Senior living marketing leaders are either holding onto or ramping up their marketing budgets in the next 12 months as competition for leads from other operators remains a top challenge.
Looking ahead, many predict that online research will be the most critical aspect of their digital strategy to drive census growth this year.
That’s according to results from a new survey from Senior Housing News and partner Dreamscape Marketing. The survey, released this week, included responses from 69 senior living marketing professionals, more than three-quarters of which were directors, VPs, C-suite executives and/or owners.
As for what will drive the greatest driver of census growth this year, 32% of respondents said online research, followed by 23% of respondents who identified personal referrals as the biggest driver of census in 2023. Just 10% said they believe that lead aggregators like A Place for Mom will be the most important driver of census growth this year.
“Digital marketing is a must-have, and investing in optimization and user experience is key,” Legend Senior Living senior VP of Sales and Marketing Christy Van Der Westhuizen told the survey’s authors. “Consistently asking yourself, ‘what is our digital doorstep saying about our company?’ will help craft memorable messaging and experiences for consumers.”
Van Der Westhuizen said during the SHN Sales Summit last year that digital marketing has progressed from being something that was nice to have in the past to something that is now crucial to have.
Her peers in sales and marketing agree. Nearly 90% of all respondents noted that their organization’s strategy was either “somewhat digital-first” (46%) or “mostly digital-first” (41%).
About 39% of respondents reported their marketing-specific budget increased in the past year, and 15% reporting that their marketing budget went down.
In the year ahead, half of the respondents said they would spend about the same on marketing in 2023 as they did in 2022, with 43% saying they intend to increase their marketing budget this year.
About 35% of those surveyed said that competition from other senior living operators is their biggest challenge in 2023, followed by budget pressures (20%), marketing to multiple audiences (16%) and the changing landscape of marketing tools (14%).
Only 5% of the respondents said that lack of prospect data and market research would be their biggest challenge in 2023.
Nearly all of the respondents — 87% — said that new resident acquisition is the primary business objective their marketing aims to achieve. Only 9% said their primary objective was brand awareness.
Marketers are putting their money where the prospects and their families are. Fifty-one percent of respondents reported that SEO and pay-per-click targeted advertising online are in their top-three areas of focus in 2023; while social media including Facebook clocked in at 43% of respondents.
But as the Covid-19 pandemic fades further into the rearview mirror, operators are shifting their focus from one of safety and occupancy recovery into one of growth and margin recovery.
Brookdale (NYSE: BKD) – the nation’s biggest senior living operator – announced in its 4Q2022 earnings call that its newest top priority is sales, a sentiment the Brentwood, Tennessee-based operator’s CEO, Cindy Baier, has since repeated in subsequent public appearances.
“We’ve made an intentional shift at Brookdale to get a sales-forward culture,” Baier said during a recent appearance at the 2023 RBC Capital Markets Global Healthcare Conference. “So everybody has an even tighter focus on getting every available room in service at the most profitable rate.”
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