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4 lies about marketing senior living

May 22, 2013
by Kevin M. Williams
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Before Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492, humankind thought the world was flat, which limited the possibilities of many great developments that became available after knowing that the world is round.

In this article, I’m going to take you on a voyage exploring four marketing beliefs held by most people in the senior living industry. Over time, they’ve become accepted as true, when indeed they are false.

LIE #1: Focus on “getting your brand out.”

Every now and then a buzzword hits, everybody talks about i, and then it disappears. “Branding” is one of those words. It originally started as a way for livestock owners to show ownership of their herd. They would heat up an iron rod with a unique design and burn the fur and flesh of the animal so that others would know who it belonged to.

Somehow, this term transferred into the business world. For a long time thereafter, a brand was simply a logo. Add an “ing” and now it’s an activity. There is so much confusion on what branding actually means that most folks who try it end up wasting enough money to feed a small country.

Some communities think that “getting your brand out” is branding. I guess it could be. But, I can’t think of a more colossal waste of your hard-earned profits than simply running ads with your logo on it.

Don’t get me wrong; having a solid brand that people trust, talk about and perceive value in is priceless. But it’s a holistic process that involves much, much more than simply slapping your logo on a billboard or direct mailer. Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and GM have the billion-dollar marketing budgets to pull this off. Unless I’ve drastically lost touch with the senior care market, you don’t. Therefore, when you spend a dollar on advertising, you need a measurable response that puts at least a dollar back into your pocket.

Branding is a long-term, holistic process that involves an entire customer experience from the first time your ad is seen to their thoughts of your service, community cleanliness, pricing, campus, resident life, etc. When you do all of those things exceptionally well, you will begin creating a much stronger brand within your marketplace.

LIE #2: To make more, spend more.

I have yet to find a long-term care community that doesn’t have at least five under-leveraged facets of its marketing system. Without spending more on any one of those particular facets, they could get more results. For example, by simply changing the words printed on your Yellow Pages ad, it is possible to increase response by 10 percent to 100 percent without spending another penny.

By answering more phone calls and converting them into tours of people who will hopefully turn into residents at a higher rate, you’re leveraging the phone call—an investment that’s already in place.

By learning how to use marketing strategies to up-sell residents on ancillary products, you can leverage your resident base and make more money without any additional investment.

So, before you buy a bigger Yellow Pages ad, more radio time or whatever, make sure you’re leveraging your existing investment.

LIE #3: You must push to “close the deal” with prospects.

Think of the last time you were trying to make a buying decision and the salesperson kept pushing you. How did that make you feel? Did you instantly decide to buy just because they “asked for the sale”?

Better yet, remember the last time you were considering buying something. You weren’t quite sure if it was a good fit for you, but thought you would explore options. How did it make you feel when thatsalesperson pushed you? If anything, I’ll bet it pushed you awayfrom the sale, not towards it.

It’s pretentious and naive to think that every person who calls or stops in will become a resident. The key to successful closing is to help the person determine if your community is a good fit. By assuming the sale, you not only annoy people but also reduce your chances of ever having a good conversation that will set up a win-win, long-term relationship.

It’s a bit of a paradox, but as soon as you quit pushing people to buy from you and begin trying to determine if you can really help the person, your sales numbers will soar. Yet many people are still teaching old school “push for the sale” tactics that simply don’t work anymore and insult your prospect’s intelligence.

LIE #4: The Internet is the most-effective advertising media.

Every time I hear an Internet marketing company say the highest percentage of new residents come from the Internet, I shudder. Communities that use other media find that their numbers are quite different.

Once you accept the fact that other marketing media exist and begin testing them, you’ll notice that while the Internet is a great place to develop leads, it most likely won’t revolutionize every community. The good news is that other media might have a lower customer acquisition cost and be easier to control.

The Internet certainly has its place in this industry, but test other media and ignore the incomplete intelligence that is generated by those who benefit by having you continue to put a majority of your budget into it. Plus, if you don’t know what you’re doing when advertising on the Internet you can lose your shirt.

It’s hard to gather reliable facts, but companies that spend a fortune on Internet marketing and have extremely good campaigns only seem to pull 20–30 percent of their new residents from the Internet. My question to those claiming the Internet is the end-all and be-all is this: Where do the other 70–80 percent of the new residents come from?

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