In launching SMASH, I’ve had the good fortune to get the skinny from some pretty smart people…I talked with a few of our Advisory Board members who are on the front lines of senior care marketing to find out what they see as the biggest drivers changing senior care marketing and sales strategies and tactics today . . . and how those drivers impact future plans.

Big Gaps

“We have never experienced a marketing environment that is as complex and fast-changing as the one we operate in now.” Those are the words of Dan Hutson, Vice President of Communications & Marketing at “This is particularly challenging for an industry not known for its ability to change rapidly.

“We have a huge training gap in both sales and marketing, and senior living isn’t a space likely to attract true innovators until we do a better job of providing those individuals with the opportunities to effect real change,” Hutson says. “I believe the direction contemporary sales and marketing is headed . . . more content-based, helpful and grounded in authentic relationship-building and dialogue . . . is a perfect fit for our industry. And yet we’re slow to make the transition away from sales and marketing practices of the past. That’s a big problem.”

Do we hear the sounds of heads nodding?

Marketing: It Ain’t What It Used to Be

Cindy Longfellow, National Director of Sales and Marketing atJuniper Communities, says her biggest concerns are these: “Low lead generation and changing customer demographics. This is impacting how we find and interact with our customers.”

Faith Ott, President and Founder of Sage Age Strategies, is similarly concerned about the changing audience and how to reach them. “One of the biggest concerns is getting senior living providers to understand that when targeting customers for independent living, the adult children are now as important as the seniors,” she says.

“The message and the way we communicate with both groups needs to be different. Technology and social media are essential tools for communication and the sales process.  Clarity of message and purpose and really understanding your value points – as well as how you stack up against your competition – is essential.”

And that’s not all. Ott adds: “Once you understand there needs to be two different messages, you also need to appreciate that within each target group, there are sub-groups who will react differently to the messaging. So really understanding the profile of your true target customer is a must when crafting the right messages.”

Hutson’s concerns center on delivery of that message. “My biggest concern in terms of how we’re marketing to the consumer in the digital age is the velocity of change we’re experiencing,” he says. “Everything is infinitely more dynamic: the tools and platforms, ability to do research without help, the demand for a speedy response and other rules of engagement.”

The New Wild Card: Referral Marketing

Our panel had some specific pain points when it comes to referrals.

Longfellow points out, “The impact of healthcare reform remains a bit of a mystery and presents a new challenge. There are changing needs and a corresponding need to change our messaging.”

However . . . those changes may also bring opportunities.

“In terms of the changing referral market landscape, I think many organizations will need to decide whether their product is healthcare or lifestyle,” says Hutson. “If it’s healthcare, then the question is whether or not you offer something unique and of value to the rest of the healthcare supply chain. If you don’t, I don’t see a path to success there. If you can’t offer healthcare-based services that make you an attractive partner, then you may need to focus more on the lifestyle/experiential side of things and work more closely with other senior-serving professionals outside of healthcare. It may be easier to identify opportunities to fit the lifestyle supply chain.”

Ott stresses the importance of appropriate and effective messaging for referral partners. “With professional referrals, the messaging needs to be specific, and it needs to be about how your community can help [healthcare providers] do their jobs better. The messaging needs to be targeted to how each referral source views their role. We cannot assume all referral sources think the same way.” She points out that some referral sources may be concerned with efficiency, while others care more about whether a community is the right fit for a patient. Obviously, many referral partners are going to be concerned with readmittance records. “We need to use online communication as well and become more savvy in how we reach them with outcomes data.

So what are your concerns? What do you think is the future of senior care marketing? Join our conversation here. And don’t forget, we’ll be meeting at the Senior Care Marketing and Sales Summit HQ (SMASH) in Chicago in November. Please consider joining us!

Bailey Beeken

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