Opening Gates: Inviting Senior Living Prospects to Begin the Customer Journey

Best practices and tactics for attracting qualified leads through digital marketing

By Ellen Stokes, VP of Marketing Innovation, and Evan Brown, Media Director, Love & Company

This is the first of a three-part series on digital marketing, with additional blogs focusing on nurturing prospects through the research stages of their journey, and on how sales teams need to adapt their approaches to be effective in an increasingly digital landscape.

The need to rethink digital marketing

When it comes to digital marketing, a lot has changed over the past five years. A recent analysis of Love & Company clients’ sales metrics shows that, since 2018, the number of leads communities are getting from digital sources has tripled, and the number of sales from digital sources has doubled. Sales from digital lead sources now represent nearly 30% of all sales, more than double the proportion from direct mail (13%), and lagging only sales from referrals, PR, outreach and drive-by (47%). In this increasingly digital marketplace, how can communities ensure they are implementing the most effective digital marketing programs?

The rapid evolution of the digital customer journey is more evident with senior living prospects than almost any other age group. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a driver for the 70-plus market to adapt to new technology, the digital transformation has been underway in nearly every aspect of life since the early 2000s. These new avenues of communication allow organizations to tailor and target messaging more specifically to individual customers.

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The customer journey

For years, many have referred to the senior living sales process as a “sales funnel.” This is a misleading analogy at best, as it implies prospects move through the funnel in a predictable way. It is much more appropriate to think of the sales process as a journey for customers, with that journey being different for each one. For some, it is a short journey with few steps involved. But for many more prospects, it is a long and winding path with decisions and detours all along the way. The job of marketers is to meet prospects where they are in any part of their journey.

Gateways to the journey

There have always been many ways that customers could begin their journey into learning more about senior living. Many come through low- to no-cost sources, such as referrals, family members of former residents and those who have had some sort of relationship with the community in the past. From a paid marketing perspective, direct mail historically was the “workhorse” of senior living marketing, given its ability to directly target age- and income-qualified households. And some prospects have begun their journey after having seen and responded to print and other advertising. Those gateways are still important to consider as part of an overall marketing strategy, but most are now being superseded by the wide variety of digital marketing tactics.

Today’s senior living prospect does a significant amount of research before contacting a sales office, and most of that research happens online. By utilizing digital media tactics that reach prospects where they are spending their time, communities can offer a new kind of customer experience—one that is highly interactive and engaging, as well as highly targetable.

Creating digital gateways

There are many digital gateways to consider as you look to build an effective digital lead generation program. The most important gateways include the following:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO): The least costly—and perhaps most effective—digital tactic is to have a strong SEO program that enables your community to be readily seen in organic searches. This leads prospects directly to your website.
  • Search engine marketing/pay per click (SEM/PPC): A strong complement to SEO, SEM strategies serve ads to prospects based on their search terms, giving them the ability to see your community through both organic search results and strategically placed ads.
  • Programmatic ads: Unlike offline advertising, which serves ads to anyone that may look at a newspaper, billboard or other advertising medium, programmatic ads are served only to prospects that meet specific criteria.
  • OTT (over-the-top) ads: OTT ads are video ads run on streaming services like Hulu. Like other digital ads, they are highly targetable to specific prospect criteria.
  • Audio streaming ads: Audio ads can be placed on a variety of streaming services, such as radio stations, music services like Spotify and podcasts.
  • Social media: Another lead generation tactic is to create a strong organic presence on social media. The more followers a community has on social media, the more their friends will see the things they see and share about a community.

Many of these digital advertising tactics offer something that direct mail and traditional ads can’t: the opportunity to integrate video into an ad. Video has proven to be far more effective in capturing prospects’ attention than static visuals. Contextual and behavioral targeting techniques can also be used to make the targeting of ads most effective.

Do these media strategies work? Recently, we added programmatic display advertising to one client’s media plan and within the first six weeks, overall weekly site traffic to the main website increased from about 190 total users per week to about 340, an increase of 81 percent. Eighty-five percent of user traffic during that time frame came from either organic search or direct keying in the site url, demonstrating the value of increasing brand awareness.

Through all of these digital tactics, the goal is to offer prospects something of interest—something that truly provides value and addresses their needs—to entice them to begin the journey into senior living. Responding to an ad should take your prospect not to your website, but to a landing page that offers the promised information. The information could take a variety of forms, such as an overview of senior living options or an information kit about the community. Prospects then “trade” certain information about themselves (often as little as a name and email address) to get the information they desire. And the community gets a new lead added to its customer relationship management system.

At this early stage of the journey, the goal is to remove as many barriers as possible to get the prospect to begin the journey. And the biggest barrier is often the prospect’s phone number. In our experience, we have seen landing pages that require a phone number produce significantly fewer than half of the responses than landing pages that do not require a phone number. Again, the goal is to invite prospects to begin the journey, which then creates opportunities for your community to begin interacting with them on a more frequent basis—and gather more information about them—as they move through the various stages of their journey.

How do we most effectively interact with them during their journey? See part 2 of our three-part series, “Creating Engagement: Guiding Senior Living Prospects Through the Customer Journey” for more insights.

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