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VP Interactive Innovation, Jeff Felton, Reflects on COVID Digital Marketing Challenges

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Jeff Felton attending conference.Jeff Felton, Vice President of Interactive Innovation, has been with Solutions Advisors for 8 years, having spent 25 years in direct, traditional and digital marketing, with 10 specifically in the senior living industry. Jeff leads a digital marketing team that provides strategy, social media management, content marketing, website development, SEO/SEM and digital project management to both Solutions Advisors’ and Solvere Living communities.

How has COVID-19 changed the way Solutions Advisors approaches digital marketing?

Without a doubt, the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on how we engage and connect with prospects through digital channels…and subsequently has led to challenges in lead generation.

Early on following the outbreak, we developed the Current and Post-COVID Marketing /Digital Marketing Strategy, which helped provide a roadmap for how Solutions Advisors would support our clients through an unprecedented and highly unpredictable period. The strategy was broken out into four main critical components: Rapid Response and Communication, Education, Connection and Promotion. The overarching goals of these four components were to:

  • Establish credibility
  • Hone the community’s authority in a crisis
  • Ramp up engagement with seniors and their influencers
  • Keep sales advancement top of mind, even in the midst of uncertainty regarding changing regulations

What were some of the new strategies that worked to keep prospects engaged or generate new leads?

From a digital marketing standpoint, we had to meet prospects where they were, which due to stay-at-home orders and regulations which kept communities from accepting visitors, we had to go virtual.

Our team put in the extra effort in to make sure our community websites kept prospects and family members apprised of safety protocols and important updates. We harnessed social media to demonstrate that life on the inside of our communities was oftenbetter than life on the outside.

We used video platforms, such as OneDay, to help make 1-to-1 communications more personable, even if through a screen. We moved many events to the Facebook Live platform to give participants as authentic an experience as they might receive if they were physically on campus.

And content across our client’s website began to change from an amenities, living options and features focus, to how the senior living community could solve the challenges facing aging adults, particularly during uncertainty. And those concerns and challenges run the gambit, from safety and security, to social isolation, to financial protections due to economic fluctuations.

What digital marketing trends have you encountered during the pandemic?

At the outset of the outbreak, we saw a tremendous surge in traffic across our digital assets, particular websites and social media. Seniors, family members, friend and media were desperate to learn as much as they could about how the communities were handling safety protocols and how life was being played out within the communities.

Gradually throughout the summer months we saw a leveling off of visitor traffic, however an increase in quality inquiries, and not surprisingly in areas that began to relax regulations regarding visitation and move-ins. And the metrics reflected this with increases in conversion rates, click-through rates, time spent on site, pages visited and lower bounce rates.

But as we hit early fall, with a new surge in COVID-19 cases and elections dominating the national media, we saw a spike in traffic and online inquiries. However, the quality of those leads took a dive with income and health-related non-qualifiers becoming more prevalent. Seniors who were not in a crisis with a need to immediately move into a community had decided to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach as to how the surge of the virus was going to play out.

What other challenges have you encountered?

It didn’t receive much publicity due to the extensive coverage COVID-19 has generated,however Google’s new policy prohibiting marketers – in the greater housing, employment and credit sectors, which includes senior living – from targeting and excluding ads based on gender, age, parental status, marital status or ZIP code has been difficult, particularly layered over the ongoing challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Most digital marketers were aware of this change throughout the summer of 2020 with the policy officially taking effect in late October 2020. Having discussed this new change with other senior living digital marketers, its obvious that everyone is at different stages of developing strategies to overcome the hurdles imposed on the housing sector. We’ve been adopting new sets of best practices around targeting radii to specific addresses, which has proven successful and have used certain exclusionary rules to help us better drill down to our target audiences.

I’m confident that we have the brightest minds in the industry working towards even better solutions around this challenge and they’ll put our clients in the best possible position to engage with prospective residents.

Are you optimistic about the future of senior living?

Absolutely. I certainly don’t want to downplay the tremendous amount of hardship and heartbreak this pandemic has brought to many, particularly on older adults, however I feel encouraged about the future of senior living.

We’ve learned a great deal about ourselves through this experience, both from a physical health and mental health perspective. We have a newfound appreciation for the innate human need for socialization and connection…both of which are at the very heart of what a senior living community provides.

And despite the sensationalism and doom-and-gloom coming across most media channels, there are some positive things to buoy the hope of senior living providers and marketers. Existing home sale values and demand are at an all-time high in many areas of the country, which increases the value of most prospective residents’ greatest asset. The DOW just crossed over 30,000 for the first time, boosting the value of income producing assets. And there’s promising news coming out of several pharmaceutical makers regarding vaccines for COVID-19.

I’m optimistic about the future and excited that digital marketing can help play a part in our return to some form of normalcy.