By Pam McDonald

When Foresight Radio Producer Pam McDonald interviews Wendy O’Donovan Phillips, CEO of Big Buzz, Inc., she comes away with excellent marketing tips communities can use to kick-start their efforts in the new era. Below are some lightly edited takeaways from Wendy. You can listen to the entire episode here.

Worthwhile Marketing Creates A Big Buzz

When I started the firm, I figured any worthwhile marketing plan was going to create big buzz. If we weren’t doing that for our clients, then it was nonsense. And that’s what we’ve been doing for 13 years.

We’ve had a flurry of new client requests in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve learned over the years that I am better off, and the client is better off if, at the very outset, we agree on a reasonable goal. If the goal is rather ridiculous on some level — the gap in occupancy numbers is so great that there must be something besides a marketing issue. Or, the timeline for achieving an occupancy goal is too short, we’re not hesitant to say to a community, ‘We really need to reconfigure that goal, or we’re not going to have success together.’

We’re very careful to work towards one goal. Sometimes the executive director might think one thing, the marketing director another. If we’re working towards too many goals, we may be achieving nothing. So, we’re very careful to get a quantifiable goal in front of everybody. Get everybody’s buy-in and sign off right from the get-go, and then, go after it.

Resident Referrals Are A Goldmine

Almost always on that strategic plan is team training, including how to ask for referrals from residents and families. Those referrals are the goldmine that all communities are sitting on. And there are some relatively easy shifts you can make to cultivate those referrals.

Every individual property has its unique thumbprint and it’s our job to dust for that print, then get it to market in an effective way. It’s also our job to uncover the unique challenges that particular community is facing. My approach is finding and working on what I like to call the “shark closest to the boat”, and determining how to address that most quickly?

Put People Before Projects

One of the principles we hold dear at Big Buzz is putting people before projects. We believe strongly that the people serving the seniors in your community — the frontline workers — are the most powerful marketing tool you have. Keep those folks happy, be good as gold to them, and they’ll be good as gold to the residents and the families. Then residents and families will bring us more residents and families.

Step away from all the competitive madness and coronavirus madness and set a vision for the year with one or two strategic marketing actions everyone on the team can take for a particular quarter to make that vision come to life. It is extraordinary to me what a small group of people can accomplish when they feel empowered and happy.

Get Back to the Brand

What’s most important right now is to go back to the brand, which, again, puts people at the heart of marketing. What is it that the people who are most loyal to your community know about, love about, sing your praises about? What are those nuggets of information? What is the overall message that really resonates? Keep that intact and, if anything, elevate it even more.

Now is the time not just to run satisfaction surveys, but also surveys to understand the families that you’re serving. You can find common threads by running the right marketing surveys. Asking what’s on their mind now? What do they love most about us? Who else did they consider before choosing us? Evolve your message in a way that captures COVID safety, but also preserves that brand messaging. 

What you want to include in your messaging is data about your community in particular and what differentiates your community. Gauge from residents and especially their family members, what they see that sets you apart? What they think you’ve done extraordinarily well? Lead with your brand promise, lead with your competitive edge.

Putting People First

I started the firm all those years ago with this idea that I could deliver a better marketing result by putting people first. So, I thought if I hire really smart people who are smarter than me, and I’m good as gold to them, then we’ll get some clients and we’ll be good as gold to the clients. Then it will tick and hum, and I will tell you, 13 years later, that’s the formula.

It’s simple and it works. It was so much less about what I thought or what I knew than it is about surrounding myself with extraordinarily smart and driven people and allowing them to work their magic. You want an excellent marketing agency that can help you think more critically about marketing and even push back when it’s in their best interest. 

We focus on the sharks that are circling closest, and then also pursuing our largest opportunities. We’re really big on simplify, simplify, simplify. I’m not talking about uncovering 18 sharks close to the boat and uncovering 23 opportunities that you have. I may have 45 ideas on how we can make this better. We really need about three. Just simplify what you’re focusing on. 

Focus Department Heads on One Marketing Action for A Quarter

For one quarter of 2021, put each department head in charge of one sales or marketing action to take relentlessly for 12 weeks. When you give people one thing to focus on and it’s in their sweet spot, their wheelhouse, then you’ve got a whole team of people focused and you can move mountains. And that one thing can be as simple as ‘I’m going to remind my team every day that we’re worth asking for referrals.’

Results Are What Matter

There are X different ways, X different tactics one could use to market the community — from website development to digital marketing, to print marketing. But we guide them to identify the three or five tactics to focus on for the next quarter. What data do they have to support their decision? What results validate that decision and can keep building a better and better machine over time?

Some communities are doing social media, but I’m not sure they know why. What can happen is an over-investment of time in organic social media posting. There’s a fabulous book called Social Media Is A Cocktail Party. It’s basically an open house event happening for the community 24/7. We’re only serving the very top of the funnel, which is awareness. There are another two layers to that funnel that needs time, attention, focus, and budget. Like nurturing people who already know about the community to become intentional about a move-in.

Most of the time, what makes more sense is re-marketing ads to pull in the people who are already engaged with you. Advertising on those outlets is almost always a better idea, especially if you have a gap between where you are in occupancy and a hundred percent. Then advertising is a much, much better idea.

Repetition Is Key for Getting Your Message Heard

There’s this really cool matrix that we got from They give probably four dozen different types of posts that you can make. Post two or three times a week. That’s plenty.

From a marketing perspective, you have to say something five times for someone to even recognize it. I say that to benefit your listeners. So, if you feel like you’re repeating yourself, you probably are, but people are just starting to listen when you get tired of saying it.

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