By Bill Pemberton
This month, for my “president’s blog”, I thought I would give you all a break from my ranting. I have invited a guest blogger, Bill Pemberton, to share his passion in my place. Bill Pemberton is senior vice president of the senior lifestyle division of The Point Group, a senior-focused marketing firm based in Dallas, Texas. Bill is also a member of the SAGE Board of Directors. Bill believes strongly in the value of design as an integral part of the overall customer brand experience. Let’s hear what’s on Bill’s heart. --Mitch
As senior living communities continue to proliferate across the country, the level of competition is getting increasingly tough in markets, small and large. This market saturation offers a baffling array of look-alike choices to consumers, and makes the first challenge to building occupancy simply finding a way to stand out from the pack. While the temptation is to high pressure the sales team to close more deals and focus on occupancy, the real answer is probably focusing on a more effective brand strategy.
Your brand wins for you when it connects well and quickly enough with prospects for your community that you make the shortlist on your prospect’s list of providers they want to tour. Then, and only then, is it up to sales to uphold the brand promise. Occupancy is an outcome of qualified leads, well managed.
While brand is often seen as a mysterious and complex piece of marketing magic, it’s really a straightforward but strategic approach to a series of customer touchpoints that guide consumers on a journey from being prospects to customers, and then to brand advocates. That journey begins with your communications to the market, via media channels such as PR, advertising, direct mail, your website and more. Your sales staff must continue that brand promise on the physical visit, or you risk an abrupt brand disconnect as in, “Honey, this isn’t at all what I was expecting.” That wastes everyone’s time.
Brand formulation begins with defining what makes up your unique value as a company or community. That value consists of whatever benefits your community is intrinsically able to deliver on a consistent basis—especially in contrast to the competition who can’t deliver exactly those benefits, or as well. No senior community can be all things to all prospects. Your goal then should be to capture those prospects who generally belong at your community based on your special ability to meet their key “care abouts”—whether real life needs or just strong preferences.
Maybe you’re the only non-profit in a town full of for-profit providers—stress the benefits of that model. Perhaps your building is older and unattractive, but your clinical staff are second to none, or you have a culture of caring that trumps a flashy building with a cold staff. Maybe you’re more affordable than other communities, or conversely, you offer an extraordinary experience at unashamedly high prices. Maybe you’re located among walkable local attractions—or you offer quaint country ambiance. Ideally i’s a combination of several key factors—but find your “hook” points and keep it short.
Brand ID elements such as name, logo, slogans and website homepage copy are what most folks believe brand is about. But those are just the compact containers you use to provide a condensed, concise—and hopefully compelling—taste of what your full value proposition entails. It’s more overture than opera. You’ll need a brochure to tell all about dozens of your amenities but your brand promise may only trumpet “a signature lifestyle experience” and the like. The best branding is specific and memorable.
Another key point: your brand isn’t a once and forever formulation but may require a “brand update” to reflect new expansions, renovations and other repositioning activities you do to counter new or improved competition. Finally, don’t hesitate to pull in a professional marketing agency—preferably one with strong senior marketing savvy—to guide you through the process of brand formulation and brand ID development. Brand is far too important to miss the mark and agencies spend their days in brand development processes. An agency can also ensure that your brand is communicated consistently across all channels. In any case, start today making sure you’re leveraging your brand assets to the fullest. You may find that much of the occupancy growth—of the kind you need—takes care of itself.
Bill Pemberton develops marketing solutions for senior living and care communities of all types and sizes across the nation—as well as companies who market to the senior living industry. He welcomes dialogue at firstname.lastname@example.org