The 9 most lucrative words in senior living marketing

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Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

When you think of marketing your community, what do you think of? If you're like most senior living communities you probably think of your Yellow Pages ad, your website, newspaper ads, referral sites or whatever else you do to advertise your community. While those answers are not wrong, they're incomplete.

In reality, marketing has more meanings than most people are aware of. After investing thousands of dollars in my marketing education through training, seminars, and workshops, I define marketing as something much more than your current efforts.

Here is my attempt at defining marketing: Marketing is a holistic process of making a prospect feel like they're a fool if they don't make use of your products or services. This includes the planned development of the product or service itself for a specific want or need of a market segment. And then the packaging, delivery mechanism  and communication strategy of consumer benefits to the most likely person to pay you for your product or service.

I'll say that one again because it's that important: Smart marketers take a look at what markets are available and then create products or services around a segment of people that fit a demographic and/or psychographic profile. Made even simpler, find a group of people who want or need something, find an innovative way to fill the want or need and sell it to them.

Most business people put the cart before the horse by creating a product or service and then attempting to find markets. Then they turn to mass marketing mediums like radio, television and newspaper hoping that somebody will have a need or want and respond. The more intelligent thing to do is to look at what markets are available, and develop a product or service that the crowd is hungry for!

Here's an example in our industry. If you find a list of people in your area who are already getting homecare, it makes sense to market your community to them as a portion will eventually need more care and attention than homecare can provide.

This brings us to the nine most important words in senior living marketing. Marketing and advertising legend Rosser Reeves made a simple nine word statement in his book Reality in Advertising that lays the undeniable first step to all successful marketing.

The most profitable nine words in senior living marketing are:

“A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.”

In other words, if you run a poor quality community, there isn't much marketing can do for you.

Few marketers talk about this and completely skip this first step. They head straight to tricks and  techniques that, at best, blind the consumer for a period until they realize they've just made a bad decision.

Bill Bernbach, creative director of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the renowned ad agency responsible for the successful Volkswagen Beetle ads of the 1960s, said this: “Advertising doesn't create a product advantage. It can only convey it. ... .No matter how skillful you are, you can't invent a product advantage that doesn't exist.”

Don't build a cheap, non-innovative community and expect marketing to bail you out when residents aren't showing up and are moving to other communities because they found a better value somewhere else.

Now, let me step in here to defend advertising. A gifted community is only the first step to success, not the entire thing.

After you create your desirable community, it's time for the gifted pen to step in and communicate the benefits of your new asset to the right audience in the right way. It takes all parts to make this work. Your prospects are so bombarded with advertising that they don't believe or even recognize all of the noise in the marketplace.

I'm willing to bet, if you sent a letter to 1,000 people offering them $100 just for calling in and giving you their name, address and phone number, you'd have a low number that actually call for their $100 prize. This is because they won't see the message or won't believe you. It's as simple and complex as that. Marketing and advertising need to be seen by the right person and believed. That's where marketing expertise comes in. Enough with the high level stuff, let's talk about how you can develop a gifted community and put this new thinking to good use.

Following are seven questions to ask to help you innovate your community so that it will be extremely easy for a decent marketing professional to market it.

  1. What do people in my market need or want that I can help solve with my senior living asset?
  2. What are my prospects' biggest frustrations when it comes to senior living?
  3. What can I do to help eliminate these frustrations?
  4. When my residents are living at my community, what can I do to make their experience better?
  5. When my prospects first realize they need senior living, how can I make their decision-making process easier?
  6. If my customers could create their dream senior living community, what would it look like?
  7. What extra services could I offer that would better facilitate my customers needs and/or desires?

If you answer those questions honestly and actually do something about your discoveries, you'll make drastically higher profits than you would had you not asked the questions and innovated based on the answers you receive.

Here are a few examples that have been proven to work.

Most people dread the thought of moving. After all, it's not just moving, there's a lot of junk that either needs to be donated to a charity or thrown out, and they're often parting with a home they've lived in for decades. What if you offered a solution to this problem? You could form an alliance with moving companies and a local junk removal service. Can you see their pain, frustration and objections begin to fade?

Consider forming a partnership with a physician that makes house calls to your community. Your residents will value the extra care, and this is a huge way to differentiate your community and reduce attrition rates due to early detection of health problems.

If it works for your location, form an alliance with a home care agencies, hospice care, geriatric doctors and even eldercare lawyers to provide your residents with their services and build up a great referral network from these companies. Not only is this interesting and a good reason for people to become residents, but you can also make extra money by setting up a commission structure with these companies.

Don't expect to know the right answers to these seven questions. There's only one person who knows the exact answer, and that is your customers. So go and ask them!

Too many business owners look within themselves for these crucial answers, when in reality their opinions don't really matter. Form good relationships with your customers, and put yourself in their shoes.

Kevin Williams is the president of

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