With a dated website and no online marketing efforts, Rachel Lugge, executive vice president of The Esquiline, a Belleville, IL, life plan community previously known as Apartment Community of Our Lady of the Snows, says she and Esquiline President Barbara Prosser realized that something was missing from their digital efforts to attract new residents. It was not until she attended a LeadingAge digital marketing workshop led by online marketer Patty Cisco in mid-2016 that Lugge realized that that something could be very large indeed.
Prosser notes that after retaining Cisco, a principal at New Bremen, OH-based Marketing Essentials, and discussing the need for a digital marketing strategy, the organization decided it wanted a phased-in, cost-conscious approach to building an inbound digital marketing program that would accomplish 3 primary goals:
- Increase awareness and the digital presence of the community
- Drive qualified leads and favorably impress those who visited the website
- Boost overall sales by moving consumers down the road from curious online visitors to serious sales prospects to join the community
Nearly 2 years later and more than $120,000 in total digital marketing costs, Prosser and Lugge say they are pleased with the results. A variety of metrics for online traffic and sales leads are up. From July through December 2017, there were 68 sales qualified leads—leads viewed as possible to close as sales—including at least 13 who visited the community campus, at which point sales are extremely likely, and 3 actual move-ins, Prosser says.
“Our digital marketing investment dollars have been the smartest dollars we have spent,” Prosser says. “We have analyzed the value of our independent living customers over their average tenure at our communities and it is $100,000 per customer. So, the sales resulting from our digital marketing investment have more than paid for the costs of our digital marketing efforts to date.”
A Whole New Marketing World
As more and more customers shop for aging services providers on the Internet, digital marketing, which Cisco defines as understanding a customer’s online buying journey and then capturing their attention and nurturing them to action, is poised to become an increasingly large source of leads that providers ignore at their peril.
And many aging services providers are simply not keeping up with the changing landscape, say digital marketers.
“Truthfully, most senior living communities have not prepared for how quickly boomers and seniors have adopted new technology,” says Tom Mann, principal and executive vice president of integrated media services at Love & Company, a senior living marketing firm. “Communities that have adopted digital marketing are now seeing more than 50% of their leads come in digitally. Unfortunately, many of the communities have dipped their toes in the water, haven’t been successful, and therefore assume that digital is over-hyped. But it’s far more likely that they are just doing it wrong.”
There are a host of reasons why every aging services provider should have a digital marketing strategy, Mann and other digital marketers say. Among them are the increasing role digital activity plays in buyers’ decision-making, the danger that negative social media content and other negative consumer digital experiences will sour sales prospects, and the fact that well-executed digital marketing plans can be a very low-cost way of adding new streams of sales leads. The average cost per lead for inbound digital marketing is $143, compared to a traditional outbound marketing lead cost of $373, says Cisco.
Marketing With a Difference
Digital marketing has a vocabulary, approach and timeline that is different from more traditional marketing campaigns, such as direct mail. There are several discrete stages, including, first, maintaining an attractive online presence, most notably the community’s website, that draws viewer interests, says Cisco. Another step features converting the curious to actual digital leads. The final step involves nurturing the lead to the point where he or she is ready to seriously consider the aging service provider’s service. For those whose online efforts have been minimal, just increasing traffic may be an important prerequisite to further digital marketing efforts, says Cisco. For those reasonably strong in that area, one or both of the other two areas may be the major focus, she says.
“Truthfully, most senior living communities have not prepared for how quickly boomers and seniors have adopted new technology.”
A key difference from more standard forms of marketing is that converting a digital lead to a sales close can be a long road, says Mann. It’s one that involves a pipeline of digital activities and precisely designed web tools, such as web page content and responsive communications, that must be appropriate to the stage of the prospect/community interaction to optimize the progression from visitor to closed sale. His company’s website offers an animated video that describes a typical digital marketing interaction between a buyer and a community to show how a variety of digital marketing steps can help transform curious online visitors into sales closes.
Cisco says it is important that a digital marketing strategic plan govern such efforts. A typical mistake, she says, is viewing a few tentative digital media efforts, like maintaining a website with basic functionality or performing some social media outreach, as adequate digital marketing, when those efforts are inadequate or not logically coordinated in a way that moves online traffic toward becoming serious sales leads. Cisco says she often performs audits and testing to detect weaknesses in a provider’s plan.
Beyond those basics, more advanced digital marketing efforts involve creation of holistic inbound digital marketing programs that tie marketing, sales and return on investment together, Cisco says: “This level of programming requires design and execution of critical elements of strategy and advanced tools, including marketing automation systems integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems, an in-depth understanding of the buyer’s journey, and a budget sufficient to support the strategy and deliver the return on investment a CEO expects.”
Dollars and Sense
While the costs vary depending upon the goals and resources of the provider, there are some rules of thumb, Cisco says: “A fully-outsourced inbound digital marketing program will start around $3,000 per month for an entry-level basic program and can go to $10,000 to $15,000 or more per month for an enterprise-level organization. Ultimately, the investment is dependent on many variables, and the initial focus shouldn’t be on the cost of the program, but what the expected return on investment could be, and the value a strategic partner brings. It’s also important to ensure that you are receiving a fully customized program unique to your organization. Different tools that would be needed for such efforts, such as automated marketing platform and customer relationship management tools, that create a closed-loop system average from free to $3,000 or more per month, plus any social and/or pay-per-click advertising costs.”
If a good strategy is in place, costs can be reduced by leveraging existing aging services provider staff and resources with adequate coaching.
On the other hand, successful digital marketing involves technical systems that have clear price tags and there are various options, Mann says: “Does your website and marketing automation platform (MAP) communicate with your customer relationship management system (CRM) (i.e., REPS, Enquire, RHS, Sherpa, SalesForce, etc.)? Should you be using a closed ecosystem where your CRM and MAP are packaged together (like HubSpot or SalesForce)? Or should you go the more affordable route and connect tools like MailChimp and/or Mautic to your CRM? The answer depends on your organization’s specific situation and needs. But one thing that shouldn’t be negotiable is that your website, CRM and MAP must all “talk” to each other.”
Mann also says that digital media should supplement, and not necessarily supplant, traditional outbound marketing tools such as direct mail, radio, television and print advertising. “I still believe in direct mail for reaching older adults—events at the community are still the workhorse of any marketing plan,” says Mann.
Beyond the immediate sales potential of digital marketing, such efforts and technologies can position aging services providers to better understand their value proposition, who they should market to, and how they can best market. “As more and more communities are able to get on CRM systems that can provide more connectivity to marketing automation, lead scoring and sales enablement workflows, communities will truly understand the value and how digital marketing can support every phase of the buying experience,” says Janel Wait, chief innovation officer at GlynnDevins, a Kansas City, MO-based senior living marketing firm. “Communities will gain more insights into buyer behavior that will result in more meaningful engagement with the brand. Communities will truly begin to understand and engage with segments of one versus segments of many.”
David Tobenkin is a freelance journalist based in the greater Washington, D.C., area.
A look the how and why of a good digital marketing program.