but it’s an indirect way that shows prospects that you’re truly engaged in the thoughts, concerns and needs of your current population. “It’s the show, don’t tell method,” says Melinda.
As you embark on creating your 2021 marketing plan, we suggest
- Continuing to develop your prospect pipeline
- Strengthening your brand position
- Expanding digital presence and remote sales capabilities
- Remaining aware that messaging may need to be finessed more often than usual
Ultimately, developing a successful marketing budget for 2020 will require a lot of moving parts – which is why many client-partners turn to SageAge Strategies to help them develop a plan with the best ROI. “You already have enough on your plate managing a community in the age of COVID-19,” says Melinda. “As a marketing agency that exclusively serves the senior living space, we have more than 34 years of experience that allow us to hone in on successful tactics while using best practices and emerging technologies to meet your prospects where they are in ways that are highly successful.”
SageAge Strategies is a multiple-award-winning, strategic growth, marketing and consulting organization that operates exclusively in the unique senior living marketplace. For more information, please call or email Melinda Schmitz at (816) 349-0464 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit us on our website at sageage.com.