developing buyer personas common mistakes to avoid

Developing Buyer Personas: Common Mistakes to Avoid

In our last blog post, we talked about what buyer personas are—and how to create effective ones for your senior living community. Today, we’re getting into common mistakes to avoid when developing buyer personas. 

Don’t skimp on the investment. 

Developing effective buyer personas takes work. And it can be challenging for people approving budgets to understand what buyer personas are—and what the deliverables are going to be. You’re not getting a tangible “thing” in the conventional sense, like a website, brochure, or even a banner ad.  

In fact, buyer personas won’t ever be customer-facing. And each persona is only a couple of pages, max. You’ll use them internally to guide your messaging and the timing for your marketing automation. Because they’re an internal tool, it can be easy to think they‘re not that important . . . or that you can skimp on the investment. 

Resist this temptation! Personas are critical to conversions. Strong personas will help you better understand what messages and campaigns will resonate and help convert buyers at various stages during the sales cycle.  

Now, we’re not going to lie: Developing buyer personas is an investment of time, resources, and money (especially if you outsource the work to an agency). But it’s money well spent. 

Don’t skimp on the process. 

You create buyer personas through research, surveys, and interviews with happy residents and lost prospects. You talk to your sales team. You look at competitors. 

Once you gather all your research and intel, you craft polished narratives for each persona—one- to two-page documents that tell the persona’s story and highlight key things that influence their decisions and what’s driving them to make the move to senior living in the first place. 

Again, all of this work takes time. Throwing something together quickly based on hunches or what you wish your ideal buyers were like won’t serve your marketing goals over the long haul. 

And yet we still see too many marketers create personas on the fly so they can check off that box. Sure, you’ll get some things right. But you won’t be creating a well-rounded persona. And we guarantee you’ll miss key nuggets that can differentiate your community and help create a compelling value proposition. 

Don’t create only one buyer persona. 

You have several ideal buyers you need to speak to. At the very least, you’ll be talking to older adults who are buying for themselves (either individually or as a couple) and adult children making decisions or influencing decisions. 

From there, you can break down personas further based on things like gender, age, and marital status. For example, if you have a community that caters to IL, AL, and MC, the IL personas will be very different from the MC personas. 

Don’t put your buyer personas in a drawer and forget about them. 

Buyers will change, and even more so over the next decade as Boomers come of age. Consider this: Some folks divide Baby Boomers into two cohorts—Boomers I and Boomers II. The older members of the first group are in their mid-70s. The youngest Boomers are only 58 (at the writing of this article in 2022).  

So you might divide your Boomer personas accordingly, since how you talk to a 75-year-old will be different from how you talk to someone approaching 60. (Not to mention that their needs will be different, too.) 

Our point: Persona research isn’t a once-and-done thing. You’ll need to tweak your personas and potentially do the process all over again every few years, just to make sure your marketing stays on track. 

Don’t forget to share your personas with key players.  

And we’re not just talking about the folks on the senior living sales team. Your personas are necessary for account managers, writers, designers, web folks, outsourced marketing agencies—you get the idea.  

You’ve put time and money into their development. But developing them is only the first step. Everyone needs to refer to the personas regularly as they craft web pages, advertisements, events, and the like. 

Don’t go it alone if you’re unsure how to create effective personas. 

Work with a marketing agency that has buyer persona expertise and experience in the senior living industry. That would be us! Get in touch and let’s discuss buyer personas. 

what is the best way to create a buyer persona

What Is the Best Way to Create a Buyer Persona for Senior Living?

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ve likely heard us say that effective marketing involves sending the right message to the right person at the right time. Marketing automation can help with the execution. But how do you identify who the “right” person is—and the corresponding messaging? 

That’s where buyer personas come into play.  

What are buyer personas? 

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers—in this case, your ideal residents and the adult children and loved ones who are often involved in making decisions. By having a clear picture of who your buyers are, you can better personalize your messaging and marketing to them.  

For example, instead of sending the same lead nurturing emails to everyone in your database, you can segment by prospect persona and tailor the messaging accordingly. 

Keep in mind that personas are internal documents. Marketing and sales teams use them to guide the various messaging and marketing campaigns.  

What is the best way to create a buyer persona? 

You create buyer personas through research, surveys, and interviews with happy residents and lost prospects.  

Here are some practical methods for gathering the information you need to develop personas: 

  • Interview happy residents. What made them decide to make the move to senior living? Why your community? What problem did your community solve for them? Note: The “problem” isn’t necessarily going to be negative. It could be something positive like “I was ready to downsize and enjoy maintenance-free living and an active lifestyle.” 
  • Gather demographics. What’s the average age, the breakdown between women and men, marital status, etc. 
  • Review family and resident surveys. What services and amenities do your residents find most valuable? 
  • Talk to lost prospects. Have your sales team get into the habit of asking people why they decided to go somewhere else. You should also conduct a more formal interview with a willing lost prospect or two about their experience. 
  • Gather intel from your website forms. Use form fields to capture important information, like the person’s timeframe or hobbies. Take advantage of progressive profiling, which allows you to ask different questions as people download more content from your site. 
  • Talk to your sales team. Ask for their feedback on the leads they’re interacting with most. What generalizations can they make about the different types of residents and prospective residents you serve best? What are the most frequent questions they answer? 

You should also keep track of details that would indicate when someone isn’t a good fit for your community. Whereas a prospect persona is a representation of an ideal customer, a negative—or exclusionary—persona is a representation of who you don’t want as a customer. For example, this could include prospects who require care or services that you’re unable to provide.  

What happens with all the persona research? 

Now, comes the fun part! You’re going to create a one-page narrative about each persona. Give the persona a name. Use images (stock images are fine) to bring the persona to life even more.  

For example, you might craft narratives about “Widowed Wally” and “Single Sally” that explain who they are, their needs/pain points, and what they’re hoping to find in a senior living community. The needs of widowed men between 70 and 85 (“Widowed Wally”) will be different from single women in their 60s (Single Sally).  

For example, maybe you learn that one of the most important things to the widowed men in your community is having access to delicious, nutritious meals and plenty of activities like playing cards, watching football, and playing golf. Given this, you might create lunch & learn campaigns where you invite widowed men to a free lunch at your community so they can enjoy the food and learn more about the community. 

Remember, even though these are fictional representations, your personas are based on very real facts that your research uncovered. In other words, your personas will be different from another community’s personas.  

How do you use buyer personas? 

When combined with the lifecycle stage (i.e., how far along someone is in your sales cycle), personas allow you to map out and create highly targeted content. 

For example, if an individual downloads a guide called “Understanding the Early Stages of Dementia, you know this individual will likely be interested in other topics related to Memory Care. The workflow for this prospect would include sharing related blogs and eBooks or inviting them to a Memory Care support group or educational program. As long as the content is relevant to their needs and pain points, your prospects will continue to be engaged and will continue through the sales funnel. 

What should you do if you need help creating buyer personas? 

Work with a marketing agency that excels in persona research for the senior living industry. Ahem—that would be us! Get in touch and let’s talk about personas.

senior living marketing agencies

Senior Living Marketing Agencies: 10 Ways We’re Different

This year, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary. Surviving a decade in any business, but especially in the ultra-competitive world of marketing, is no easy feat, so we thought it would be fitting to highlight 10 ways we’re different from other senior living marketing agencies. 

Below, you’ll find what makes us special, what makes us tick, and what might make us a good fit for your senior living community. 

1. We know how to successfully manage our clients’ marketing from afar.

When the pandemic hit, many companies panicked as they transitioned employees to remote work. Not us. We’ve been a virtual agency since our founding, and we only work with employees and freelancers who’ve shown that they can thrive in a virtual environment.  

  • What this means for our clients: We can service our clients no matter where they’re located. This is especially helpful for communities that have multiple locations throughout the country. No more worries about miscommunication or things falling through the cracks. We know how to get work done, even if we’re not all in the same room. 

2. We pass along the savings from our virtual setup to our clients. 

Marketing agencies are famous for touting their cool workspaces, which are often in lofts with exposed brick and come complete with cool amenities like snack bars, bean bag chairs, and meditation rooms. Hey, we’re not trying to diminish creating good spaces for employees, but all those things cost money. A virtual setup eliminates many of those costs. 

  • What this means for our clients: In a virtual setup like ours, we don’t have as much overhead as traditional agencies in brick-and-mortar buildings. We can invest those savings in the talent we hire and the tools that will support them (like computers and secure IT). And we can pass along the savings to our customers as well. It’s a win-win for everyone. Not to mention, we’re cutting down on greenhouse gases since our employees don’t commute and since we don’t need to maintain a building. 

3. We only focus on the senior living industry.

Honestly, this is rare. You might find other agencies that list senior living as one of the industries they serve. But for an agency to focus solely on one industry is unusual.  

So why do we focus only on marketing for senior living communities? Well, our founders built this agency on their combined experience. They spent the bulk of their careers working in senior living communities. They understand the industry from an operator’s perspective and from a marketing and sales team perspective. (They also have a keen understanding of where families are coming from.) Why expand into other industries when we know and care about this one as much as we do? 

  • What this means for our clients: We know the senior living industry inside and out and our buyer persona research is unparalleled in the marketplace. 

4. Our team members are passionate about the senior living industry.

This goes along with the previous point. Because we focus on senior living, we hire people who either have experience in the industry (professionally or through volunteering) or a passion for the industry. 

Often, our team members bring both to the table. And sure—we also bring on people who’ve demonstrated that they want to embrace this industry and learn from us and our clients. (This is especially true among our interns.) 

  • What this means for our clients: There’s less of a learning curve. Yes, we absolutely take the time to learn about your community and your ideal prospects. But as for the industry itself—what senior living is, what it isn’t, how the sales cycles function, and so forth—we’re way ahead of other marketing agencies that generalize. 

5. We customize our approaches. 

It would be easy to think that because we only focus on senior living, we must have cookie-cutter approaches to our work. But that’s not the case.  

Even though most senior living communities are essentially selling the same thing, we believe that it’s possible to develop a unique value proposition for each client—and that what makes a community special should guide its marketing campaigns 

  • What this means for our clients: When you work with us, you get a mix of must-have digital marketing tactics, like web marketing, social media marketing, paid ads, and the like. But how we build out each tactic and campaign is where the customization comes into play, based on your specific objectives and your ideal buyers. 

6. We’re not only good at marketing. We also understand senior living sales. 

This, too, is unusual for marketing agencies. Sure, agencies will often have a high-level understanding of the sales process. But again, remember our founders—they intimately understand senior living sales cycles as well as the challenges sales teams face (and that marketing teams face while working with sales). 

  • What this means for our clients: Over the last decade, we’ve taught many senior living sales teams a better approach to working leads. We’ve taught teams about the difference between marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs), and how MQLs need to be nurtured while sales teams follow up on SQLs. We’ve written extensively about senior living sales, too.

7. We offer SMARTbrand, SMARTbrand+, and SMARTstores

We can confidently say no other marketing agency (that we’re aware of) offers this suite of solutions for print collateral and branded materials. 

  • What this means for our clients: We recognized the need for turnkey solutions that can cut down on printing costs while delivering quality materials. Plus, for companies that operate multiple communities, consistent branding is essential, and our SMARTstores make it easy to keep everything and everyone using the right branded materials. 

8. We have a marketplace with approved vendors to help marketing and sales teams shine. 

This goes back to our roots. (We’ve evolved since our founding in 2012.) We vet companies who sell to senior living marketing and sales teams, and we promote these great companies in our Marketplace 

9. We have our podcast.

OK, so we know just about every other marketing agency out there has podcasts. But our focus is on senior living marketing and sales topics (and we’ve had over 6,000 downloads to date). 

  • What this means for our clients: We embrace technology, and we show our clients successful ways to market by demonstrating how it’s done!

10. We’re a HubSpot Platinum Partner.

We became fans of HubSpot long before we became a partner, and the reason is simple. HubSpot is the leader in inbound marketing. Its all-in-one software package makes it easy to attract the right prospects, delight them throughout their journey, and convert them when they’re ready.  

  • What this means for our clients: You can’t be successful today without marketing automation, and HubSpot consistently delivers the best product in this arena. Of course, to get the most out of marketing automation, you need to make sure it’s been set up properly and that someone who understands its many nuances monitors the results. And that’s precisely the support we deliver to our clients when we set up and manage their HubSpot. Learn more about HubSpot for senior living in this free guide. 

Want to experience what a senior living marketing agency like ours can do for your community? 

Now’s a great time to get in touch and discuss your marketing plans for the next quarter.  

marketing to baby boomers

Marketing to Baby Boomers: Develop a Strong Value Proposition

When it comes to marketing to baby boomers, you must have a strong value proposition. OK, so what the heck is a value proposition anyway—and how do you create one? Keep reading. 

What is a value proposition? 

Oh, marketing! You got to love the jargon, right? Sometimes referred to as a unique selling proposition (or USP), a value proposition shows what’s in it for the prospect and why the prospect should choose you instead of your competitors. Because at the end of the day, that’s what prospects care about: How does your product or service benefit them?  

Your value prop shouldn’t be confused with a company mission statement. A mission statement is about your company’s goals and vision. A value proposition is focused on the prospect’s needs and pain points and how you address those pain points. It’s a true proposition—in essence, a proposal—about why the prospect should choose you. An effective value prop will get into the benefits you offer and how you’re different from your competitors.  

Is a value proposition a written statement?  

An effective value proposition is usually a short paragraph rather than one simple sentence. You need more space than a single sentence since a value prop gets into what’s in it for the customer, which includes their needs/pain points and how you solve for those better than your competitors. 

How is a value proposition used? 

Your senior living website home page is the best place for your value proposition since that’s your most trafficked website page and it sets the tone for what website visitors can expect. You might have your value prop “blurb” in the header area or just below it, depending on the headline. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have the value prop—or a version of it—appear on other pages. In fact, your value proposition will influence the messaging you use in all of your marketing materials, from your internal website pages to advertising to everything in between. 

What makes for a good value proposition? 

Here’s what to aim for when developing your value proposition.  

  • Be specific. Your value proposition should be incredibly specific about the benefits your prospects and customers receive compared to what your competitors offer. There’s no room for vagueness or generalizations. Be clear and direct. Avoid jargon. 
  • Be accurate. This is not the place to be aspirational. Don’t tout anything that’s not true today.  
  • Be authentic. Accuracy and authenticity are two sides of the same coin—they go hand in hand. Accuracy is about being truthful. Authenticity is about being genuine in your tone and how you present your value proposition. It should reflect your overall senior living brand identity 

An important caveat: Your value proposition won’t be all things to all people. Why? Because your senior living community isn’t for everyone. In some cases, your competitors might very well be the better option, and that’s OK.  

Why are value propositions so important? 

An effective value prop does the heavy lifting for you. It can help people self-identify whether your community sounds like the right fit for them—or not. The ones who aren’t the right fit can go elsewhere. The ones who are the right fit can continue their journey with you, downloading content and requesting tours. Ultimately, these “best fit” folks will be easier to convert into move-ins. 

Why do value propositions matter so much when marketing to baby boomers? 

Boomers are tech-savvy. The youngest Boomers are in their late fifties. The oldest are in their mid-70s. These folks do online research. They will visit your website. They will read online reviews. And they will look for a community that can serve their specific needs. Once you’re on their “pass” list, you might never get back on their “consideration” list. The better you are at clearly conveying the key benefit to your ideal boomer prospect, the easier it will be to keep the conversation moving forward. 

How do I write a value proposition? 

There’s no shortage of ways to go about it—and every marketing site has its own take and approach. Try not to overthink it too much. Instead, pretend you have one shot to communicate why someone should choose your senior living community instead of another community. What would you say? 

  • Work with your team on brainstorming answers to that “why.” Dig deep. All senior living communities are selling the same thing, more or less, so you have to go beyond the basics and figure out what makes your community special 
  • Interview your happiest residents. Ask them what they would write if they had one shot to convince someone to move into your community.  
  • Read your reviews—the good ones and the bad ones. Create a spreadsheet with words/phrases that people keep using.  
  • Audit competitors. Not just physical competitors in the area, but also competitors you compete with online. (They’re not always the same.) How are they positioning themselves? What’s their value proposition?  

Once you do this work, you’ll want to identify the focus of your value proposition, meaning the number one reason why someone should move into your community rather than a competitor’s.  

Take a step back. Challenge your own assumptions. Allow yourself to be persuaded by the evidence. For example, maybe you originally were thinking the community’s modern accommodations were the key selling point, but all the reviewers and residents keep talking about the warm staff that feels like family.  

After you’ve identified the number one reason why someone should move into your community, you need to write the “blurb,” as we affectionately call it, which will include:  

  • A compelling headline that clearly communicates the key benefit you’re delivering to your ideal prospect 
  • A short paragraph that continues to make your case by building off the headline (you only have a few lines) 

Draft several versions. Ideally, work with a copywriter. Writing short persuasive copy isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, sometimes writing short copy is harder than writing longer missives. So it’s a worthwhile investment to work with a writer. If you need some inspiration, WordStream has a great article with seven examples of compelling value propositions 

 Once you have a few versions, you’ll want to discuss it internally with marketing and sales (and possibly the C-suite if they want to provide input). You might want to get feedback from some of the happy residents you talked to—simply ask which version captures how they would position your community. You can (and should) test your value props to see what resonates. 

Can Senior Living SMART help me develop a winning value proposition? 

You bet! We have a stable of talented copywriters and marketing strategists who can work with your team in uncovering the key differentiator you offer. From there, we can craft an engaging value proposition for your home page and use it to guide your overall messaging.  

Get in touch and let’s discuss what makes your community special. 

marketing to boomers

Marketing to Boomers: 4 Hot Tips

If you’re a senior living marketer and you haven’t created a strategy for marketing to boomers, you better hop to it—and quickly. Below are four hot tips to keep in mind. 

  1. Develop different marketing strategies for Boomers I and Boomers II.

Say what? Yes, you need to think of Baby Boomers in two distinct categories—and for good reason.  

As Beresford Research explains, “We occasionally break up Boomers into two different cohorts because the span is so large, and the oldest of the generation have different sensibilities than the younger. In the U.S., Boomers II are just young enough to have missed being drafted into war.” 

We added the emphasis in the above quote because it’s a key point. Your strategy for marketing to older Boomers should be different from how you talk to younger Boomers. 

As we write this post in 2022, the folks in “Boomers I” range from 68 to 76. The folks in “Boomers II” range from 58 to 67. You likely know what we’re going to say next . . . an almost 60-year-old Boomer is going to have vastly different needs than a 75-year-old Boomer. And how you market to them will need to be different as a result. 

  1. Focus on the right Boomers for your senior living community.

Not every Boomer is a candidate for what you’re selling. For example, not every 68-year-old will be a good match for your senior living community, and that’s OK. Your job as a senior living marketer is to focus on 68-year-olds who ARE a great match for your community.  

That’s why buyer persona research is so important. Here’s the thing, though. Sometimes it’s hard for people within the C-suite and even within senior living marketing and sales teams to understand how valuable this research is.  

See, buyer persona research doesn’t produce something tangible for your investment—it’s not like a website, white paper, or batch of social media posts. What persona research gives you is insights—insights into who your ideal buyer is based on what your community offers, its price points, its location, and so forth. If you’re operating a community in midland Texas, for example, your ideal buyer will be different from the ideal buyer who is looking for a beachside community in San Diego. 

  1. Be nimble with your messaging.

One of the most important pieces of advice we can offer is this: Prepare to pivot. A lot.  

Because there are two discrete Boomer cohorts, you’ll need to design different messages—messages that will need to evolve over time and as people age from one to the other.   

You should also get in the habit of regularly testing your messages—from email subject lines, to ad headlines, to landing page copy, to everything in between. Pay close attention to the results, and never assume results will remain static. You’ll need to adjust, refine, and possibly redevelop messaging much more often than you did when creating messaging for older generations. What works one year—or in one campaign—might not work in the next one. 

You’ll also need to adjust your marketing plans accordingly. For example, you might need to earmark more budget for ongoing persona work and messaging development.  

  1. Embrace experimentation.

Back in the “old days” of senior living marketing, plenty of tried-and-true marketing vehicles existed, like direct mailers, print ads, and even church bulletins. But some of the folks in the Boomer II cohort are only 58! They are incredibly tech savvy with their smartphones and social media. They conduct much of their daily lives online, from banking to buying a car to planning their retirement.  

Bottom line: Determining a sweet spot for marketing to younger Boomers won’t happen overnight—if it happens at all. That’s why you need to embrace experimentation and get creative with your marketing. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but also accept that not all marketing vehicles are going to give you the results you’re looking for.   

When test-driving new marketing vehicles, a) don’t over-invest and b) make sure you test, test, test. If you discover a marketing vehicle that delivers a solid ROI, wonderful. But never assume it will always deliver the same ROI.  

Marketing has changed dramatically over the last two decades—and more seismic shifts are bound to occur over the next ten years. Pay attention. Test all assumptions. Do more of what works. But always be prepared to abandon what’s stopped working. 

BONUS: Choose an agency partner who is equally nimble. 

If you decide to outsource your senior living marketing to an agency, make sure you choose a partner that understands the four tips above. Your agency partner should have expertise in persona development, analytics, and the latest marketing tactics. At Senior Living SMART, we can handle all of that—and more. Get in touch and let’s talk about marketing to boomers! 

Senior Living Marketing Events

Senior Living Marketing Events: Focus on the Three Ws

We don’t need to tell you that one of the most effective ways to engage with prospects and convert them into move-ins is through senior living marketing events. But not all events are created equal.

In fact, we see many communities make mistakes with their event management. And yet, the secret sauce is quite simple: For ultimate success, align your senior living marketing events with the stages most prospects journey through.

We call these stages the three Ws: Whether, Where, When.

Senior living marketing events for the “Whether” stage.

Prospects usually spend the most time trying to answer the “whether” questions. Examples include whether they can afford senior living or whether they should choose independent living or assisted living.

Off-campus and virtual events work well for prospects who are trying to answer these “whether” questions. At this point, prospects are only thinking about their questions. They’re not thinking about your brand or your community. Instead, they are spending a lot of time inside their own heads, thinking, researching, and coming to terms with reality.

That’s why they might not be ready to come into a community setting. So an offsite location—like a restaurant, library, or country club—will be much more comfortable for them. (As would a virtual option.)

Educational events that align with general awareness and research topics are perfect. Some ideas:

  • Senior Living Lifestyle Options
  • Funding and Finance Fundamentals
  • How to Plan for the Transition

Senior living marketing events for the “Where” stage.

Once prospects figure out the answers to all of their “whether” questions, they are ready to move into the “where” stage.

In the “where” stage, the prospect is finally interested in (or, at least, aware of) your brand, your differentiators, and your value proposition. Their decision-making moves from their head to their heart as they try to picture their loved one (or themselves) living in your community.

On-site marketing events work well in this stage. As prospects evaluate where to move, they need to see resident and staff interactions, experience the lifestyle and amenities, try the food, and maybe speak with family members who have chosen your community for a parent.

Social events work well at this stage, especially ones where prospective family members can interact with residents and team members. Educational events are also effective. Consider topics like downsizing, transitioning, choosing the right community, and the like.

Senior living marketing events for the “When” stage.

The final stage is deciding when to make the transition to senior living. Prospects may have picked an apartment and left a deposit. Your biggest challenge at this point: making sure they don’t get cold feet!

Remember, moving to a senior living community can be overwhelming for families. They have to think about selling the family home, sorting through decades of belongings and memories, packing up, and moving.

They sometimes get stuck wondering “Should we make the move now or wait until . . .?” On-site events that offer the two Rs—Resources and Reassurance—can be extremely helpful at this stage.

Consider topics like . . .

  • Downsize Your Space to Upsize Your Life
  • 10 Tips to Sell Your Home Quickly—and Get Top Dollar
  • Moving 101: Tips for Packing, Donating, and Dumping
  • How to Make Your New Senior Living Apartment a True Home: Decoration Strategies

This is the only stage that we recommend offering any incentives. A great one to consider is this: “Move in by this date, and we’ll pay your moving expenses.”

BONUS: Download our handy “The Game of 3 W’s in Senior Living Event Marketing.” Share it with your team to help them fully understand and appreciate what goes into creating effective senior living marketing events.

Senior living marketing events: It takes a village. Let us help!

We’re experts at the 3 W’s of senior living event marketing. We can help you develop, design, and deploy awesome events for each stage while following marketing event best practices. Get in touch and let’s talk!

senior living marketing strategy

Senior Living Marketing Strategy: What Is an Advertorial?

A client recently asked us about an advertorial opportunity that a newspaper was offering their community. Their first question to us was “What is an advertorial anyway?” Their second question was “Should we do it? Does it make sense for our senior living marketing strategy?”

We figured our answer would make a great blog post, so here you go!

What is an advertorial?

The word itself is known as a portmanteau. With a portmanteau, you combine two common words to create a new word. Common portmanteaus include “blog” (web + log) and “brunch” (breakfast + lunch). In this case, we’re combining the word “advertising” and “editorial” to get “advertorial.”

At its simplest, an advertorial is an advertisement. But instead of the advertisement being displayed in typical ad format, it takes the form of a newspaper editorial.

Here’s the thing, though: Not everyone understands what a newspaper editorial is.

An editorial is essentially an argument—it takes a position on something and expresses the editor’s opinion. (Think of political candidate endorsements, for example). A newspaper’s editorial section is separate from the journalistic side of things, where reporters remain objective and report only the facts.

An advertorial has the same “look and feel” as other editorials or articles in the publication. In other words, it’s a lot less obvious that you’re looking at an ad because of the format. The advertorial might even read like an article. But underneath, it’s still very much an advertisement promoting a product, service, or cause.

And advertorials aren’t just found in print publications, either. You’ll find them online as well, where they’re more commonly referred to as “native advertising.” The TV equivalent is the infomercial (another portmanteau). Same concept. It’s a sponsored advertisement, but it takes on a different format, like a talk show or news feature.

Hmm. Advertorials sound a little shady. Are they?

There’s nothing shady about advertorials that are done right. When we say “done right,” we mean advertorials that present accurate information from reliable sources, science, and the like—and the publication makes it super obvious that the advertorial is indeed a paid advertisement.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission requires transparency and clear disclaimers/disclosures around advertorials and native advertising. Unfortunately, however, not everyone plays by the rules. And even when they do, sometimes words like “Sponsored Ad” might not necessarily communicate to the reader that the big article they’re reading is actually a long-form paid advertisement.

And this, of course, is where things can get tricky.

If the advertorial has been put together in a thoughtful and ethical way—with accurate information, reputable sources, quotes from real people, and even consideration for “the other side”—then the advertorial wouldn’t pose a problem. It will simply read like a longer advertisement, one where the reader would need to assess the claims, just as they would if they were to carefully read a digital display ad or a traditional print ad.

But if the advertorial is put together in a haphazard way (remember, no one is fact-checking the advertorial) and the reader misses the disclaimer about it being a paid ad, things can get dicey since the reader could walk away with skewed information—or downright false information.

When it comes to advertising, we all bear responsibility. If we’re involved with advertising, we must endeavor to create ethical ads. As consumers, we must use critical thinking skills when assessing claims made in ads.

Bottom line: If you decide to run an advertorial or native advertisement for your community and you focus on data and facts, rather than spin, you’ll be fine. In fact, you might be more than fine. Because advertorials can be an extremely effective marketing vehicle.

Why are advertorials so effective?

For the same reason they can also be problematic—the format. We humans are much more likely to pay attention to something that’s in an article format than something that screams “ad,” even if we see the disclaimer and we know it’s an ad.

Where the advertorial is published can also influence us. For example, some folks might pay more attention to an advertorial in an advertising supplement in The New York Times because it’s The New York Times.

Advertorials also provide more space to mount a compelling “argument”—much more than a typical print ad or display ad. With a print advertorial, you can go much deeper into whatever it is you’re selling, like a product, a service, or—in this case—a senior living community (or the concept of senior living in general).

And digital advertorials (native advertisements) tend to have much more engagement than traditional online ads. Think about native ads that have come across your social media feeds—and all the likes, comments, and shares the ad got. Banner ads and display ads don’t have that sort of activity!

But advertorials probably cost more than typical ads, right?

It really depends on the publication. Running an advertorial in a supplement to The New York Times will be much more expensive than an advertorial in your town’s weekly paper.

But yes—price points for advertorials that run in premier publications like the Times will cost you a pretty marketing penny.

So should communities run advertorials and native advertising as part of their senior living marketing strategy?

It depends. Long-form ads / native advertising can be effective marketing vehicles, provided the advertorial aligns with your overall marketing strategy and is executed well.

OK, so what are some tips for producing awesome advertorials?

Our suggestions are the same for any senior living advertising campaign. You need to start by carefully answering the following questions:

  • What’s your goal? Building brand awareness, getting people to book a visit, something else?
  • Can the publication that you want to run the advertorial in help you achieve this goal? For example, do demographics align with your buyer personas?
  • Would running an advertorial integrate with your overall marketing strategy? For example, would the advertorial work with your other paid campaigns? Or did a random publication message you with a “great deal” for an advertorial and you want to try it—even though you haven’t been running a ton of advertising?
  • What metrics do you have in place to measure the advertorial’s effectiveness? How will you define success?
  • Do you have people who understand how to write and design effective advertorials? Don’t skimp on the writing. Consider using a professional writer with experience in advertorial creation.

Can Senior Living SMART help my community with advertorials and native advertising?

Absolutely! We can help you evaluate any advertising offers that cross your desk to ensure they make sense for your goals, that they align with your larger senior living marketing strategy, and that the ad buy works for your budget. Our team can also write and design effective advertorials and native advertisements as well. Get in touch and let’s talk it through.

10 interesting facts

Senior Living SMART: 10 Interesting Facts About Our Marketing Journey

Senior Living SMART is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! Through the end of the year, we’re going off script each month and sharing a bonus blog post in addition to our regular marketing-related content. (Check out last month’s installment: 10 Ways Senior Living Marketing Has Changed in 10 Years.)

Since September is our actual anniversary month, we thought it would be fun to share 10 interesting facts about our marketing journey.

1. The “SMART” in our name “Senior Living SMART” isn’t us shouting about how intelligent we are.

It’s an acronym, and it stands for the following:

Strategy. Marketing. Analytics. Resources. Technology.

All five elements are at the core of what we do every day for our clients. (More on this below.)

2. We haven’t always focused on senior living marketing.

In fact, during our initial launch in 2012, we were focused on being a go-to resource for all the various departments within senior living communities. To accomplish this, we curated a marketplace filled with vendors that we carefully vetted. We also offered tons of free and paid resources.

From the beginning, our resources always reflected and reinforced the SMART acronym. And while our founders—Deborah Howard and Andréa Catizone—have excellent insights into every department, their true expertise is in senior living marketing and sales since that’s where they’ve spent the bulk of their careers.

So back in 2012, it was no surprise that so many of the requests that Debbie and Andréa fielded from customers revolved around marketing and sales topics: Can you help us build a senior living website? How do we generate leads from our website? Can you help us create downloadable content? How can we improve conversions?

It quickly became clear that Senior Living SMART should sharpen its focus instead of trying to be everything to everybody. And so, we evolved into the Senior Living SMART we are today: a nimble digital marketing agency that focuses on helping senior living communities attract the right prospects and convert those prospects into move-ins, all while following industry best practices.

3. But we didn’t adjust our name because we didn’t have to.

The SMART acronym was even more apt once we focused only on senior living marketing and sales:

  • Strategy. Strategy is at the heart and soul of what we do. Everything starts with a sound marketing strategy.
  • Marketing. Marketing has evolved dramatically over the last two decades. And even more so for senior living communities over the last 10 years since our industry tends to be a late adopter. Digital marketing has created a major shift, and not all community marketing and sales teams have been prepared.
  • Analytics. As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. You must have built-in metrics for measuring every marketing campaign.
  • Resources. We remain a popular go-to destination among senior living marketing and sales teams because of all the free content we make available. And we still have a Marketplace with approved vendors, too.
  • Technology. We couldn’t call ourselves digital marketing experts if we didn’t embrace all things digital—and all the technology that supports our digital marketing endeavors. We love teaching senior living marketing and sales teams about different technology, whether it’s HubSpot, a keyword tool, or on-site functionality, like live chat.

4. We’ve doubled in size every year since we started. (Even during the pandemic.)

We have an amazing team and amazing clients, and we’ve consistently grown both since the very beginning.

When the pandemic hit, we didn’t skip a beat, either. Since we’ve always been a virtual agency, our team was already adept at navigating a world that could only happen in virtual spaces like Zoom. So we were able to continue servicing clients. But we also taught senior living communities how to leverage their own virtual technologies during this stressful and chaotic time as well.

5. But despite our success, we are still very much the “shoemaker’s children.” And we’re OK with that!

You’ve probably heard the adage that the shoemaker’s kids are running around barefoot or in old shoes because the shoemaker is too busy taking care of their own customers.

That definitely sounds like us! We don’t have any print brochures. We’ve never run a paid ad. And we don’t have a sales team. What we do have is a great digital presence (which further proves our expertise in all things digital marketing) and excellent relationships with people in the industry.

6. Despite being a digital agency, we still do lots of print work for our clients.

Other digital marketing agencies eschew traditional marketing methods like direct mailers. We say NOT SO FAST. Traditional methods are still effective with older audiences (like Boomers) provided you properly integrate these methods with your overall marketing efforts, including digital.

To date, we have printed 10 million pieces of sales collateral materials, direct mail, and flyers through our Smartstores.

7. But just in case you’re suddenly questioning our digital acumen . . .

We LOVE digital marketing—and all things digital in general. We’re geeks at heart. To wit: Our senior living marketing podcast has over 6500 downloads.

8. There’s one thing that our team members all have in common.

Everyone has pets! We don’t know about you, but we think animal lovers are special people—fun, compassionate, and creative.

9. Our founder and CEO, Deborah Howard, has a fun little-known fact about her below.

Debbie says, “I had a children’s band called KidRock (I wish I had registered/ trademarked the name). We recorded an album and had a cable TV show: Circle Time Singalong.”

10. And our president and COO, Andréa Catizone, has a fun fact in the same vein.

Andréa says, “I was in a made-for-TV movie for PBS when I was 6.”

By the way, all of our team members share similar fun facts about themselves in their bios. Get to know them here.

Bonus fun fact: The success we’ve had over the last decade wouldn’t have been possible without our clients.

A special thank you to all of our clients, current and past, for making us who we are today! And to those who aren’t clients (yet!), but who’d like to be part of the Senior Living SMART family, let’s chat!

secret to better senior living direct mail

The Secret to Better Senior Living Direct Mail Marketing

Looking for the secret sauce to better senior living direct mail marketing? Well, the secret involves a mix of several key ingredients rather than one magical spice. Below, we share the recipe.

Make sure your branding is consistent across all media.

You don’t want someone to experience a disconnect when they go from your direct mailer to your website to your community itself. The brand you present on the direct mailer must align with the brand you’re portraying everywhere else.

Keep in mind, however, that your senior living brand is so much more than a logo and color palette. Yes, those things inform your brand identity, but so do the words you use, the messages you share, and the way you want people to feel whenever they engage with your brand.

Make it easy for someone to take the next step.

Your direct mailer should have one goal—and this goal should be clearly conveyed in the call to action (CTA).

What’s your reason for sending the direct mailer in the first place? Some examples:

  • Are you driving people to a specific landing page to download a free guide on how to finance senior living?
  • Maybe you’re inviting people to a “lunch & learn” event or to take a tour.
  • Or maybe you want people to call a phone number to request a brochure.

The “ask” should be clear, direct, and easy for someone to do.

Connect your senior living direct mail marketing to your larger marketing plan and ongoing campaigns.

Effective marketing doesn’t happen in silos. Your various campaigns should work in harmony as part of a strategic marketing plan or initiative.

So, for example, if you’re sending a direct mailer inviting people to have “Lunch on Us,” it should be part of a larger “Lunch on Us” campaign that has a strategic plan for promoting the event (print, web, social), executing the event (swag, brochures), and following up on the event (lead nurturing, tour invites).

Be hyper-focused when developing your mailing lists.

You might think it’s always better to cast a wide net. Wouldn’t mailing 10,000 people be better than mailing 2,000? Not necessarily. There’s a reason why direct mail response rates have historically been on the low side. Direct mail companies would often cast a super huge net, knowing that the response rate might be only 1% or 2%. They’d have to cast that big net in order to have the ROI they were looking for.

But marketing has become a lot more sophisticated over the last twenty years. Even though direct mail marketing is still considered an outbound marketing method (meaning you’re sending materials to people who haven’t self-identified a need for your services), that doesn’t mean you can’t take an inbound approach to the development of your targeted mailing list.

It all starts with understanding your ideal buyers and creating a persona for each buyer that includes detailed demographic info—info that a reputable mailing house can use to create a targeted list.

This means you’ll likely be mailing a much smaller number of direct mailers (and we realize printing and postage aren’t inexpensive). But the chances of converting people will be greater, provided you have the right messaging and the right call-to-action, which brings us to our next point.

Match the message to the audience.

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all messaging. For example, one of your personas will likely be an adult child. And if you’re really good with your persona development, you’ll break that down into adult daughter and adult son.

The messages that resonate with the adult daughter will likely be different than the messages that resonate with the adult son. That’s basic Psychology 101. While you might think you can use the daughter message for both audiences (or the other way around), resist the temptation. You WILL get better results if you customize the messaging to each audience you send direct mailers to.

And remember: Your senior living direct mail marketing isn’t happening in a vacuum, right? The messaging you develop should be used elsewhere, like website pages, blog posts, paid online ads, social media, and email marketing, for consistency’s sake.

Don’t skimp on design and layout.

If you’ve invested in custom messaging, but you turn to DIY tools when it comes to graphic design, well . . . you’ve just wasted your investment. Sure, if you have legit graphic design skills, have at it. But if you don’t, you’re better off working with someone who does. Or you can use our SMART Brand product suite where we have ready-made templates created by professional designers, including direct mailers—templates that allow you to easily add in your logo, colors, and custom messaging.

Need help rocking your senior living direct mail marketing?

That’s what we’re here for! We can help you navigate inbound and outbound marketing methods so that they’re always working in harmony. Get in touch and let’s chat.

leveraging traditional marketing methods

Leveraging Traditional Marketing Methods in Senior Living

Ever since the concept of inbound marketing took off in the late 2000s, people have been wondering if “traditional” marketing methods still have a place in a modern marketing environment.

Like so many things in life, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on the brand, the audience, and the goals. Sure, print ads in physical newspapers won’t reach Gen Z or younger Millennials, but that doesn’t mean those same ads won’t reach other audiences—like Baby Boomers.

In fact, traditional marketing methods—think direct mailers, print ads, and radio/TV—can be very effective with the Silent Generation, Boomers, and even Gen X. The challenge is getting your traditional marketing methods in senior living to play nice with your inbound methods. And that’s precisely what this blog post is all about.

Make sure your inbound and traditional marketing methods are part of a larger plan.

Slapping together a print ad here or a direct mailer there along with an ebook and social media posts is an example of how NOT to approach your senior living marketing. To be successful, you need a plan—a marketing strategy—for meeting your goals.

In senior living, the ultimate goal is move-ins. But you need to meet many goals along the way to achieve that ultimate goal. You need to understand who your ideal buyer is. You need to attract more of these folks to your website, invite these folks to attend meaningful events in your community, run advertising that will reach them (online and off), and maintain an active presence in the virtual spaces where they hang out.

There are many moving parts, which is why you need a plan for managing everything—and for successfully aligning your inbound and traditional marketing methods.

Think in terms of different marketing channels—and how they can work together to serve a specific campaign.

Don’t turn marketing channels, like your website or social media, into marketing silos. Silo mentalities never work—especially within marketing. Instead, your various marketing channels need to work in harmony toward whatever goal you’ve set.

For example, let’s say you’re inviting people to “have lunch on us.” The goal is to get people to the community to experience the delicious food and the wonderful community.

This is a perfect example of a goal that would benefit from both inbound and traditional marketing methods. You’ll likely use a combination of digital marketing channels—email, website, social media posts, maybe even pay-per-click ads—to promote the event. But you might also use direct mailers to invite people to attend as well.

If this “lunch on us” becomes a regular monthly event, you might even invest in other traditional methods, such as radio or TV, especially if you discover the conversion rate among attendees is excellent and a good return on your investment.

But this brings us to an important caveat about traditional marketing methods . . .

Keep in mind that traditional marketing methods can be pricy and that not all campaigns will benefit from these methods.

Let’s demonstrate with another example. Instead of an in-person event, maybe you create a free guide on this topic: “Is senior living right for you?” You want to promote this guide so that people will come to your website and download it. When they fill out the website form, they will provide enough info to indicate whether they match your buyer persona—and, if yes, where they are in their journey. From there, you can nurture them through an email workflow.

To promote the guide, you’ll use similar digital marketing methods that you used for the lunch & learn: email, website, social media, and PPC ads. But it wouldn’t make sense to run direct mailers to promote the guide. That would be cost-prohibitive.

Why? Well, a guide on whether senior living is a suitable lifestyle is most definitely a top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) offer. Meaning someone who downloads it is likely in the early stages of their research. They’re not poised for a sales pitch like someone who shows up for a free lunch so that they can check out your community first-hand.

Keep in mind that traditional marketing methods can be quite pricy—anyone who’s gotten quotes for print ads or radio spots can attest to that! So running a print ad or sending direct mailers about a TOFU offer wouldn’t necessarily deliver the best ROI.

That’s why we’re always clear when it comes to marketing that it’s never a one-size-fits-all scenario. Sure, there’s still a place for traditional marketing methods, but you need to be thoughtful in your approach.

This leads us to yet another caveat.

Conduct regular audience research and surveys to see if people are still responding to traditional marketing methods.

Here’s the thing: we’re not suggesting all traditional marketing methods will continue to work—even for older audiences—forever. If the last two decades have taught us anything, it’s how quickly things can change, especially in marketing land. At some point, we do predict that traditional marketing methods, like running ads in newspapers and magazines, will no longer be effective.

Your job as a senior living marketer is to keep tabs on your prospective buyers, including where they hang out (both online and off) and how they consume media—and how this can and will change. Remember, the buyer controls the sales process now, not the other way around. Your job is to enable them to easily buy from you by removing any friction between them and the information they need to make their decision.

Need help? Work with a marketing agency that understands how to align inbound and traditional marketing methods.

Our talented team knows the ins and outs of inbound and outbound marketing—including how to make both work for senior living communities. Get in touch and let’s chat.