3-Steps to Drive Referred Leads by Shifting from Traditional Marketing to Influencer Marketing Within Your Assisted and Independent Living Communities
Operators who are tired of spending on marketing campaigns with little to no return on investment can transform their brand identity, lead generation and trajectory of move ins by leveraging the very residents they serve.
BUILD YOUR BRAND IDENTITY AND BECOME MORE THAN A PRODUCT
There will never be another Michael Jordan. A sophomore in high school, he tried out for his high school basketball team only to be told he wasn’t tall enough, nor suitable to represent the school. That rejection, fueled by hard work and ambition, lead to a legendary career.
Jordan scored on average thirty-three points per game! In all, he played 15 seasons in the NBA, winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. His biography on the official NBA website states: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.” He was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s.
In a genius move, Jordan leveraged his identity as a legendary basketball player to build the Air Jordan brand that changed the athletic shoe industry forever.
Before the Air Jordan 1, most basketball shoes were white, but the bold black and red styling of the Jordan 1 changed that convention. The NBA banned the shoe from the league in response, but Jordan wore them anyway, racking up serious fines of up to $5,000 a game. Nike, of course, was more than happy to pay these to keep the shoes on Jordan’s feet and in the public eye.
All this controversy and Jordan’s spectacular numbers that year served to put the Air Jordan line on the road to becoming a household name. People of all ages and social status line up eagerly for the release of the latest Air Jordan model. The designers take his ideas, hobbies, and life into account and incorporate these feelings into the shoes.
While his shoe is the product, it’s always been about Michael Jordan; it’s his brand identity that drives sales and have kept this brand viable for over 35 years (1985). He has a fanocracy!
SENIOR LIVING MUST BUILD STRONG BRAND IDENTITY NOW THAT DIFFERENTIATES FROM NURSING HOMES
In chapters 7 and 8 of Fanocracy, the authors dive into the power of brand building, making it more about the brand than the product itself. When someone takes ownership of a brand they love, it becomes part of their identity and they naturally go out of their way to tell people about that brand.
Seniors housing can use some brand building right now. With the Covid-19 pandemic we are being crushed in the media and consolidated in with nursing homes. Each day I open the paper and cringe as I read stories that undermine the incredible work happening at the site level every day. We must fight back, and nothing is more powerful than real people, with true stories touting the benefits of a brand they love. In this blog I’ll share key takeaways to create a brand built on a fanocracy that truly brings your brand to life.
The reality is that senior living really doesn’t have a brand of any sort and what little people do know of it isn’t good. While assisted living became mainstream the last few years with shows like Grace and Frankie, the Covid-19 pandemic has set us back ten years. To the average person, assisted living represents the very thing we fear most in life; getting old, frail and unable to care for ourselves. It’s a product no one wants and as an industry, we’ve done nothing to counter this image in the mainstream media. Unless you’re in the business, you have no idea how amazing it really is.
In this executive book club study, my goal is to educate and empower you as an executive to think out of the box, to be bold and to act. Let’s focus on brand building and change the conversation.
3-STEPS TO BUILD A BRAND IDENTITY THAT CONNECTS WITH PROSPECTIVE BUYERS
- Engage Residents and Families in Contributing to Your Brand Exposure:
A fan is a genuinely happy customer. Operators must be bold and start encouraging customers to contribute to the brand and in doing so, further build the relationship; making those fans feel that the community in which they reside is part of their identity.
I’m an Orange Theory fan. While I haven’t gone since the quarantine, after a typical workout, my instructor ends each class with a request to hashtag #OrangeTheory in our social media feeds. In doing so, we help to support a specific cause of the month and brilliantly, contribute to their brand awareness. Each hashtag equals a donation from Orange Theory to a specific cause of the month.
Campaigns range from feeding the homeless, to providing shoes to the needy or raising autism awareness, all local initiatives. Honestly, this is genius! Why wouldn’t a member put a hashtag in a social post to support a worthy cause? Think of the social exposure Orange Theory gets as a result and the cause being supported!
As a senior living operator, you can model this type of campaign in your own independent, assisted living, memory care or lifeplan community. All you need to do is create a marketing campaign and ask people to promote it in their social feeds.
You’re passionate about Alzheimer’s research and create an awareness campaign that raises funds. All you need to do is ask people to tag your community in their social post to contribute. You want to involve residents, family members, employees, and referral sources, and of course have a campaign manager to keep track of everything.
If Janet Smith goes to the community to see her mom from a distance due to Covid-19, even if standing outside her window, when she snaps a photo of her mom Rose, it will be top of mind to hashtag it #OceanViewLiving. This small effort engages both Jane and her mom and makes her feel like part of the tribe, making a difference to finding a cure.
Be sure to set and communicate parameters like “each hashtag results in a $1 donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.” Doing so not only makes a difference to the cause but brings awareness to your community. Track funds raised to show marketing funds well spent compared to Google or print ads and at a fraction of the cost.
People tagging you are authentic customers, with real faces which speaks volumes to those who see the post and imprint it on their mind.
Key Takeaway: Get customers to promote your community through campaigns they can rally around and share in stories with their followers on social media.
- Leverage Influencers:
People want to connect with other people and brands they love. In senior living, we do a poor job of making an emotional connection with prospective buyers. Most websites tout the community and brand, not its identity which is made up of residents and employees. Odds are your website features images of model apartments, dining and fitness rooms void of people. If there are photos, most likely they are stock, not real residents.
When including residents in your imagery, whether having a cup of tea together in an apartment, doing yoga or dinning with a group and laughing, it brings the community to life and gives it a soul. This is what people are buying, not the building or the property; but the experiences contained within.
It’s time to pivot to relationship marketing and to leverage influencers just as other businesses do every day. An Influencer can reach out to their audience and potentially sway them into performing some action. That may mean attending an event, touring your community or even moving in (when and if allowed)!
An influencer for a senior living community could be a local orthopedic physician, church pastor, or senior center executive director; people that are well-known, trusted and can influence others on your behalf. There are many prospective influencers in your market service area.
Identify five to ten influencers and reciprocate in some way that compels them to act. Support and promote a cause they are passionate about or offer space in your resident newsletter for an educational piece; the opportunities are endless.
SOUTHWEST STRIKES AGAIN WITH ITS GENIUS
Already known as the “most social airline,” Southwest Airlines recently launched a top-notch influencer program. At the beginning of 2018, it chose a group of influencers to serve as “Southwest Storytellers,” or ambassadors for the brand.
The influencers use the hashtag #SouthwestStorytellers to share their travel adventures. The group is diverse and includes a fashion blogger, former football player, musicians, and several travel/adventure bloggers. Could you model this with #OceanViewLiving where residents share the best parts of their day?
Perhaps the Amtrak campaign will spark ideas. They launched a social media residency program to showcase the diversity of passengers and their train travel experiences. The #AmtrakTakeMeThere program sought social media leaders — not professional travel bloggers or influencers — to share their stories about riding on Amtrak. You could model this with #OceanViewLiving where independent living residents share the freedom of living in a resort style environment, doing the things they love while staff takes on the stuff they don’t (cooking, housekeeping, laundry, etc.)!
Influencers make more sense when trying to build awareness but come with a price or exchange in most cases so think this through and then put it into action as it can pay off big in brand exposure compared to traditional and digital marketing spend.
Key Takeaway: Get influencers to act as ambassadors for your brand by sharing their stories of life at your community with their followers; offer something in return.
- Leverage a Brand Advocate:
An advocate is someone who has a positive personal relationship with a brand. They are real customers who want to share their experience with those around them. They exist in a spectrum of brand advocacy that goes from casual recommender to raving fan.
Most communities have a rich, diverse group of residents with a lifetime of friendships and connections. Identify the top ten residents you feel are true fans, are actively engaged on social media and simply ask them to be a brand advocate! If you have a new development do this with your early depositors.
Better yet, many communities already have a resident ambassador program to help welcome new residents, support tours and events, and overall act as a representation of the brand. Why not leverage them further as an advocate on social media?
Be sure to give clear direction and set expectations from the beginning. Create a hashtag with your community name, #OceanViewLiving where residents can share their experiences from your community and add your tag. It’s important to identify residents that are actively involved, charismatic and who can be a true advocate for your brand. Posting everything from getting their hair done in your salon, to a delicious meal, to participating in a yoga class; it gives your residents an opportunity to advocate for your community while being somewhat of a celebrity themselves!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Build an Advocacy Program that identifies, engages, and motivates residents that already love your product to help you build and grow your brand awareness.
THE POWER OF HUMAN CONNECTION AND AWARNESS AROUND YOUR BRAND
By bringing together a variety of diverse and talented residents, employees and families, some who are influencers and advocates; some who just love your brand and are willing to hashtag and share, you create meaningful human connections and those connections lead to a loyal fanocracy. It won’t just happen; you must ask people to get involved. It’s time to showcase your residents, employees and family members, and pull back on promoting our buildings and instead the genuine awesomeness that happens inside! It’s a social world, so get social!
BRAND ADVOCATES ENJOY SPREADING THE WORD ABOUT YOUR BRAND, LET THEM!
When customers can establish an emotional bond with others as a result of doing business with you, it sticks. Being an influencer or advocate gives them a sense of community and ownership over the brand. They feel compelled to tell others about the fantastic experience you gave them or their loved one. Ultimately, this is what will inspire passion and build your own fanocracy.
Influencer marketing is a big business and a popular way to generate attention for brands. Social media allows fans to interact directly with authors, actors, musicians and the athletes they follow, and companies invest a lot of money into celebrities who become paid spokespeople for their brand most often through posts by the celebrity on social media. It’s time we bring these same social strategies into senior living marketing. As Jordan says:
“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen,
others make it happen.”
Michael Jeffrey Jordan
Now, Just Do It!
Not sure where to start? Like the concepts outlined in this blog series but not sure how to execute? Traci Bild and her team can provide strategic sales and marketing insight that is built upon relationships and the art of human connection. Click here to schedule time to discuss your own portfolio and 2020 initiatives.