5 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Messaging to Focus on the Customer

SA_June_17_header_AIn retail, real estate, and other transaction-heavy industries, good marketing is driven by convincing your customer to buy your product or service, and persuading your prospects to choose your brand over the competition.

Yet in the senior living industry, we deal with people’s lives – a responsibility that we do not take lightly. We believe proper marketing should reflect the empathy with which we approach this unique marketplace.

As we have discussed in prior blogs selling begins by listening deeply to prospective residents and their family members to discover their story, their purpose in life and the experiences that drive them. This “storytelling” approach gives you a deeper understanding of your customer, allowing you to better tailor what your community offers to the resident’s unique objectives. Your sales and marketing messages should create communications that support the prospect’s sense of purpose and empower individuals to be the best they can be, says Lauren Messmer, chief operating officer at Solutions Advisors.

The overall marketing message that embraces the idea that people continue to develop and grow no matter their age is consistent across all levels of care: independent, assisted, and memory care. When you can do that properly – and not simply talk about your community’s features – you’ll truly differentiate your location from others.

To that end, we offer five ways to build customer-centered marketing messaging for the senior care industry.

1. Establish All the Ways Your Community Offers a Sense of Purpose.

Create marketing messaging that communicates the community’s support for residents and highlights all the ways it empowers people to live their best life, through activities and programs, events, and convenient amenities.

Understand where potential residents’ minds are. David Solie tells us that maintaining control is a key driver for older persons as so many feel losses each day – of strength, health, peers, authority, identity, and financial independence. Think about these implications and fine-tune your marketing message to their objectives.

“In the messaging we create, we try to avoid language about what we can do for them – and instead focus on how we can support them in their journey to get where they want to go,” Messmer says.

2. Remember: You Operate the House, but Residents Create the Home.

Whether online or in print, your marketing messages should capture the lifestyle and ways residents will feel empowered and engaged in the community. You create the environment to empower residents to live to the fullest and the residents bring the culture to life through activities and programs.

3. Build a Style Guide.

There are terms we purposefully avoid in our marketing messaging – “facility,” “retiree,” “unit” and other such “cold” terms. We are communities and neighborhoods…use of “facility” connotes a clinical, uninviting setting. In general, use welcoming phrases and terms that foster a sense of connection, engagement, and empowerment.

The irony is that prospects tend to use such “cold” words, in part because they are used to seeing them on senior living brochures or websites. But just because they say it, doesn’t mean you should. Make your writing and style stand apart from the rest.

A style or brand guide – two or three pages of terms to use and those to avoid – is a critical tool for both your sales and marketing teams and will ensure consistency across your organization in how to speak to prospective residents and their families.

4. Remain Respectful.

When reading your marketing messages, place yourself in the position of the prospect: Is the message condescending or unintentionally disrespectful? Ensure your tone and intent speaks to the prospect’s level.

Note, too, that courtesy and manners were paramount in the younger adult years for those now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. People knew each other’s names and treated each other with respect in every business interaction. Replicate that same level of courtesy and regard.

5. Lead with Lifestyle – not Real Estate.

While your instinct may be to talk about the buildings and gardens, consider leading with the lifestyle and program elements of the community: What’s it like to live here? What is there to do? How can the community continue growing a resident’s sense of purpose?

As beautiful and stylish as your community may be, it’s hard to compete with the familiarity of one’s own home. Instead, show new residents all they can do at the neighborhood – and how engaged and fulfilled their life will continue to be.


We encourage you to review your marketing messages with these five points in mind. Are you over-emphasizing how residents are “taken care of,” and not including enough verbiage around creating a sense of purpose? Are you focusing too much on real estate, and not enough on lifestyle? Is your message condescending? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, it could be time to rework your marketing messages.

Get to know… Paul O’Brien

Paul4Paul joined Solutions Advisors in 2011 after working in human services for nearly 27 years, focused primarily on older adults. Paul has done it all in senior living sales, from working the phones to developing strategic marketing plans to on-site mentoring and coaching of sales teams. He has crossed off many items on his personal bucket list, the most fascinating of which is performing as a stand-up comedian after studying comedy for several years. (He’s also really good at karaoke!) His focus, however, is his family, wife Denise and daughter Bridget, and contributing his time and talents to his family friends and community. Famous for his sense of humor, Paul takes seriously the business of sales, developing sales strategies to help clients achieve their occupancy goals.

Look for Paul at Leading Age New Jersey and Leading Age Pennsylvania. Paul3Paul2

Look at all the cool stuff happening in Montana!

As ILC celebrates its 60th Anniversary, expansion and renovation continues across the campus…

Kalispell, Montana-based Immanuel Lutheran Communities opened the doors to The Retreat, its newly expanded leading-edge rehabilitative care center! Over 100 people attended ribbon-cutting festivities for the center which features a new Therapy Gym, Recreational Space, Dining Room and Guest Suites. The newly expanded Retreat gives older adults who’ve been hospitalized for an illness, surgery or injury an opportunity to recover in warm, healing environment. With the expansion, The Retreat has tripled in capacity, growing from 16 to 48 private suites. This innovative post-acute short-term recovery center features the latest in rehabilitation equipment, including the Flathead Valley’s only antigravity treadmill.

Wooden Nickel RenderingILC is preparing for three big milestones in late June:  opening of the new Wooden Nickel Coffee Bar and Lounge plus the renovated Claremont Restaurant featuring a new reservation-only Steakhouse dining option; and opening of The Lodge at Buffalo Hill, a new memory care support center.  Construction continues for a 2018 opening of The Villas at Buffalo Hill, 36 fully-reserved apartments offered under a new entrance fee contract. Solutions Advisors, ILC’s marketing partner since June 2015, congratulates the staff, residents and board on these great accomplishments!

The Solutions Advisors’ Team Grows Again

Solutions Advisors is pleased to announce the addition of two new team members, Melinda Stowe and Shannon Martin.

Melinda ProfessionalMelinda Stowe, Sales Specialist, brings thirteen years of sales and marketing experience to Solutions Advisors.  As a sales trainer and coach, her experience will help Solutions Advisors meet the increased demand for interim sales assistance and sales coaching.


ShannonShannon Martin joins Solutions Advisors’ Richmond office as Account Manager. Shannon comes to Solutions Advisors with more than 15 years of experience in integrated marketing and has managed accounts in many industries such as healthcare, education, tourism, retail and many others. Welcome aboard!

Multi-generational Marketing is Critical to Your Community’s Success

Content Marketing to the Adult Child

While senior living marketers have always known that family members play an active role in the decision-making process for a prospect’s senior living choices, it’s only become recently clear just how pivotal the adult child’s role has grown. In an online survey conducted by Care.com that included adult children, relatives, spouses and prospects, 73% of respondents reported that adult children were involved with senior housing decisions regardless of service level. When the adult child helped influence the decision, the move-in rate was 3 times greater than if the decision-maker was only the prospective resident.

Senior living sales and marketing managers are typically focused on providing a data-dump of information to the adult child about their community to include services, amenities, programs, and care through brochures, tours, presentations and community websites. While these marketing channels are important, marketers are falling short on actively targeting and engaging this key influencer.

One of the greatest assets for reaching adult child influencers is through content marketing within the existing community website. This doesn’t have to be multi-layered complex campaign that diverts all of your digital marketing campaign budget away from other important efforts. Rather, some good strategic research and thoughtful writing can help your website become more versatile in how it speaks to a multi-generational audience.

First and foremost make sure the community website provides a resource for the adult child. Create a new ‘Resources for Caregivers’ page that lets searchers learn more about the issues and concerns facing them as they look for senior living options for their parents or family members. Within this page, include a frequently-asked-questions and answers content area to include such questions as:

  • What is a Continuing Care Retirement Community?
  • Do my parents or family members need continuing care?
  • Signs that assisted living would be best for my parents or family member.
  • What do I do if my parents need assisted living?
  • How to start the conversation with my family member?
  • What are the costs involved?
  • How do I know if a community is right for my parent or family member?

Remember that these questions are not only answering an important question for your adult child audience, but you will be mirroring the exact same queries entered into search engines which is a critical component of search engine marketing.

Expand upon the online resources your community provides to an adult child researcher by providing a downloadable guide to help them in their search. Include in this guide tips for finding the right community for a parent or family member, considerations when visiting communities, questions to ask the sales and marketing team during a tour and meeting, and a short promotion of your community. Use specific and direct titles such as How to Find the Right Assisted Living Community or Our Guide to Memory Care Communities to capture the adult child’s attention. Promote the guide in both the website and through your existing pay-per-click campaign with a dedicated landing page for visitors to enter their information in exchange for this important information.

Keep your community top-of-mind with the adult child even before a need is identified. Make use of your blog page to write posts that will be relevant and interesting for the adult child audience. Research the adult child audience for your geographic area to determine what would best draw entrances into the blogs through online searches. Suggested blog topics could include:

  • Winery tours within an hour of the city
  • Best views of the city (Or Best Views of the Town)
  • Colleges and universities within 100 miles of the city
  • Fun family day-trips close to the city

Research your topics carefully since those that contain the least competitive keywords and phrases have a greater chance of being served up higher in search engine results and lead to greater visibility with searchers. For instance, Baseball Spring Training in Florida will have many hundreds of search engine results that your post will compete against for visibility. However, Spring Training Camps Near Winter Park FL will have less competitiveness and will be more likely to appear closer to the top of search engine results.

Contact us to learn more about our Solutions Advisors’ digital strategies and how we can help your senior living community reach the adult child influencer.

49 Move-ins in 1 Month!

Gonda.logoAlready on record as the quickest timeframe for attaining 70% pre-sales in the state of California (verified by Cain Brothers), Fountainview at Gonda Westside in west Los Angeles has achieved yet another milestone: 49 move-ins in one month!

Gensler_Gonda_Ext01_smallLocated in Playa Vista, a new walkable urban community on the west side of Los Angeles, Fountainview at Gonda Westside is a shiny new glass-enclosed tower featuring views of downtown LA and the Santa Monica mountains. A roof top swimming pool, spa and fitness center are just a few of the many outstanding features of this ultra-modern and luxurious community.  Apartments are loaded with contemporary features such as granite countertops, glass-tiled back splashes, upmarket stainless steel appliances, rainfall showerheads and more. A state-of-the-art theatre, light-filled art studio and trendy wine bar are some of the community’s many stylish amenities.

A steaming hot housing market in LA resulted in many depositors selling their homes within days or weeks of putting them on the market. Yet a delay in obtaining the certificate of occupancy caused a backlog of depositors anxious to move in. As a result, all throughout February and March it was ‘all hands on deck’ as the sales team, department heads and management worked tirelessly into the evenings and over weekends to move-in as many as possible and as smoothly as possible. In March alone, 49 residents were moved in, a near-Herculean effort! To date, 80 residents have settled into their new home with more to come!

Solutions Advisors was first retained in November 2012 to provide marketing and sales management for this planned 175-apartment luxury community sponsored by the LA Jewish Home. Within 11 months of opening of the sales center, the community was 70% pre-sold. Solutions Advisors continued sales and marketing management throughout the project’s construction, partnering with the sales team to achieve 100% pre-sales and a waiting list of over 50 households.

We “pinned the tail on the donkey” to become better leaders

Leadership Qualities Challenge2 (3)At Solutions Advisors, our vision is to inspire others to reach their full potential. As sales leaders and coaches, we are driven to seek out the best performers and to intentionally build stronger teams, which was the focus of our company’s semi-annual meeting last month. From JC Thompson, EVP and “chief disrupter” of Aspire, a national leadership development group, we participated in games like “pin the tail on the donkey” to learn that leadership and communication is hard work._N6A7915-2-small

According to Aspire, only 4 percent of people perform at the level of ‘outstanding’ meaning they consistently deliver the highest level of results, while 17% are considered ‘top notch’ and 72% are mediocre performers. The remaining 7 percent? Naysayers or, as JC referred to them, “pukers.” The job of a leader, and the goal of Solutions Advisors, is to invoke the “Six Pillars of Intentional Leadership”™ as identified by Aspire: Connection, Clean Communication, Compassion, Higher Purpose, Participation and 100% Responsibility and Accountability. As a young aspiring company, Solutions Advisors is committed to continuous development of our own team members using both Aspire as well as StrengthsFinder 2.0 by bestselling author Tom Rath, to uncover individual strengths and build effective teams, and to deliver excellent results for our clients. For more information about Aspire’s unique approach to leadership development visit: http://www.aspiremarketing.com/aspire/

Welcome our Solutions Advisors newest Team Members!

We are excited to announce and welcome the most recent additions to the Solutions Advisors team:

Dora-croppedDora Barber, Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Dora has more than 20 years of sales experience in the senior living industry. Prior to joining Solutions Advisors and Solvere Senior Living, Dora was with Harbor Retirement Associates (HRA) for four years as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, which included creating the sales strategies for six new developments in major markets. Preceding HRA she was the Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for the Southeast at Senior Lifestyle Corporation. She oversaw the sales staff of twenty communities working closely with each team to maximize sales. Read full bio here…

Linda-croppedLinda Bott, Account Manager
Linda comes to Solutions Advisors with 25 years of marketing experience focused on brand awareness and direct marketing. In client account service leadership roles, Linda has managed marketing budgets in excess of $8 million, developed and executed integrated marketing plans, including branding, digital marketing, social media, email and direct mail marketing. Linda is a strong believer in collaborating with clients’ sales and marketing teams to build strong relationships and provide cohesive marketing strategies. Linda will work with Solutions Advisor’s clients to identify and execute new marketing strategies that help grow brand awareness and lead generation. Read full bio here…

Justin-croppedJustin Jung, Staff Accountant
Justin Jung, Staff Accountant for Solutions Advisors, has accounting experience in manufacturing and retail environments. He was most recently with Apex Consolidated Corporation, New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he was promoted from bookkeeper to accountant with responsibility for all accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank reconciliation, and monthly closing procedures. Read full bio here… 

Kimber-croppedKimber Karn, Account Coordinator
New to the senior living industry, Kimber brings an invaluable set of project management skills to the creative and marketing teams at Solutions Advisors. Prior to joining Solutions Advisors, Kimber served as the Marketing and Membership Services Coordinator for the National Association of Social Workers, Virginia chapter with various roles and responsibilities for implementing online and offline marketing campaigns.  Read full bio here…

Dominique Mariano, Marketing CoordinatorDominique-cropped
Dominique has 8 years of experience in the senior living industry, working primarily in the community setting in a various array of roles and responsibilities. Dominque brings a background of marketing and graphic arts to Solutions Advisors. Her focus is to use her creativity and organizational skills for both marketing design and administrative duties.  Read full bio here…


To wait or not to wait?

Solutions Advisors works with a number of communities across the country that are in various stages of sales; some are under development, some are challenged with occupancy while others are in more of a maintenance mode. Regardless of the circumstance, a common question asked by the sales team is – should we have a waiting list even if we are not 100% occupied?

The short answer is – YES! Using a waiting list strategically is a great way to allow prospects to commit to the community prior to moving in.

The long answer is…well, longer.


My community is under development!

Google “senior housing projects under construction” and you will find new communities being developed across the country. “Blue sky” projects typically go through two deposit phases – a priority deposit phase followed by a reservation deposit phase. The goal is to have the priority depositor convert to a reservation deposit or a waiting list for the future. Then, once the community reaches 100% pre-sold with reservation deposits, new deposits are for the waiting list only. The waiting list will help back-fill cancellations as well as provide a pipeline for future move-ins after the community opens.

Some important waiting list tips for blue sky projects:

  • Divide the waiting list by floor plan style.  If a reservation depositor cancels, start with those waiting list members who have expressed an interest in that particular floor plan style.  If no one on the waiting list is interested in the available residence, then it can be offered to the market
  • Know the timeframe of the waiting list members. Remember, with a new community, opportunities to reoccupy a residence take considerably longer than with an established community.  Ensure the depositor understands the sense of urgency
  • Ask the depositor for back-up residence styles. Since, as noted, reoccupancy can take longer, know the depositor’s first, second and third choice
  • Include the waiting list members in select, depositor-only events.  Some events should be held for only reservation depositors; however, inviting waiting list members to select events will help form a bond with the future residents more easily


My community is occupancy challenged!

Managing a waiting list for an occupancy-challenged community is just as important as for one that is full. Prospects in the planning phase of the sales process may find the waiting list a safe way to connect with the community while not being quite “ready” to make the move. The goal of converting a prospect to the waiting list is to engage them with the community so their desire to move increases. The deposit shows a financial commitment which is typically an indication of future interest. We’ve seen some communities that have stagnant waiting lists in which depositors simply want to have a placeholder but have little intention of moving unless a crisis hits. In some cases, prospects may be on multiple waiting lists, possibly waiting for the best deal or incentive.

Some important waiting list tips for occupancy-challenged communities:

  • Consider defining two separate waiting lists: one more traditional list of people who want to be kept apprised of the availability of the community and one with a higher financial commitment that allows them to personally experience life at the community.  In the case of the list with the higher financial commitment, the depositor would, for example, provide a $5,000 deposit to become part of the “Club”.  As a member of the club, they might receive special benefits such as:
    • Monthly Sunday brunch
    • Access to the fitness center or other select amenities
    • Monthly trips and excursions with residents and other club members
    • Priority ranking on the waiting list over traditional waiting list members
  • Create conversion events specifically for waiting list members that allow them to mingle with existing residents
  • Set goals for both waiting list deposits as well as waiting list conversions to move-ins.  Review these conversions separately from typical inquiry to move-in and tour to move-in conversion ratios

If you are challenged with occupancy, it becomes even more important to be strategic in your communication with a waiting list. Don’t just follow up occasionally to see if their timeframe has changed – use creative follow up, home visits and other strategies to engage them with the community. The goal is to get them to move in sooner rather than later.


My community is in maintenance mode!

If your community is operating above budget and in more of a maintenance mode, a more traditional working of the lead base typically will suffice. However, it is still important to keep the depositors engaged in the community to ensure they are more likely to move when something becomes available for them.

  • The waiting list deposit is typically 100% refundable.  The deposit should be small enough to be manageable yet large enough to demonstrate a financial commitment to the community as an indication of future interest. Traditional CCRCs see waiting list deposits  that vary from $1,000 to $2,500 while some rental communities require less money to commit
  • One option to identify depositors who are more serious is to require a 10% deposit to be on the waiting list for those residences that are the highest in demand, such as larger floor plans, apartments with great views, etc.
  • Some communities have a “three and done” philosophy in which the waiting list depositor is offered a residence three times before they drop to the bottom of the list.  Often, this strategy requires a 72-hour decision making period.  While this may create a sense of urgency, it can actually slow down the process while waiting for a commitment, and make the depositor feel pressured to make a decision that they may regret.  We find that placing the decision in the hands of the depositor allows them to feel more in control and not feel ‘punished’ if the timing and circumstances are not right.  We prefer allowing the depositor to turn down the available residence without losing their place on the list.  In order for this method to work, however, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the timeframe of the depositors on the list so the sales team does not waste time contacting depositors who are unlikely to move
  • We find it useful to send out an annual waiting list survey to determine if interests, timeframe or circumstances of the depositors have changed.  This will help the sales team maintain a grasp of the status of the waiting list depositors.

Of primary importance is to be strategic in your approach and consistently track conversions to monitor the success of your efforts. Review key ratios such as waiting list deposit to move-in, waiting list deposit cancellations as well as gestation periods from waiting list deposit to move-in. These conversions will vary based on the current sales state your community is in as well as the attrition rate; however, establishing ratios and tracking them over time will allow you to evaluate progress. Also, do not assume that waiting list members are already sold on your community. They need to be engaged and connected with often, just as you would with traditional prospects.

People Are Talking About Your Community. Are You Listening?

Wouldn’t it be great if every social media post or online review written about your senior living community wasn’t just complimentary, but heaped mountains of praise for exceptional service, superb personal attention, unparalleled quality and an unmatched level of care?

While we believe our communities are often worthy of these accolades, the reality is that someone, whether that be a current resident, family member of a resident, prospect, or possibly a disgruntled former employee, may not agree with the perceptions we have of Negative_Online_Review Image our community, service and staff. If fact, some individuals may feel so wronged, real or otherwise, by the community that they go to online reviews and social media to voice their displeasure and take a very public swipe at the community.

But what do you do when a negative post about you, your staff or the community in general surfaces? To do nothing and hope that it blows over is wishful thinking, but ultimately ineffective. While you’re waiting for the negative post to disappear, which likely will not happen without any effort on your part, scores of prospects could be viewing this negative post and be forming an unfavorable opinion about your community.

While it might may seem daunting to have a public online dialogue with a disgruntled resident, prospect or family member, know that responding to a negative review is vital for your community for these reasons:

  1. To show your audience that the community cares and values their opinion
  2. To protect the brand reputation of the community
  3. To provide an opportunity to re-engage with the individual who has experienced a less-than-positive interaction with the community

Provided are several considerations that should be taken into account before responding to a negative review or post:

  • Turn negative comments into a positive. For example, if a reviewer claims the food at the community dining venue was awful, respond by thanking them for the feedback and respond that the community will use that feedback to help improve the goal of excellence in all food services areas or highlight a change that might have occurred recently in offerings or quality.
  • Be careful of your tone, especially when it comes to a difference in opinion. Take the high road by maintaining your professionalism and avoid using argumentative or aggressive language that may cause the reviewer to respond in kind with even more aggressive language.
  • Avoid the temptation to go on the offensive against the reviewer, even if their statements are false, categorically untrue or are a personal attack on you or a staff member. Retain your composure and remember that your response is not just being seen by this reviewer but by all prospective residents and families.
  • Show empathy with your response. Remember, you may be responding to a caregiver who is dealing with many challenges (financial, emotional, etc.) in their support of their family member at the community. Demonstrate your compassion, responsiveness and expertise in senior living.
  • Do not reveal private information not revealed in the review. Communications must abide by HIPAA regulations and can be subpoenaed in court.
  • If appropriate, acknowledge mistakes, lessons learned and corrective actions taken to avoid future mistakes.
  • Take the conversation offline if the reviewer continues to post negative comments even after two repeated attempts by you to diffuse the issue. Provide a phone number or email address so the situation can be resolved with a private exchange.
  • Avoid using corporate language that makes your response read more like a templated response. Respond to the viewer in human terms that’s conversational and authentic.

Remember that you might not be able to change the opinion of the negative reviewer, but you might be positively influencing a host of prospective residents and their families with your actions.

Go On The Offensive!…Foster Positive Conversations About Your Community

Reputation management is more than just damage control. It’s using a multitude of messaging from any number of sources, from your website, to your social media sites to your advertising to resident testimonials and reviews to positively shape the community’s brand essence. And like almost all other industries today, people trust what others are saying online about a service or product before they make a decision, especially one as important as where they’ll spend their retirement years.

In addition to contributing to your community’s brand, fostering positive conversations and reviews helps to improve your overall digital marketing efforts. While only part of a larger puzzle, positive reviews are an increasingly important factor in search engine rankings.

Here are six tips for generating positive online conversations and reviews about your community:

  • Provide a simple process for residents, family members or friends to leave a positive review by providing links to important senior living review sites and social media sites. Create a special webpage with icons of these review sites so visitors can go directly to your community’s profile and leave a review.
  • Use both online and offline methods to promote the use of positive review sites such as emails to residents and family members, a mention at resident meetings, inserts in billing statements, and community flyers and handouts.
  • Specifically target and encourage your resident ‘brand ambassadors’ to spread the good news about their experience with the community through social media and review sites.
  • For any reviews 3-star or higher, post the reviews on your website for visitors to see. If you come across a really great review, reach out to this brand ambassador as they may be a perfect candidate for a testimonial about their positive interactions with the community.
  • Monitor what’s been said about your community on social media and senior living review sites. Several sites and services are available to monitor for what’s being said about your community and provide real-time updates for a quick response if needed.


Jeff Felton, Director of Marketing Services for Solutions Advisors, is a believer in a best defense is a good offense when it comes to the online conversation for a senior living community. Part of Solutions Advisors’ digital strategy is to create opportunities for as many positive reviews, social media posts, testimonials, anecdotal stories and videos as possible because we know online reviews influence prospective residents’ confidence in a community, thereby helping to narrow down their choices. Contact us to learn more about our digital strategies.