Marketing Tips for Long-Term Care Success (Episode 37)

August 8, 2018

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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello and welcome from SmartLinx! In today’s podcast, we’ll talk about marketing strategies for long-term care. Our guest today is Winston Chenery, manager of Senior Care Growth, a lead gen and web design agency for senior living organizations. Winston is a senior living industry thought leader who produces the Senior Care Growth Show, a podcast specific for senior living sales and marketing professionals. He spoke at SMASH 2017 about sales alignment and authored the 2018 State of Senior Care Sales and Marketing Report. Welcome, Winston.

Winston Chenery: Thanks Darcy. Thanks so much for having me on the show.

DG: Glad you’re here. Winston, I’m a marketing professional too, but my focus is on promoting SmartLinx products. So do you think that marketing senior care organizations is the same or different from other industries, and how so?

WC: Well you know, I think in many ways it’s the same as other industries that have a considered purchase and a lengthier sales cycle. So for us, for senior living organizations, we think that in-bound marketing tactics come into play. We’re believers in the in-bound methodology, which includes things like attracting visitors to your website with helpful information and converting those leads by exchanging valuable information in exchange for an email address or a name and phone number. Those types of offers could take the form of something like an e-book, a webinar, a guide, a checklist.

DG: Or a podcast.

WC: Yes, or a podcast, exactly. But I think the key there with the lengthier sales cycle is really giving extremely helpful information, making sure your website is highly approachable and transactional. And by transactional I just mean having clear calls to action or next steps, having forms in place to capture that information, and then when it comes to closing those leads — not necessarily a strictly marketing function but a marketing and sales function, I think nurturing those leads with emails and calls and a really intentional communication cadence is the way to go.

Because in a senior living organization and in a senior living sale, the weight of the purchasing decision is really heavy; it’s a really important decision for folks. And so I think the need for empathy, sincerity, and transparency are key. And I think the other thing that is not necessarily unique to the senior living industry but certainly the case nowadays is that there is really stiff competition. So what that means for marketers is that they have to be proactive. I think gone are the days of sitting around and waiting for leads to come in.

I think senior living organizations need to start identifying their target audience, advertising to them, possibly even finding lists of prospects and calling them. And then, also being proactive about soliciting reviews for your organization or your community. Because we know that a positive online reputation can be a huge differentiator. And then one other thing that I think organizations need to do is really differentiate their community with the right messaging.

DG: I agree 100 percent with everything you said. Winston, a best practice in marketing is for an organization to determine its USP, or as we know it, unique selling proposition. Could you give me a few examples of what would be considered a USP for a long-term care facility?

WC: Yes, sure. So before I get into a couple examples, I just want to say that I think this can be a deceivingly difficult thing for companies to figure out. This is typically where an extra set of eyes can come in handy. The saying that I like around USPs is that it’s difficult to read the label from inside the bottle. So if you live in the organization day to day, you’re used to how things work. You might not have that perspective of the prospect or someone who’s comparing your community or organization to your competitors.

So I think what you need to do is do just that, look at other communities in your area and really take a step back and think, what sets us apart from them. Think back on the last SWOT analysis you guys did. What are the strengths of your organization that others can’t compete with? What are your differentiators?

So, that being said, some of the examples that I like, there is a senior living community in northwest Pacific that is called Panorama Senior Living. If you go to their website they do a great job of differentiating by promoting the sort of get outside, enjoy nature, we’re in a beautiful setting here in the Pacific Northwest. The site as a whole, down to the design aesthetic, has a very outdoorsy kind of natural feel to it. So I think they’re appealing to a very specific audience.

Another company that I like is Leisure Care. So one of the larger senior living organizations in the country, but they have some key messaging on their home page that really feels useful, and the color palette that they use feels exciting and it’s not dull and muted. They use the tagline that says, “Live big, live bold.” And some of the language on the website reinforces that idea of really enjoying this time that you have in your later days. So the language is, “celebrate freedom from obligation, pursue new interests, reignite forgotten passions, explore lifestyles” is used rather than what types of care we have; it’s explore the lifestyles that we offer. I love that. They have other language, “meet fun people, do fun things.” So, you know, that I think is an interesting way to position those communities for the right type of person who really is kind of enthusiastic and really wants to do fun things and meet fun people.

So those are a couple of examples. But I’d say if you have a strength in a certain area of care or a type of resident or customer you want to attract, position yourself and promote those strengths and message them as benefits to your prospects.

DG: Those are really great examples, thank you. So we all know there’s a huge staffing shortage in long-term care. So what advice would you give to senior care facilities in terms of employee recruitment marketing?

WC: Yeah, this is a tough one, and I think that this is another one where you have kind of have to think outside of the box. I recently had a guest on our podcast, Carlene Motto, who is the CMO of Belmont Senior Living, and I have to give her a shout-out because we talked about this topic, and I think she had some great advice. So I’m going to borrow some of that from her. But I think this is really true, that organizations need to look outside the industry for new talent. And I think that they also need to start thinking of the background of that person that they’re looking for. So maybe not necessarily hiring someone who strictly has a marketing or a sales background. Arlene’s advice was to look for people who have journalism backgrounds.

DG: Like me.

WC: Exactly. But what a great example, because here you are, producing a podcast because you understand the value of content and you have a journalism background, you know how to write about this stuff. And in the age of transparency and of information everywhere, that skill set is so critical. So I think either in a marketing or a sales function that journalism background or someone who can write and communicate well, it’s extremely important.

Other bits of advice were to hire young. So find folks who are maybe a few years out of college. And that can be a scary proposition because it’s a bit of a risk. But my advice there would be to make sure that you have a solid culture in place within your organization, you have mentors and managers who are up to the task of guiding those people, and you have processes for onboarding and getting folks up and running the right way, so that then if you find the right person, they can grow with the organization because we know that recruiting and hiring can be a really expensive endeavor and it’s really disruptive.

And then one other tip, just from our experience, is really spend a lot of time on that screening process. I think identifying personality profiles for the roles you want to hire is a great way to know the type of person to hire for. So if you know that a marketing person needs to be a strong communicator and they need to be flexible but they need to be organized, use a personality test. We use the DISC assessment to identify what that candidate’s personality is like, and that can really help save a lot of headache with hiring the wrong person for the wrong role.

DG: So, Winston, you mentioned the study that you conducted last year on the State of Senior Care Sales and Marketing. Could you share some key findings with our audience today?

WC: Absolutely. I think that there is a lot to unpack in that study. If you’re interested in downloading it, it’s on our homepage at But I’ll point out a couple of things that I found interesting. One is just, across any industry, marketing and sales are becoming more closely aligned. And what was interesting was when we asked if the respondents were in a sales, marketing, or both as a primary role, 64 percent said they spend their time in both sales and marketing. So I think people are identifying really with both of those positions as part of their primary job, which really I think is a good thing, because you can create a continuum of the right messaging through the marketing and the sales processes.

Some other interesting stats. So digital marketing spend year over year, 88 percent of the respondents mentioned that they plan to increase their digital spend in 2018. So that is a really high percentage of folks who are planning to invest in digital. And 38 percent of them said they’d increase by 30 percent year over year. So significant investments in digital, and that is just telling of how the industry is sort of shifting from traditional media and really embracing more digital methods, and I think that they’re in a way playing catch-up to other industries, but that was an interesting stat.

Let’s see, some other ones that were of interest. So speed-to-lead is a buzzword in the industry and it’s a buzzword for a reason, because if you get back to someone quickly, you’re much, much more likely to close that prospect. And half of the respondents to our survey said that they wait one to three hours to follow up with leads. And 39 percent said that it could take them 12 hours or more to respond to leads. For context, best practice is 5 minutes. So I think people are a little slow in getting back to some of these inquiries, and that needs to change. I thought that was an interesting statistic.

Another one that was interesting ― and I think this will probably be the last one that I’ll share ― would be just the length of time since the last website redesign. So half of respondents of our survey hadn’t redesigned their website in over two years. So that’s a long time to not redesign your website. I would say, around two years is when you should look at redesigning your website making sure it’s current. But just shy of 20 percent said they hadn’t redesigned their website in four years or longer, which tells me that there are a lot of older websites in the senior living space that probably need to get updated. So those are just a few of the stats that we learned from the study and a couple of takeaways from those.

DG: Those were some interesting stats. You mentioned the digital arena, and that kind of leads into my next question. Here at SmartLinx we’re all about technology. And we found that often those in the senior care industry are not as technically savvy as in some other industries. So do you agree? And how do you educate your clients on the use of technology for marketing?

WC: Yes, so I do agree to an extent, but I actually do think that they’re pretty tech savvy, I just think they’re behind the curve when compared to some other industries. And I think that they understand how to use technology, but just not yet in the context of marketing-specific technologies, and I think that’s kind of for a reason. Because many single-site communities or smaller multi-site communities really just don’t have the resources. You know, going back to the sales and marketing stat, the person in the marketing role is a lot of times executing sales functions. They don’t have a director of digital marketing or a social media manager. They’re really a one-stop shop for sales and marketing, so I think they just haven’t had time to dig into it yet.

But in terms of education, we really like to take a big picture view of how all of these things work together, and rather than getting kind of caught up in marketing automation or CRM or chatbot or whatever kind of the technology or tool du jour is, we focus on explaining the benefit of the technology. So something like is your sales team ignoring web leads because they feel they’re not qualified, what if you could respond to those leads with a personal email from a sales rep automatically within minutes without doing a single thing. And what if, when that recipient of the email visits your pricing and availability page, your sales rep gets notified to give that lead a call at just the right time to see if they have any questions around pricing. And that’s what marketing automation can do for you.

So I think that explaining the benefits of the technology and how it helps someone in this industry specifically save time and become more efficient and get better results is the way to do it. And you know it’s funny, I talked about sales and marketing alignment at SMASH last year and how you could do all these amazing things and reply quicker using the tools. And after my talk, a woman came up to me and she was like, clearly you haven’t worked in sales, because there’s no way you could do all this stuff. And I was like, no, that’s how the automation helps. It’s a total shift in how people think about sales. It’s not a manual process anymore. It’s OK to automate some of that human activity into something that’s more efficient and more process driven.

DG: Winston, I want to backtrack for a minute. A couple times you mentioned SMASH, and I’m not sure all our listeners know what that is. So could you tell us?

WC: Absolutely. So SMASH is a senior living specific conference that I think has been running for five or six years now. The last one was in Chicago last year. It’s a great conference if you’re in senior living sales and marketing. I would definitely encourage you to check it out because it’s well worth your time; there’s some really good speakers.

DG: Thank you, I appreciate it. So in addition to CMS star ratings, social media is another way that brand reputation can be impacted, either negatively or positively, for nursing homes. I know that everything is on a case-by-case basis. But in general, how would you advise a senior care client handle a negative comment on social media?

WC: So once again I’m going to give a shout-out to a guest of our podcast, it’s Aaron Clifford from a company called Binary Fountain that specializes in reputation management. But his advice was — and I totally agree with this, we’ve seen this with many clients — if you get negative feedback on a social media channel like Facebook, or even if you get a negative review in Google, the best thing that you can do is to plan ahead for those circumstances. So before responding, I think you need to sit down with your team as an organization and come up with some templated responses that can be inserted into a number of different scenarios that are sort of pre-approved messages of how to best handle these complaints or negative reviews. The benefit of that is that you’re not requiring somebody on the fly to think of a way to respond, which can be problematic.

And in those messages, the advice that I would give is, take the conversation offline. Don’t try to tell your side of the story and get into a he-said-she-said type of bickering match, really is what it is, in a public forum. It’s not going to look good on anybody. So the thing to do is to address it quickly with a templated response and say something along the lines of, “We’re sorry you had a poor experience. That doesn’t jive with our values as an organization. Please reach out to” whoever it is in your team, and give an email address or a phone number. Ideally a phone number so that they can talk in person and really resolve this thing quickly without a lot of misinterpretation or miscommunication. So those are some of the things that I would do.

DG: All good advice. So boomers are going to be retiring and requiring senior care services. Do you use different — I know you mentioned one of the websites had a very youthful appearance — but do you use different tactics when marketing to boomers than to other demographics? And could you maybe give us some insights on that?

WC: Yes, that’s a good question. You know, I don’t know that it’s all that different than other generations, but I will say that there are some different tactics. So I think, again, the in-bound approach that we follow I think is the way to go. Be helpful, create great content that guides their decision, and promote those messages through the right channels.

And the right channel now really for the baby boomer generation would be Facebook, and it’s interesting that people have this preconceived notion that social media is only for a younger demographic and that older folks aren’t on there. I read an article recently from Forbes that somewhere around 80 percent of baby boomers use the internet have at least one social media account. And Facebook was the leading platform of choice. And the really staggering statistic that I came across was that on Facebook, the 55-year-old or older demographic is spending an hour and 48 minutes on average a day on social media networking. That’s a long time. But that’s where they are.

And, I mean, my mom is a baby boomer. She is on Facebook all the time, it’s crazy. And I just think that getting the right message in the right place, and Facebook would be the channel I would recommend.

Also, you can’t expect for that message to just find those folks organically. I think organizations should be investing in Facebook advertising, that’s still a really good value. You can target specific demographics, specific location, so near your community you can geo-target different audiences. And I think that what you do is promote those helpful resources, buying guides, things that will help people make the right decision as to where they should move and where they want to take the next step in their lives.

DG: So I’ve got one more question for you. Based on your study that you did, what trends do you see for senior care marketing?

WC: You know, I think we talked about this a little bit earlier but, as in every industry, organizations are starting to invest more in digital and automation. Digital because it’s where people research now, it’s where your audience is. And the other thing with digital that we like is that the ROI is really very measurable and it’s great. So you get really good return on investment with digital marketing. And the other thing is, if you have the right systems in place you can tell where traffic came from on your website, what they did when they got there, when they closed as a customer or resident, and what the value of that resident is, and so you can look at the activities and what you spent to get that resident and see a very clear ROI, which is a lot of times difficult to do with offline marketing.

And then the automation piece I think is trending because marketers in this industry are just short on time. They’re short on time, but they also have a difficult job in sort of reinforcing an empathetic sales message with a tone of touchpoints. So with a lengthy sales process, lengthy sales cycle and an empathetic, transparent, genuine sale, it’s difficult to handle that without some kind of tool to help support that messaging and the distribution of it. So that’s where we think marketing automation plays a big role in the senior living industry and that’s why it’s trending.

And then the other thing that I noted down here was speed-to-lead, I think that’s a big emphasis and I think you’ll see more organizations talk about speed-to-lead and focus on it.

And one of the other trends that we’re seeing in the industry is centralized call centers. And so organizations or communities outsourcing their call center activities to an outsource vendor. And that can be a big jump to give up that first touch in the sales conversation, but the efficiencies that you gain sort of make it worth the risk and the reward. And, while I’m at it, I think more marketers are going to start working with external agencies who can put systems in place to help generate leads because they need someone to look at the big picture. If you need that kind of help, we’re certainly here to do it at Senior Care Growth.

DG: So I’m going to throw one more question at you based on your last response. What is the sales cycle, the length of the sales cycle, typically for senior care organizations, since it is a lengthy one?

WC: That’s a good question, and we actually asked that in our survey. And the majority of respondents — well, it varied, and the reason why it varied is because we asked the question of folks in different parts of the senior care industry. So post-acute obviously is a shorter sales cycle, it’s an immediate need. But on the senior living side, the sale cycle can span 90 days or more and that’s where the vast number of respondents said that the sales cycle actually was longer than 90 days. And it makes sense, because it’s a very considered purchase. And so what that means for the organization is they need to be on their A game for months with one opportunity. It’s not a quick sale by any means.

DG: No, it isn’t. Well thank you, Winston, for sharing your expertise with us today. And to all our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you’d like to learn more about Senior Care Growth, visit And if you’d like to learn more about SmartLinx and our fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, visit us online at

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