By Jim Gentry, Creative Director
It’s generally discouraged to judge a book by its cover, but in marketing, first impressions are everything. The senior living field is like any other product in that it should directly appeal to the consumer upon a first glance. Although looks can be deceiving, it’s often truer than not that thoughtfully designed products resonate in our memory. When graphics and logos are consistent with a distinct style, it’s the result of careful branding.
Now more than ever, communities are asked to present themselves online and on social media. Peeling back the curtain, so to speak, is great for customer transparency, but without a coordinated approach, marketing efforts can yield mixed results. How do you establish a unique niche in an increasingly competitive space?
Love at first sight
A brand is not a thing. It’s not something you can hold in your hand. A brand is a perception held in the heart and mind. And for every consumer, perception is reality. Everything you say, do and present to the world— from your logo and ad designs to the smiles (or lack thereof) on the faces of staff members at a community—influences that perceived reality.
First impressions are formed in a matter of seconds. These days, the start of anyone’s search for a new home begins online. Websites are an excellent opportunity to establish branding. A pleasing color palette that can be replicated throughout the user experience is key to branding from an aesthetic point of view. However, that’s only a small part of the mission. Compelling copy and well shot photography provide a level of credibility that is essential to those considering touring your community.
At the same time, enhancing your brand goes far beyond the information that is being presented. It’s also how it’s presented. Brand perception is influenced as much by the user experience. Is your site easy to navigate? Are menus clearly labeled making it easy to find the information the user came for? Does the user, particularly the mobile user, have to scroll through paragraph after paragraph of copy that increases the bounce rate? Any frustrating user experience can negatively influence your brand.
The devil is in the details, as the expression goes, and that is true of digital marketing. At the end of the day, your goal is to persuade the housing seeker with as many tactics as you can control. Creating a sense of immediate comfort and likeability, and offering a positive emotional experience is crucial to making a meaningful connection with your audience.
The merits beneath
Have you ever bought something because it was well packaged, only to find out the contents didn’t live up to the hype? Or conversely, is there a product you love and were initially enticed by only its appearance? Part of the branding process is to build a sense of trust with your consumer. Trust is an especially important idea in the senior living market.
Brand integrity is what keeps customers coming back. It’s what turns skeptics into believers and believers into advocates. And that starts from the ground up. If a prospective resident loves a community he or she sees online, the on-site experience should reflect the marketing materials that brought him or her there in the first place. Then, brand integrity is protected in every warm interaction between staff and residents, as well as every experience the prospect has in your community. The actual product must live up to the brand that was communicated in marketing and by word of mouth.
Telling your story
The impact of social media on marketing has been huge. Part of its influence is the concept of “story” as a marketing tool. Social media provides people and organizations the platform to share their voices. Think of the tried and true “testimonial” but with more context. Apps like Facebook and Instagram have excellent tools for creating organic and sponsored content to tell your story.
It’s easy to see oneself in a relatable narrative. Ideally, a prospective resident can identify in some way to the imagery and testimonials used in marketing materials. As we move toward a more inclusive world, companies are expected to showcase all voices, and this is another great branding opportunity. The types of perspectives a community chooses to showcase can tell a lot about their brand. Messaging can be extracted from even a brief story, so a cohesive strategy is important.
Reputation management is another way an organization tells its story. How others perceive us isn’t always in our control, but how we react is. An occasional negative review is expected in any field. Brands that respond quickly and with empathy in a consistent voice tend to gain more trust from readers and can dispel negativity.
Branding creates value
A strong branding program can lead to more business as increased awareness spreads. However, as with any marketing endeavor, without a well-thought-out strategy, brand-level communications can have the opposite effect. Think of the gaffes some companies have made on social media throughout the years. Branding isn’t just for the big companies either. Branding is one of the most important things an organization can do to distinguish itself from its competition. From print to digital, consistency wins the race. Why? Because your brand is what differentiates and separates you from your competition.
The importance of branding cannot be understated. The goal of the marketer should be to maximize consumer familiarity. Done well, your organization will be recognizable in its established appearance, but also adaptable to change. Digital marketing trends are moving faster than ever, so if you don’t stay at the forefront of new technologies, your organization runs the risk of missing out on sales opportunities. As you look through your community’s marketing materials, can you clearly see those key brand differentiators that set your community apart?