Five years ago, Belmont Village Senior Living’s marketing efforts centered on advertising in local newspapers and magazines while allocating about 20 percent of its marketing dollars toward digital resources. Two years ago, the Houston-based operator doubled the percentage of digital marketing dollars as its website attracted an increasing amount of leads.
“Consumers are doing research online before they pick up the phone, and our website gives us the opportunity to create very specific content about our story, our mission, our values and our culture,” said Carlene Motto, Belmont Village’s chief marketing officer. “We’ve seen a shift to digital in the last five years, but in the last three years it has been even more radical.”
Belmont Village is hardly an outlier. While many companies in the senior housing industry still employ direct mailings, events, referral services and other resident recruitment strategies, those approaches largely begin or are supported by strong internet communication through computers, tablets and smartphones. In 2014, Google found that 75 percent of consumers began researching senior living options online. Often those searches begin in the late evening hours by sons and daughters after a day of work or caring for their parents or both, said Chris Bird, executive vice president and director of rental with Des Moines, Iowa-based operator Life Care Services.
“It’s amazing how much more we do today digitally compared to how we ran the business five or 10 years ago,” he said. “I would venture to say that our digital spend has increased twofold in the last two to three years.”
The move to digital marketing enables companies to tailor personalized content to potential residents, primarily through website videos and blogs about communities, operating philosophies and resident experiences. Educational resources highlighting the telltale signs that parents are ready for senior housing, the moving process and financial considerations are typically available, too. Additionally, once operators capture email addresses of potential residents, they send out community news and invitations to events. Operators also are posting individual community information and updates on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.
What’s more, senior housing operators are refining relevant keywords and topics to drive traffic to their websites as part of search engine optimization or “SEO.” In many cases operators are utilizing “pay-to-click” advertising methods in which their companies are listed prominently among search results on web browsers such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
All told, digital marketing is becoming more important in an increasingly competitive market. That’s particularly the case given rising labor costs and downward pressure on occupancy, which on a national average basis is at an eight-year low, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.
The strategy is delivering results. In late May, for example, Capital Senior Living launched social media engagement campaigns at several individual properties and focused more digital marketing dollars on keywords in the descriptions of local communities, according to comments made by CEO Kimberly Lody during the company’s quarterly earnings call in early August. In June, the company reported a 32 percent year-over-year increase in sales leads directly related to those actions, she stated.
That’s a bright spot for the senior housing operator, which is in the midst of an operational turnaround. In addition to those measures, the company plans on updating its website in the coming months, said Mike Fryar, chief revenue officer with Capital Senior Living.
“Our website provides a lot of great content now, but it was created a few years ago and the way people consume websites has changed,” he told Multi-Housing News. “People are looking for shorter snippets of information and more video content, and it has to be built for mobile devices as well as traditional computers.”
As a result of the growing digital sophistication among senior housing operators, in some cases, organic leads are increasing at the expense of third-party referral organizations. That has been the case at Belmont Village, which is combining its more robust digital presence with local referral networks such as healthcare professionals, friends and families of residents, and employees. Ultimately more organic leads will reduce the costly referral service reimbursements, which can be up to a full month’s rent or more, Motto said.
Other companies are seeing similar results. Newton, Mass.-based Five Star Senior Living reported a 36 percent increase in move-ins sourced from its digital strategy from the beginning of 2016 through the third quarter of 2018, according to an investor presentation. Meanwhile, move-ins resulting from third-party aggregators slipped almost 9 percent over the same period. Officials with Five Star, which is undergoing a restructuring, declined to comment.
Still, several senior housing executives said that referral services remained important resident recruitment partners. But the operators acknowledged that websites provide finely tuned information about their properties, allowing potential residents to determine whether they will be a good fit for a community, and vice versa.
Brookdale Senior Living, for example, employs a “one-to-you” (vs. one-to-one) strategy that identifies the interests of potential residents by how they use Brookdale’s website, said David Cygan, senior vice president of marketing with the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company.
Capital Senior Living Villa Santa Barbara, Terrace“We’re able to use technology to provide customers with a very personal and relevant experience in areas that are most important to them so that they can make a decision,” he said. “We have the size and scale to provide multiple choices in a market with different levels of care, and that’s where we will continue to invest in our digital marketing platform.”
Brookdale recently announced that it is extending a pilot project in which it utilized data analytics to target its digital marketing investments in certain cities, part of a broader “win locally” strategy. Cygan declined to provide further details about the initiative.
Meanwhile, the Palace Group has shifted virtually all of its marketing dollars dedicated to print media and national lead aggregators to SEO and pay-per-click marketing, said Adam Rosenblum, vice president of marketing and sales for the Miami-based senior housing operator. As part of the approach, the company compiles a database of emails from inquiries and regularly sends email blasts to promote or recap various community happenings. The messages often feature video footage of media reports of the events, but the company recently began working on a series of self-produced videos to market its new Weston, Fla., community opening next year.
“We’re launching a specific website just to drive traffic directly to the project,” Rosenblum said. “But we’re also doing direct mailings and will have a lot of special events and seminars in our leasing center.”