A New Marketing Strategy for Assisted Living

Senior LivingAssisted LivingMemory CareLiving Preferences

A New Marketing Strategy for Assisted Living

Posted 02/07/2023By Christina Bremner12 min read
Senior and assisted living is an industry like any other, with businesses focused on profit. And part of that is marketing. However, this business isn't selling widgets. It's selling peace of mind, care, and safe living for our aging loved ones. And the industry seems to have lost its way in terms of marketing for assisted living.

Riddled with Frustrations

Online referral agencies are dominating digital marketing and online advertising. Residents and their families often click on referral agencies’ links first. Then they can end up going down a rabbit hole searching for the best living community for their loved ones.

They are met with frustrations. They feel like a number. They go on tours for communities that never would have worked for them, financially or care-wise. These families shed tears of frustration in the process. But they have been led astray from the beginning by no fault of their own.

According to NIC MAP Vision, nearly 70% of senior and assisted living leads are from professional referral sources. And the fee for these referrals is the majority of the marketing budget for most communities.

Not all referral sources are problematic; those who know the communities they are referring to, i.e., have been to the location and seen the property. Those referral agents meet the prospective resident and their families in person and truly get to know them. The big online referral agencies are a machine with little personal interaction. Senior and assisted living is a highly personal decision.

With the majority of leads coming from referral agencies, only 30% of leads will come from a community’s own assisted living marketing ideas and efforts. These efforts, such as digital marketing, online advertising, online reviews, in-person events, and social media, cost a lot of money to create and implement.

Larger communities, or their parent company, may have it in their budget to pay for Google ads, buy email marketing lists, and hold open houses; however, smaller independently owned communities may need more resources to afford or manage such efforts. Unfortunately, these communities are typically left out of the online referral system.

Understanding the Online Referral Agency Game

The senior and assisted living industry needs to be updated. Literally, and that’s not supposed to be a pun on the demographic. Instead, we should clarify that it’s most significantly outdated in how the industry embraces technology and the internet. Senior and assisted living is an incredibly significant life decision concerning health care, quality of life, and overall happiness and well-being of the residents. However, some of the most powerful tools are not being used to help people navigate finding senior and assisted living.

First, Let’s Think About Online Consumers

In today’s age, consumers can shop for just about anything on the internet. Whether it’s a car, a home, or consumer goods, you can always find what you need, see the pricing, read in-depth product descriptions, learn about the availability, and more. And you can do it all from your computer with a few Google searches.

You can contact the company directly if you are interested in purchasing the product. Next, you can visit the car dealership for a test drive. Finally, you can schedule a showing with a realtor.

And by the time you go for the showing or test drive, you have done additional research. As a result, you can validate the pricing and value. Not only did you find what you were looking for, but you also were able to find other information to support your choice.

Consumers Want to Be Confident and Validation

What you have in almost every other consumer industry is a series of online tools and websites that empower the consumer. Consumers can compare and contrast products on their own. They have done independent research to lead to a confident decision. And this isn’t just for younger people; Boomers are following the same behavioral trend.

This is the way of the internet. This is what consumers are accustomed to. They expect to be able to gather information and data, including pricing and availability of just about anything they will purchase. They can also validate their choice by doing additional research. No type of service or product will avoid this consumer trend, even the senior living industry. It’s only a matter of time.

Second, Imagine How People Find Senior and Assisted Living Online

Imagine a family trying to find a safe, quality assisted living community for their elderly relative. When they search online, the listings are sporadic and inconsistent, and clicking through to websites that offer little detail on pricing or essential care information. They do not know if they are looking at a community within their budget or meeting their care needs. If they can search online for other living options and consumer purchases, why can’t they do it for senior and assisted living?

They typically type relevant keywords in their web browser, “assisted living near me.” The first search results are usually paid advertising. The title would read something like this, "Top Assisted Living Facilities Near You,” with a headline below stating they have thousands of communities in their database.

This has consumers very frustrated. They get as far as a few communities’ websites without transparency in pricing, availability, or detailed information. Eventually, they will come across a referral agency website; they are often displayed at the top of a search page. These online referral agencies have massive online marketing budgets that place them at the top of web searches. When the family clicks through, they are hit with a “contact us” form at every turn. They have found virtually no valuable information in their search, so they fill out the form.

After the Form, Comes the Relentless Calls.

Once they complete the form on the referral site, they may be shown several communities in their search area but need help to contact the community or get much information. Often, a phone number offered for an assembly is the number of the referral agency.

Calls and Emails for Marketing for Senior Living and Assisted Living

If the person calls the number listed, the representative asks the caller for their name, and then the caller realizes they’re not speaking to the community. They’re talking to the referral agency. If the caller hangs up, they still have their name and the caller’s phone number because of caller ID. This is inbound digital marketing, which creates lead generation for the agency.

So, the prospect clicked on an online referral agency website that now has their contact information. Usually, without fully paying attention, they arbitrarily permitted the agency to use their personal contact information. This information has started through a marketing cycle that will frustrate both the residents and the senior living community.

The agency will call back and ask fundamental questions about what the senior is looking for. Then, the representative will pass the information to another sales team agent, who will call them at another time and provide the names of a few communities to visit. The agent will then send the caller’s contact information for the areas they discussed with them. Now, what happens?

The prospective resident will start receiving phone calls and emails from the communities that were sent the contact information. They also receive calls and emails from the referral agent. The pressure is on.

Spray-and-Pray Sales Tactics in Senior Assisted Living

The sales strategy used by these agencies is sometimes referred to as “spray and pray.” Spray it out there and pray it lands somewhere. First, they send leads to the communities where they have contract agreements. Then the agency prays the senior will choose one of the communities they shared their contact information with.

Did you know the online agency will recommend communities they are contracted with regardless of whether the resident is a good fit, health qualified, or financially qualified? Then, additional communities will be sent the lead information if more are needed. In other words, the resident lead will never hear about ALL the communities in their search area that could have potentially met their needs.

Questioning the Process

We even had a secret shopper who happened to work for a large leading community in an area with a lot of competition. He gave the referral agency all the information to qualify his “pseudo-parent” as an ideal community resident for the community he worked at.

However, while his community was contracted with the online referral agency, they never suggested the community to him, even when he specifically asked about his community, nor did they send the lead to his community. It makes you wonder what the online referral agencies use as criteria and basis for referrals.

The Ownership of Leads and Personal Data

**Once a community receives any leads for prospective residents from the agency, the community is contractually obligated to earmark that lead as belonging to that agency. That agency will track leads and may have rights to leads for up to two years. (That sounds like a long time, right? Lobbyists are trying to regulate referral agencies; read more here.)

The only way a community can avoid paying a move-in referral fee is if the community was working with the lead before the agency sent it to them. But here’s something else, the community has a limited window of time to notify and claim back the information from the agency if they were already working with that lead.

As a Community, This Process is Highly Problematic

Most senior living communities use a customer relationship management (CRM) software platform to keep track of their leads in the sales process. The big online referral agencies have their own CRM too. Both record the date and time when a lead is entered into their system.

Here’s where it gets rough. If the prospective resident lead or even family members came to the community first (before they connected with the online referral agency), the community MUST notify the agency within a set time frame that they’ve already been working with the lead.

Suppose the community doesn’t notify the agency or recognize that the lead is already in their database. If the community is late notifying the agency, then the agency owns the lead, and if the resident ends up moving into the community, the community is locked into paying a fee to the agency. It can feel like sharks in the water!

Online Referral Agencies: A Love/Hate Relationship

**The sad reality is most communities don’t have a choice. According to the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), there are approximately 30,600 assisted living communities in the United States. Large online referral agencies are in contract with most of them.

Remember how a referral agency was the first listing in a web search? They paid BIG money for search engine optimization (SEO) and advertising to land on the first page.

Most communities don’t have the financial ability to compete with them online. As a result, most communities are caught in the trap of paying referral agency fees instead of investing in their own marketing efforts.

The Occupancy Issue in Senior Living and Assisted Living

Most marketing directors are under pressure to keep their building occupancy full. We spoke with a former marketing director, and she shared that many of her peers in other communities stress about possibly losing their jobs because their occupancy levels dipped.

The occupancy rate is, by and large, the measurement of success for marketing directors. So it creates a dependency on the lead resources that is hard to break. This is true for the individual marketing director and community as it is endemic to the entire industry.

It’s Time to Change How to Market Assisted Living

**The good news is that a shift is happening in the industry and senior living marketing. It’s been the topic of numerous articles and conversations. Today’s consumers want transparency, and the assisted living industry needs to change.

The current way communities are marketing needs to meet the needs of today’s online shoppers. Instead, they’re making it difficult for people to find their community, making it harder on themselves with unqualified tours, and losing money because of expensive referral fees.

A New Platform to Empower Communities

A new platform has heeded the call. Purple Door Finders is a new innovative website that is doing things differently. It is an online platform comprised of a database of comprehensive senior and assisted living listings.

On Purple Door Finders, communities can share more information about their community than any other listing service and manage the account in real-time. This allows them to share immediate availability, coming soon availability, floorplans, rates, incentives, and move-in documents, which is what the consumer wants to know. In addition, if the consumer knows what they are researching, they will come to communities knowing and understanding their needs and are better qualified. Imagine the time saved for everyone!

Another benefit is the ability for consumers and the community to connect directly without middlemen, agents, or advisors. Potential residents and their loved ones can directly message the community if they’re interested in more information. They can also directly book a tour with the community through the website. There are no referral agents or advisors in the middle. Potential residents can search, find, favorite, share, and research senior living on their own terms.

Be The Change

We know the current way of assisted living marketing does not meet the needs of today’s consumers. We also know it is not working for marketing directors and community directors. That is why new solutions are being developed to meet the needs of both residents and communities.

However, marketing directors and community directors need to embrace the change and start doing things differently if they want to see the change in the industry. By embracing new platforms and willingness to be transparent, change is possible.

Get Started with a New Way to Market Your Assisted Living Community

Purple Door Finders is a FREE Real-Estate Style platform for senior and assisted living. Communities can start with a few easy steps. Contact us at community@purpledoorfinders.com or 612-PURPLE-3 for assistance with your listing.

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