This article is sponsored by GlynnDevins. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with GlynnDevins president and CEO Chris Egan to learn the top marketing areas that senior housing operators can boost to win in 2021. Egan also discusses how operators should prioritize their marketing budget, and why consumer confidence will soon be on the rise.
Senior Housing News: Chris, you’ve been CEO of GlynnDevins since 2019, but you’ve had a long varied career prior to that. What career experiences do you most draw from in your current position?
Chris Egan: I’d say first, my time at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as a strategy consultant. While at BCG, I gained a lot of experience developing business strategies that drove high ROI for clients. That experience helped me identify the key tactics that dramatically improve economics for GlynnDevins’ clients, enabling us to focus on efficiently delivering the right set of products.
Secondly, I would say my time at Service Management Group (SMG), where I focused on scaling a business that was building out its technology platform while continuing to deliver world-class customer service. That experience reinforced the need to put the right leaders in place and to communicate transparently with the broader organization while navigating change.
GlynnDevins has executed two acquisitions in the last six months and we intend to do more in the coming year. We’re trying to bring multiple cultures together under a single, unified organization, but the challenges of working during 2020 impacted that culture. We’ll spend a lot of time this year working to deliver a clear people promise to our team as we transition to a hybrid and geographically distributed working model.
And thirdly, I would say my time at Intel. I’m an engineer by education and have always been passionate about technology. As GlynnDevins works to automate, optimize, streamline and platform, it helps to have a natural curiosity and interest in the technology.
I know that GlynnDevins is taking a new direction this year. What is it and what spurred it?
Egan: The market is forcing us to deliver more data, more technology and greater efficiency as we bring our products and services to them. At the same time, their budgets are under a lot of pressure, forcing them to do more with less and maintain their competitive advantage. We’re evolving to meet that demand. Philosophically, we’re moving from a traditional marketing agency to a marketing technology company and working to bring clients into a data-enabled future.
Based on discussions with our clients, we’re changing the delivery model and working to drive efficiency. With the recent acquisitions of Linkmedia 360 and Bluespire, we have a bright future ahead. We’ll soon bring all three of these businesses under a single new brand which will be exciting. We have an intimate understanding of consumer journeys in health, wealth and aging, and we’re increasingly using technology and data to connect people with the services they need.
What are the top ways in which today’s prospective buyer finds senior housing and how effective is the industry in meeting the buyer where he or she is?
Egan: It’s evolving a lot. Nearly 70% of buyers’ journeys begin online without a sales counselor. It’s a great opportunity for communities to transform the sales experience with a diverse set of questions, needs, and wants that cater to an increasingly digital customer journey. A primary challenge for industry leaders is leveraging data to reach the modern consumer.
The industry as a whole is making significant progress, and we’re witnessing more and more communities moving to a more cohesive, comprehensive omnichannel digital experience. 2020 drove a shift to digital and a lot of businesses have effectively navigated that shift, but there’s still work to do. Businesses must continue to invest heavily in digital because the consumer journey is going to continue to skew in that direction.
Describe the ideal senior housing marketing approach in 2021 — the perfect approach from the perfect organization.
Egan: Sales and marketing leaders need to drive revenue to counteract lower occupancy levels while they’re managing shrinking budgets. Their teams have to work in unison to quickly and successfully move leads through the funnel to achieve occupancy goals.
The ideal marketing approach in 2021 is to surround the consumer in their journey across all the different channels. You have to tailor the consumer journey using data, enabled by very precise targeting, then automate the execution with the right technology. This omnichannel strategy enables you to engage the consumer at every touchpoint in the sales cycle. How do you hit them with the right channel, reach the right audience and deliver the right message at the right time? It takes a lot of planning and a great partner to get there.
That approach anticipates buyer questions, wants and needs. It leads them through the journey from research to consideration, to tour and, eventually, to move in. We call that the gestation period, and in many of the sectors we serve, that could be a very long process. You have to work that whole journey.
There’s also a big need for content at the center of the approach. It helps bring the community to life, set it apart and educate prospects throughout the journey to ultimately close the sale. All of those pieces are really important.
What are the top marketing areas where most senior housing operators need to boost in order to reach that ideal that you just explained?
Egan: Today’s buyers are really demanding. They want more personalization, and that is a huge opportunity with an effective omnichannel strategy in place. To take advantage, communities have to stay on top of five key items: data, media, website, marketing automation and CRM.
There is first- and third-party data that can be combined to achieve precise targeting. The community needs to be able to optimize, track and analyze the messaging and tactics that are working so they can evaluate their spend over time and optimize it.
With data feeding all the tactics, it’s important to expand the reach across physical and digital channels to establish a consistent presence. We spend a lot of time working with clients on media.
Your website is an important hub. Having a high-performing website that drives lead-gen in connection with the community is at the heart of the digital engagement strategy. A lot of tactics will drive consumers there throughout their journey.
Marketing automation programs engage buyers throughout the journey. Again, with personalized content, you are helping to educate the consumer. You’re trying to nurture them through the process, and much of the special sauce is around how you shorten the sales cycle and advance those leads through the funnel faster.
Connecting all this intelligence from your marketing channels with a strict lead management process is critical. You can analyze which tactics are working and which things need tweaking to accelerate folks through the funnel. I believe those are the five most critical, and they create the foundation for what we call the “marketing engine” to drive occupancy as quickly as possible.
How much of a senior living budget should be dedicated to marketing. When operators aren’t hitting that percentage, what reasons do you see for that deficit?
Egan: There’s no real blanket percentage. There are many sub-sectors in senior living and the budgets are challenged, but in general, budget scenarios are going to vary across sectors and service lines. Right now, communities are attempting to make all the math work as they rebound from COVID.
We take a numbers-driven approach. We have an annual plan and discussion with clients where we talk about the desired occupancy for the end of the year. We’ve been doing this for a long time so we have good information about expected attrition and lead-to-sale ratio benchmarks. We work through that metrics exercise. Typically, the first step in determining the budget amount is producing the number of inquiries needed to reach the community sales goals which, again, is an iterative exercise with clients.
While the exercise is based on data, we know a lot about the space and about specific clients, and that helps us dial in the right marketing plan. Typically, we can work within their budget and coach them to spend in the areas that will have the greatest impact on occupancy.
Lastly, using our benchmark data we can help set expectations and performance goals for the community. We will work with that to inform the budget and respectfully nudge them in different directions to increase spend where it makes sense.
Give us your thoughts on virtual tours. What do you think about virtual tours and what do you hear from operators about their experience with those?
Egan: Virtual tours, virtual experiences and video content were really impactful in bringing the community experience alive during the COVID-19 closure. They were critical for clients to dial-up. We saw great results with clients who adopted and embraced the virtual selling environment early in 2020. Clients who didn’t adapt as quickly struggled even more.
It’s a high priority to make sure they’re investing in virtual experiences and, more broadly, digital website engagement to differentiate their community from the competition and drive move-ins. Ultimately, somebody is moving into a community, so I believe they still want to physically see it — but the virtual tours are a critical step in the sales funnel.
Entering this year, none of us knew fully what to expect. What has been the biggest surprise to you about how the year has started in senior housing, and what impact do you think that surprise will have on the industry for the remainder of the year?
Egan: In some ways, I believe COVID has really helped our industry propel forward digitally. The restrictions and the protocols required communities and seniors to become a whole lot more proficient with digital technology. That digital engagement is at the highest level we’ve ever seen. I believe the stat is 61% of seniors increased their usage of digital tech during the pandemic. We believe that will continue, which is great for the industry.
As we look at consumer confidence though, that’s still lagging. We believe it’s hopefully turning the corner right now but if you look at April of ’20, it was about 22%. April of ’21 is up to 43%, but occupancy is still moving in the wrong direction. If you look at Q1 of this year versus Q4 of 2020, occupancy dropped a couple of percentage points. The latest NIC estimates for Q2 suggest we may finally see a 20-basis-point upward trend.
As we come out of COVID, consumer confidence is a leading indicator, but again, occupancy hasn’t quite rebounded. There are signs that it’s going to get better. We’ve been surprised that the lag is as long as it is, especially since vaccination rates for senior living residents are north of 80%. Those are pretty safe numbers for people to move into senior living, so while we were expecting a faster recovery, the high vaccination rates at senior living communities doesn’t seem to be resonating quite yet.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GlynnDevins provides data-driven marketing solutions geared to help senior living leaders generate, nurture, and convert high-quality leads and maximize their return on investment. To learn more about how GlynnDevins can help your communities, visit glynndevins.com.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more — shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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