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Voices: Angela Harless, CEO, AcrobatAnt

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This article is sponsored by AcrobatAnt. In this interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Angela Harless, CEO, AcrobatAnt, to talk about leveraging digital channels to drive awareness and leads in senior living communities. She discusses the most pressing senior living marketing trends and the steps providers can take to navigate them. She also breaks down some of the key compliance restrictions affecting senior living marketers and explains how to keep marketing effectively despite the current limitations.

What life and career experiences do you most draw from in your role today?

In my early days at the agency, I was heavily involved with agency operations and accounting, building a strong foundation that, combined with my formal education, equipped me with a thorough understanding of the financial aspects of profitability and effective business management. This background has been key in shaping our agency’s approach to client partnerships as we focus on delivering tangible results, driven by strategies that are aligned with our clients’ business models, revenue sources and costs.

As my career progressed, it led me through media, and account management and strategy, where I honed my skills in traditional media planning and buying while venturing into digital channels for our clients. In all of these settings, I had the chance to work closely with clients across various sectors — most notably health care. And in 2008, alongside four partners, we seized the opportunity to launch a new agency dedicated to exceptional client service and delivering results.

Since our inception, we have broadened our client base to include multiple industries, such as senior living, and in 2021, I became the CEO of AcrobatAnt. I truly believe that my agency upbringing serves our clients well since I have a deep understanding of business, marketing and media channels, and our team’s specialized expertise ensures the optimal mix of tools and channels to achieve our clients’ goals daily.

What is the benefit of working with a marketing partner that serves a broad spectrum of industries instead of focusing solely on senior living?

By working within various industries, an agency can bring best practices and ideas that aren’t inherently for the senior living industry to solve senior living challenges. When working heavily or solely in a single industry, it’s easy to fall into a routine, where deliverables and strategies become cookie-cutter for a group of clients or brands.

Every brand is unique. Every community is unique. While many senior living communities face similar challenges, the way to overcome those challenges is unique. What works for one may not work for all, and looking at every brand and client as a unique challenge ensures there aren’t blinders on for opportunities that haven’t been explored previously.

Bringing insights and experience from health care, hospitality and financial services provides a unique POV. A wide range of industry expertise paired with strategy and channel experience expands the horizon of what’s possible for our clients.

What are some of the key marketing trends impacting senior living providers in the current environment?

The rising number of aging baby boomers is spurring a surge in demand for diverse senior living options — the emphasis on ‘options’, because today’s seniors seek more than just traditional assisted living or nursing homes. The modern senior aims to maintain an active, healthy and independent lifestyle for as long as possible, and marketing efforts should highlight the programs and amenities that facilitate this.

Seniors and their adult children are increasingly tech-savvy, so incorporating virtual options in the marketing mix to spark interest and encourage visits is essential. Virtual tours and consultations are particularly effective for engaging potential residents who are not in the vicinity, helping to build relationships and showcase a community’s benefits remotely.

Utilizing technology both in marketing strategies and within the community itself, like offering advanced and customizable living solutions, can distinguish a community and motivate seniors to consider a new living environment.

Efficiently segmenting the target audience and optimizing digital marketing channels — such as organic search, social media and other digital platforms — requires a deeper exploration of each channel to best support business objectives, even in the face of targeting challenges.

How can senior living providers more effectively approach digital marketing in such a heavily regulated space?

A comprehensive digital strategy should include strong, cohesive paid search and remarketing components, utilizing first-party data for remarketing to keep a brand top-of-mind for website visitors, and paid search to capture leads at the moment of interest.

First, by focusing on the most promising zip codes or geographic areas through third-party data, like Claritas and MRI Simmons, we can make budgets work harder out of the gate by targeting based on factors such as net worth and median age.

Additionally, third-party data can refine targeting on paid social platforms to ensure that ads reach the intended audience without unnecessary costs. For instance, using Claritas data allows for more precise targeting beyond the basic demographic options available on platforms like Meta.

Adopting traditional media targeting approaches in digital contexts is also beneficial because communities can leverage media channels and platforms frequented by the target audience to improve campaign relevance and engagement. Direct buys with specific websites or media outlets, possibly including value-added content integrations, offer targeted reach without the need for detailed demographic parameters. Further, with 73% of senior living shoppers reportedly taking action after viewing an email ad, showcasing its potential impact, prospect email targeting presents another valuable digital avenue.

How can senior living communities best leverage their websites and organic digital presence?

It’s important to recognize that everything a community does either builds or undermines its brand, and digital presence is no exception. At the highest level, digital presence is not about organic social, SEO and website conversions, but authentically conveying a brand to make a connection.

To achieve this, a community must first embrace authentic content creation, because highly polished sales messages won’t have the same impact as sharing real stories and resident experiences. Even better — communities should encourage their residents and families to create, share and tag content, which often resonates more authentically and drives higher levels of engagement than brand-generated content alone.

On the website front, stock photography should be avoided at all costs since it is one of the first opportunities to showcase the community and leave a lasting impression. Selecting a community is a significant decision-making process that involves a lengthy sales cycle, so being a valuable resource early on can positively influence the buyer’s journey. In turn, well-written educational content and events are great ways to introduce people to your community early in the decision-making process while concurrently improving your organic search ranking.

Thinking of your digital presence as an extension of your brand and sales team, aligned with the decision-making process of potential residents, is crucial, and it supports organic lead-gen by showcasing the genuine experience your community offers.

With so many approaches to targeting in senior living marketing, what considerations should providers prioritize to optimize their targeting strategy?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of marketing to the adult daughter of potential senior living residents. Whether it’s independent living, assisted living or memory care, connecting with the adult daughter is vital to success. It was reported that 67% of visitors to seniorly.com are adult daughters searching for their parents —they are actively engaged in the search and their opinions matter.

Independent living campaigns should be a two-pronged strategy to reach the adult daughter as well as the potential resident. The messaging, targeting and media channels all must align based on the specified targets and their unique concerns. While seniors may be concerned about independence and lifestyle, adult children might be focused on well-being, comfort, safety and happiness. By acknowledging and speaking to what each audience cares most about, communities can make a greater impact on each party’s decision-making process.

Many of our senior living clients understand the need to reach the adult children, but they sometimes fall into the trap of “rinse and repeat”, where the media plan or tactics being used for the resident targets are repurposed for the adult children. The adult children not only have different concerns, but also different media consumption habits.

Providers need to get comfortable with different outreach plans for each audience. The mean age of mothers at first birth for someone currently in their mid to late 70s was 22 years old, and they had an average of 4 children. So, right now, their children are likely in their late 40s and mid-to-late-50s. This is a wide age range, but all are more comfortable with and consume media using technology than their boomer parents.

Finish this sentence: “The senior living industry in 2024 will be the year of…”

…personalized experiences.

Whether in marketing or the physical residences and amenities offered, seniors expect a personalized experience tailored to their needs.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

AcrobatAnt creates compelling marketing strategies that deliver results. For senior living communities, this means generating high-quality leads to keep your organization thriving. Explore more at acrobatant.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 [email protected].

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