This content marketing initiative may look overwhelming to you, but there are valuable lessons in what the is doing.

This article and the next in the series present two very different approaches to content marketing. You may read this post and think, “There’s no way we could ever do that.” Maybe that’s true, but I suspect that every time the folks at hear this they smile, knowing that’s one less competitor they need to worry about. I recently sat down with Dan Hutson,’s vice president of communications and marketing, to learn more about what they’re doing and why. I’ll take the why first.

The Why is one of California’s largest nonprofit operators of senior housing, with six Continuing Care Retirement Communities, one stand-alone assisted living community and 26 affordable housing communities. In the past they relied on the “brute strength” approach to marketing, much like other companies.

This meant spending significant dollars each month on traditional print advertising, direct mail and some radio spots. It was expensive and, for the cost, generated a fairly pitiful number of qualified leads. On the other hand, a careful analysis of which leads turn into sales showed strong return on investment from online searches and word of mouth from residents, family members, friends and community influencers, among others.

At the same time, Hutson had grown increasingly interested in inbound marketing fueled by content. The problem with outbound marketing, Hutson says, is that “it’s not very targeted, not highly personalized to individual interests or needs and very expensive. For a niche product like senior communities, the mass-market approach to marketing inevitably generates huge waste in promotional dollars spent”.

Inbound marketing is about making yourself “findable” by creating, distributing and promoting rich, useful content that attracts those consumers who actually have an interest and a need. This is a particularly effective strategy now that 60 percent of research of most purchase decisions is completed before the customer even shows up on your doorstep (most often on the web). By creating content that helps inform that research, you position yourself as the helpful, trusted adviser.

What They Did has significantly reduced its spend on traditional mass marketing, although they still do targeted mailings to identified prospects. With the help of an outside content marketing agency, they built MySilverAge, a consumer-facing website that acts as a resource center for seniors and their families who are interested in successful aging and, by extension, senior living communities as a great environment for successful aging.

Content on the site is updated on a frequently, and distribution and promotion are augmented through a variety of both online and offline marketing tactics. Content is delivered in a wide range of formats, from articles and blog posts to premium guides, videos and podcasts. Behind the scenes, and its agency carefully track what content is most appealing to the site’s audience, and use lead scoring based on activity to help distinguish true prospects from casual visitors.

What It Costs

It’s not cheap, and it requires an outside agency to do much of the work. That said, it has proven to be no more expensive (and maybe a bit less) than’s previous outbound marketing program. Perhaps the program’s greatest promise is in its ability to target marketing dollars to serve those with an actual interest in and need for’s services, generating higher-quality leads in the process.

Hutson acknowledges that a program of this scope may be beyond the resources of a smaller organization. But the concept of inbound marketing applies equally well to organizations of all sizes; it’s just a matter of applying the concept and scaling your efforts appropriately. And there are certainly some out there who are as big or bigger who are spending large sums of money to generate mediocre results.

Takeaways for Everyone

As Dan and I were wrapping up our lunch meeting, I asked him for some takeaways that would apply to anyone, big or small. Here’s what he gave me:

  • Stop doing the same old thing just because that’s what you’ve always done.
  • Reconsider how you’re reaching your market. Take a hard, data-supported look at how effective these efforts really are.
  • Focus on helpful marketing (answer questions, provide useful tools and solutions), not promotional marketing.
  • Do more emotionally engaging, compelling storytelling. People make decisions based on emotion, then look to the facts to support those decisions.
  • Create and deliver content that answers the questions that your prospects are asking: what does it cost, what will my life be like in your community, how will I fit in, what about medical care, etc. This isn’t promotion around features and amenities—it’s content that helps make smarter consumers of what we sell. That’s a good thing for the entire industry.
  • Become the local trusted authority in all things related to aging.

Next week I’ll tell you about how John Rauls of Winnwood Retirement Community in Marietta, Ga., does a back-to-basics approach to content marketing that may be just as effective for his community as MySilverAge is for Steve Moran

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