Digital advertising continues to be an important piece of senior living operators’ sales and marketing strategies– but how they are marketing to residents has evolved in 2022.
Unlike in the early days of the pandemic, senior living operators now have an effective playbook for reaching older adults that includes more than just emails and Zoom calls. And more sales teams are now emphasizing the value of their communities as operators look to raise rates and grow their margins.
Bonita Springs, Florida-based Discovery Senior Living is one such company employing that strategy. Because rising expenses in categories including food and labor are eating into the operator’s net operating income (NOI) and margins, the company is prioritizing value with prospective residents, according to Senior Vice President of Sales Lou Maranto.
“This year, more than ever, we have to push rates,” he told Senior Housing News. “And because we have to ask more from a price standpoint, we absolutely have to drive home the value.”
Elsewhere, companies like MBK Senior Living and The Springs Living are doubling down on digital marketing and online outreach.
“The pandemic reminded us tenfold how important it was,” Christy Van Der Westhuizen, vice president of sales and marketing at MBK Senior Living, told SHN.
Though average occupancy has rebounded across the industry this year, margins for many operators have compressed. Higher-than-normal expenses are the culprit, with the cost of labor often identified as the bigger driver of expense growth.
At the same time, many residents can afford to pay higher rates. For one, currently, high housing prices give many older adults a sizable chunk of money on which to spend on senior living. The red-hot housing market has also meant that many older adults can sell their homes more easily than in the past.
Older adults also are receiving larger social security paychecks thanks to recent cost-of-living adjustments, a trend that is expected to continue in 2023.
Discovery Senior Living has responded to those pressures by moving away from sales concessions and other monetary incentives to help residents move in.
In January, the operator held a two-hour training on “selling value.” During the training, sales staffers learned tips for showing, not telling, how much a senior living resident stands to gain by moving into a community.
For example, a Discovery salesperson might point out all of the money and hardship a prospective resident can save by moving into a senior living community, even if that community is more expensive than another one a mile down the road. The company also offers above-market commissions for sales staff.
“People get in the mindset of dollar-for-dollar, and they lose that second factor … of convenience and safety and security,” Maranto said in February. “[We] paint that picture of all of our communities bringing value to all different shapes and sizes and dollar amounts.”
The company also highlights the fact that many of its 111 communities earned a distinction in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best of Senior Housing list as a way to drive the value proposition home.
The Springs takes a similar approach with residents. COO Brenda Connelly said that she is focused on getting residents to move in before they need to do so, something that has been a challenge to do during the pandemic.
“An additional element that prospects want to know is how well they’ll live,” Connelly said.
And MBK takes the approach that “we don’t sell apartments, we sell lifestyle,” according to Van Der Westhuizen.
“If you’re looking at increasing your occupancy very quickly, you have to do the things that make people feel seen and heard and valued,” she told SHN.
Digital approach evolves
At the outset of the pandemic, many operators increased their marketing budgets as they made the “shift to digital.”
That trend is continuing in 2022: Discovery Senior Living and MBK Senior Living are slightly increasing marketing budgets. The Springs Living, on the other hand, is spending less on marketing.
Operators initially adopted more digital marketing practices as a way to cope with restrictions on in-person events and tours. But with those restrictions eased in many markets, they are taking a hybrid approach to tours and events.
For example, Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Priority Life Care upped its digital game during the pandemic in response to the growing tech-savviness of the baby boomer generation, which Petras called “a different generation.”
They are internet-savvy,” she said during a recent appearance on SHN+ TALKS. “Boomers do their research.”
But as important as digital marketing is to the operator, Petras said many prospects have returned to in-person events these days.
“When I’m looking across the board at what we have scheduled, it’s all in-person,” she added.
Initially, the shift to digital came as a surprise to Julie Podewitz, founder and CEO of the senior living occupancy firm Grow Your Occupancy and the former chief sales officer with Vitality Senior Living.
“At first I thought ‘no way, we’re a high-touch business,’” Podewitz told SHN.
But in the time since, digital marketing “has had an incredible impact on the business,” she added. Operators are wielding digital tools to create more personalized experiences for prospects and generate data they can use in the sales process.
For Irvine, California-based MBK, one revelation has been the effectiveness of its website chatbot feature in selling to prospects. In fact, it’s MBK’s best lead generation source,, according to Van Der Westhuizen.
“It was surprising,” she said. “I thought it would be [spam] coming into our databases, but it’s actually qualified people who just want information quickly — they don’t want to have to pick up the phone on that initial contact.”
Irvine, California-based MBK’s portfolio spans 35 communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Providing unit floor plans online has been a strategy that Discovery sales staff have wielded.
In fact, those are the most-visited section on the company’s websites, according to Maranto. The company also provides pricing information online.
To reveal specific unit pricing, users must enter their name, email and phone number. By offering information on pricing online, but also gatekeeping the numbers, Discovery is able to both dampen the initial sticker shock that prospects feel while ensuring they are serious about their inquiries.
“The reason we didn’t do it in the past is if [a prospect] is living in a house for 40-plus years with a mortgage paid off… seeing $3,000-$5,000 per month for assisted living rent is a shock,” Maranto told SHN.
When it comes down to choosing where to live, seniors start where most people start when making a big decision, on the internet.
Creating an intuitive online experience is important to prospective residents as it offers them and their families “the ability to research for themselves,” Connelly said. “Which [is something] we have found has been very appealing to folks because they’re doing it anyway.”