By 2030, over 77 million people in the US will be over 65 years old. Demand for #senior housing, #homecare, and #agetech solutions will create industry tailwinds for a long time to come. But, one of the biggest challenges for existing players will be the realization that "What Got You Here Won't Get You There,” to borrow on Marshall Goldsmith's excellent book. The fact is, while demand is sure to rise, it will come from the Boomers segment that, like it or not, has redefined or reinvented every category it has ever touched.
When the senior living category started just 30 years ago, communities could pretty much bank on more people walking through the front door as the population aged with relatively little marketing and a ton of focus on building capacity and a strong sales culture to drive occupancy. Over the years, cyclical variables, such as new housing construction within various markets, would cause occupancy levels to ebb and flow.
Except, this time it's different.
Today, occupancy is just above its 8-year low. Consumers have more choices in senior care than ever before. Competition has never been greater. Technology is helping people stay home longer, and according to HomeHealthcareNews, may upend senior housing in the not too distant future. CMS policies and value-based care will continue to drive the trend towards home-based solutions. As if that wasn't enough, the new wave of Boomers will demand experiences that most senior living operators are not yet close to delivering. Higher-density locales, active lifestyle living, multigenerational housing, co-housing, wellness center services, and cultural offerings that keep residents active.
At the same time, most of the industry is trapped in an unsustainable, lead generation loop. Instead of focusing resources on innovation to meet these emerging trends, more and more budget is spent acquiring leads to fuel a leaky sales funnel. As occupancy dips, senior living operators turn up the pressure on lead generation and the sales team to drive transactional move-ins against urgent, high acuity prospects. Acquisition costs rise along with reliance on online lead aggregators as the average length of stay decreases. With limited resources, everyone ignores building relationships with 80% of families who are somewhere in the decision-making journey but are not yet ready to move. (Repeat!)
Keeping your head above water while betting on the influx of senior living age Boomers to walk through the door in 2026, is not a formula for success. The players who get ahead of this now will be the winners over the next 5-10 years.
The Lead Gen Trap - A Downward Spiral
Of course, getting out of the legacy lead loop is easier said than done. Unfortunately for senior living operators, home care agencies, lead referral businesses, and, especially, the families they serve, marketing in the category has devolved into a race to lead ownership. One that increasingly relies on ever more intrusive tactics that run counter to consumer needs and expectations, especially discerning Boomers. Not surprisingly, as competition accelerates, every dollar spent is chasing the same caregivers, ultimately eroding return on marketing investment over time. But measuring ROI alone, especially in digital performance marketing, leaves little room to measure critical consumer measures such as attitudes toward the company, and customer trust and engagement. And, as a younger crop of tech-savvy consumers become adult caregivers, they are increasingly expecting digital experiences they’re accustomed to, such as Lyft, Airbnb, HomeAdvisor, and Amazon. No one is even close to offering a similar experience in the senior living category, but a new batch of start-ups are in the hunt.
Unfortunately, the senior living industry ceded leadership of digital acquisition channels to online lead aggregators, and specifically, A Place for Mom, who has become dominant in the space. Yet, it only takes one look at their website or a quick journey through the user experience to know that they, too, are stuck in the same lead loop that the rest of the industry is. At least for now.
The next generation of marketing in senior living and senior care is up for grabs. The way to break out of the industry's transactional loop is to literally to rise above it, out of the lower funnel and into the mid- and upper funnel. Think about it. Virtually all home care and senior housing lead generation activities, online and offline, are forced to focus on lower-funnel transactions or risk losing the business. With one of the most highly considered, long-lead-time 'purchasing' processes of any consumer category, it is remarkable that little, if any, marketing effort is put into identifying, engaging, and nurturing prospects, well before an urgent situation, like hospital discharge, triggers a need.
So, why hasn't it been done before?
Aside from the natural barriers to change in any organization, there are a number of challenges: 1) few organizations have the will (or investor patience) needed to evolve their financial model based on immediate sales to a longer-term revenue recognition model, 2) from a marketing perspective, it takes more time, different skill-sets and deeper consumer insights to nurture prospects early, and 3) typically, the sales team, focused on faster conversion, sees email or text leads as inherently less qualified than calls. Some are, but most are just higher up in the funnel and require more sales team time and attention they often don’t have. Many senior living sales teams have thankfully implemented CRM systems and best practices to nurture, engage, and close the valuable leads they already have, but CRM isn’t just for back-end sales. There are millions of potential leads bouncing off hundreds of senior care websites that never get to your sales team. An end-to-end acquisition and lead nurture marketing approach, when combined with sales CRM, offers added business benefits:
-Capturing leads earlier in the funnel allows you to own prospects before they're up for grabs, lowering the cost of initial acquisition in overcrowded markets.
-Nurture increases lead conversion through the funnel, improving ROI. Research conducted by Forrester has shown that marketers see an average 20% increase in sales conversion from nurtured vs. non-nurtured leads.
- It pre-qualifies leads, shortens the sales cycles for slower decision leads, and, if done right, builds trust even before reaching the sales team.
So here are some suggestions for making the transition from transactional lead gen to a more modern relationship marketing approach.
Start employing B2B marketing best practices, not just B2C.
Senior care marketing has more in common with highly considered, long lead cycle B2B categories than high-volume, consumer categories such as hotels, eCommerce, or rental real estate. Marketers, in virtually any industry, should consider using principles of "consideration marketing" if your product:
-Takes more than 30-45 days to make a decision, and you need to educate, maintain mind-share and engage buyers over time. While many high-acuity leads close faster, most take a year or longer. Educating and engaging caregivers upfront increases the pool of prequalified prospects.
-Buyers will not purchase your product online, but you need to improve sales team conversion/efficiency, prequalify buyers and shorten sales cycles. Sales consultants will never be completely removed from the process, but much of the prequalification and education process can be done upfront.
- Multiple stakeholders or, in this case, family members, will be involved in the purchase decision. Direct conversion of self-leads is rare. More often, the process relies on giving caregivers and families the information they need at key points in the decision journey.
Sell content, not the product.
Focusing on delivering relevant content to prospects not yet ready to buy rather than continually pushing for leads is a controversial topic for many sales-driven, performance marketing cultures. Whether to nurture leads in the mid/upper funnel or drive leads into the sales funnel is not an either-or question. It's both. Depending on the category, 80-90% or more of people visiting your website are not qualified or ready to buy. In most instances, adult caregivers are looking for content they can use with their parents and siblings to help persuade them to consider senior living.
The job of the senior care marketer is to act as a publisher for caregivers, offering up valuable content "products” in emails, white papers, articles, videos or webinars that address each stage of the caregiver journey. Prospects will "pay" for your products with attention, engagement, and exchange of contact information. Once caregivers see you as a trusted, reliable source for helping them through the process, there is little incentive to go anywhere else, especially when a crisis hits, such as a hospital discharge.
Engage the most powerful social network in the world. It’s not what you think.
The primary target audience for senior care offerings is adult caregivers, aged 50-70 years old in upper-income households. The vast majority are actively working, and many are part of the sandwich generation who are maintaining full-time careers while caring for both aging parents and their children. Their “social network” of choice for people sharing daily anecdotes, pictures, video, news within their immediate circle of colleagues, friends, and family is still personal email and increasingly text, and it's used by every one of your prospects. It's no wonder that house list email campaigns are recognized by businesses of all kinds as the most effective online marketing strategy, year after year. Despite this, email is in its infancy in senior living.
“Email leads are unqualified.” “Our prospects don’t want to get emails from us,” proclaims the sales team.
Not true. The real problems are more likely that they don’t find what you’ve been sending valuable or, more likely, they’re just not ready to talk with anyone yet. And, use of email and text will only continue to rise as virtually everyone has been burned, at one time or another, by outbound telemarketers.
Every modern senior care marketing team needs to build a robust lifecycle marketing and nurture strategy that is built on permission, frequency, non-promotional content, and testing. If the content is right, they’ll consume it, appreciate it and share it with others.
A final word about social. There is no doubt that Facebook and LinkedIn should be part of your digital marketing strategy. A recent article in Forbes confirms that Boomers now spend more time online than they do watching TV. 82% of Boomers who use the internet have at least one social media account with Facebook and LinkedIn as the leading platforms.
But, social media needs to be applied in the right way. In my experience working with Medicare Advantage, pharmaceutical, and senior living marketers over many years, Facebook hasn’t worked as a lead generation channel from an ROI perspective. Consumers are just not in a buying mode, particularly for serious products. However, it does work remarkably well as an engagement and remarketing tool. Baby Boomers are 19% more likely to share content compared to any other generation, according to medium.com. Used in the right way, it can be an essential part of your overall integrated communications effort.
Zig when the rest of the industry zags
To win in the next wave of industry growth, senior living operators need to break from the past. There is no other choice. Trying to compete head-to-head with dominant industry players, especially in the online space, is a race to the bottom. Players that move fast now may just find themselves ahead of the pack.