If you compare senior living communities’ websites and brochures they seem so similar especially in their use of the words “luxury” and the phrase “resort-style living”.
How do you differentiate an assisted living, memory care or life plan community from the competitors in your marketplace when these types of words are overused or misused?
First, you need to establish a starting point to gauge what is the impression potential customers may have of a community. Not only are potential customers of value, the general community is as well and also referral sources.
The value of surveys, focus groups and one-on-one meetings can prove invaluable in this step because it’s important not to assume what people know, but rather solicit their opinions which may either validate your thinking or offer an alternative.
I think each community has a personality. It’s very similar to retail stores. Any number of malls in the country offer shoppers a wide range of choices. There’s Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Dillard’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom’s and each has its own personality. They’ve developed loyal customers over the years. If a pair of shoes is on your shopping list, each store can fulfill this need, but devotees will go to their favorite store time and time again. Each retail establishment has honed its personality and positioning.
I also draw an analogy to colleges and universities. If you ever have made a college tour with your teen and were trying to decide the best fit for them, it’s pretty similar. Something just clicks when you walk on campus of a particular school.
Some folks gravitate to grandeur and sophistication while others prefers a more laid back understated senior living community. There’s not a right or wrong; it is just want makes you comfortable.
Harry Beckwith, the author of the book, Selling the Invisible, says that “the more similar the services, the more important the differences”. His advice is to accentuate the trivial.
You need to find the differences. In our marketing assessments, we critique a community from a customer’ vantage point and share what impressions a community makes to a customer. This may be from when they first drive into the community and come to the front reception lobby. Personality can be conveyed through any number of ways and that’s why it’s important to have a third-party assessment of what your customer sees first as well as help you in finding the differences.
For a start, let’s take eight areas that can help in forming a community’s personality that can also be considered in a community’s positioning:
- Logo—Personality can be conveyed even from the community’s logo. With the advent of the web freelance graphic design sites such as “Fiverr” and many more resources for Graphic Design, people may feel it’s not necessary to spend money for a professional logo. Certainly, you can have a logo drawn, but you need to ask what is the personality that is conveyed by the logo. It may be too ornate for the community’s personality or too stark and without warmth or even difficult to read. A professional graphic artist would ask to see the community and may look for some type of detailing that could be incorporated into the logo. They’ll ask about the community’s personality. If it’s a brand new community, they would consider the surrounding environment and the architectural plans that are on the boards. They’ll offer a logo that reflects the community’s image and residents rather than just typeface.
- Community Name—A community’s name will be its brand for a long time and it’s certainly not something that is easily changed. There’s specific research required in naming a community. Senior living communities don’t need to convey senior. Names like Serenity Gardens, Happy Haven, and endless varieties of golden such as Golden Graces, Golden Seasons, Golden Manor and Golden Harbor invoke the feeling of an old folk’s home and we’ve come a long way since then. We don’t need to burden a lovely community and the residents who call it home with an old fashioned name and label.
- Outdoor Signage-We’ve seen some communities that someone would need to drive around its perimeter without seeing any indication where to park or where to enter. There’s no designation for “future resident” parking or employees have taken these spots. Signage that is faded and worn or looks temporary detracts from a community’s personality. Landscaping can quickly overgrow and cover the outdoor signage making it difficult to read.
- Outdoor Shrubbery and Flowers—We’ve come to expect close to perfection from hotels where we put our heads on a bed for a night. The same is true with a senior living community. Outdoor shrubbery and flowers need to look inviting. It’s a first impression that really may make a difference. Taking Beckwith’s advice, landscaping may seem trivial, but it’s important.
- Employee Clothing—Employee clothing also conveys personality. What is their look—are they wearing their own clothes, following a dress code or wearing a uniform. As we tour communities, we’ve seen staff wearing hospital apparel while others wearing khakis and golf shirts or corporate suits. When thinking about your community’s personality, apparel is something to consider. What impression do you want your employees to make? Are they dressed for success and fit the image of the community? Not only is there a dress code, but an overall grooming code as well. While we are on this point, you need to think about tattoos as well. What is your community’s policy regarding tattoos?
- Dining—Communities all serve two to three meals a day but how are the dining services presented. Do tables have crisp table cloths, placemats or nothing for place settings? Is there a flower arrangement with fresh flowers or plastic? Do people enjoy restaurant-style service or do they choose their menu on the day prior to when they will dine? What can be distinct about the community’s dining service to separate one community from the pack? Perhaps it’s the chef’s experience, the use of locally sourced fruits and vegetables, organic produce, complimentary wine with dinner, 24-hour dining, complimentary room service, meals to go, homemade biscuits—the list is endless. There has to be something that can make your community’s dining services distinguishable.
- Customer Service—The feeling and attitudes of employees can often be felt as soon as you come into a community and are greeted by a receptionist. Beckwith mentions in his book that a company’s DNA can be read from the receptionist and may be replicated throughout the company. The same can be said of senior living communities. Our telephone mystery shops often illustrate some of these weaknesses. We like to refer to receptionists as directors of first impression. When a family tours a community, comes to an event or visits someone, they can quickly feel the passion, energy, optimism, and enthusiasm that sets the tone for a community’s personality. I’ll never forget visiting my mother-in-law in a skilled nursing facility at Christmas. The employees seemed quite disinterested and bored. They conveyed through their body language and their actions that they didn’t enjoy spending holiday time with the residents. This certainly made a lasting impression on me and didn’t bode well if someone asked me about this particular community.
- Activities—The social calendar of a community is very important in creating a community’s personality. This is what someone will look over when they start sifting over brochures. They want to see if there are things going on that have appeal and suit their interests. Adult children want to make sure their parents have stimulating activities and fitness. Yoga, Zumba, Tai Chi are all popular now at local gyms and they’ve come to expect these types of offerings at a senior living community. Just because someone lives in assisted living shouldn’t mean there can’t be outings to local museums, botanical gardens, farmer’s markets and more. Activities are only as limited as a social director’s imagination. I’m very passionate about community’s activities. If you were aboard a cruise, there would be a host of things to do each day. In my opinion, a senior living community should be similar. Maybe no one attends, but there are things available and choices. I can’t tell you how many assisted living communities we tour that have leasing challenges and aren’t making an investment in a talented activity person. Limited budgets aren’t a fallback. There is plenty that can be done on a limited budget.
If you would like learn more about marketing assessments for your senior living community, please call The Ehlers Group at 954-726-9228.