senior living salesEvery sale has a hook, line and sinker - even in senior living. And behind every sale is a marketing campaign that works in the same way.

But senior living providers have long struggled to bridge the gap between marketing and sales, facing a population that doesn't necessarily want the product they're selling.

And with roughly 1.4 million senior living units on the market, some are working hard to reimagine the senior living marketing campaign.

The Hook: Challenging Preconceptions

Over the past few years, the industry has seen a marked shift in the behavior of senior living customers: Namely, they have higher expectations and are less tolerant of marketing and sales tactics.

However, while customer expectations may have changed, they're still looking to solve the same problem.

"The underlying motivation still is: What's going to happen, how are you going to protect me, and how are you going to give me a lifestyle in which I dont even have to think about that?" said Lori Woodward, senior vice president of marketing and sales at ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, during a recent senior care marketing conference in Chicago.

Therein lies the true opportunity for senior living providers: Marketing how their product can change prospects' lives, rather than what might happen if prospects don't make the move.

"Move away from that fear-driven sale; even if it's effective, it's not what we want," said Kim Daly Nobbs, chief marketing officer of Willow Valley Communities. "We want to draw people into possibility rather than scare people into our communities. What that does is create those 'I'm not ready' prospects."

In drawing prospects into possibility, senior living communities need to market not only their brand, but their product, marketers say. This kind of marketing is being done through "content marketing" - and it's successful.

In fact, 60% of buying decisions (not just for senior living) are made before a sales representative is even contacted, according to Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director of Orbit Media.

So the challenge, or the goal, in senior living marketing is to be the best resource for prospects, giving them all of the information they need on both the brand and product to make a well-informed decision.

"What people really want is help making a buying decision; what people don't want is to be sold to," Crestodina said.

Use content marketing to educate the senior living customer and challenge their preconceptions of the industry.

Most people in this business have surely heard - or said - the phrase, "This isn't your grandma's nursing home," but don't have the marketing materials to back it up.

The Line: Creating an Unrivaled Web Experience

Much like companies in any industry, a senior living community's website is often its first point of contact with customers.

On average, a new lead will visit a senior living website 7.8 times before filling out any forms, according to April LaMon, co-founder of Lead Insite.

This means the website must offer visitors relevant information, including content marketing, that will help guide prospects through the decision-making process.

In one case study, LaMon says Lead Insite tracked the content areas which visitors were most interested in on a community's website. The results are as follows: 51% of people were interested in housing; 18% were interested in amenities; 18% were interested in pricing and 11% were interested in care.

The takeaway? Get back to basics. Don't fill a website with fluff; offer prospects what they really want - and need - to make their decision.

"What your consumer needs is a lot of information about housing," LaMon said. "If I don't see a fit for me on where I want to live, I don't care about all the great things you have planned for me later."

Lead Insite also conducted research on the effect of content marketing on leads by taking communities' blog posts and separating them into those topics that visitors looked at most frequently.

LaMon found, among other results, a deeper interest in communities among those who read relevant blog posts than those who didn't.

"For those people who looked at the housing blogs, they also dug deeper into content about amenities and care," she said. "They're really seriously doing research for this particular community."

The Sinker: Treating Customers Differently

When it comes down to making the sale, industry staff must recognize the importance of individualizing their approach with prospects, experts said.

Content marketing and quality websites are steps in the right direction, but personalization is key in the sales process.

"It's critical in many ways; it's critical in being able to deliver messaging and content and overcoming speed bumps to these individuals," Woodward said. "But you can't individualize unless you ask questions. One key characteristic of salespeople is that they are curious."

As previous research shows, sales staff over the years have overwhelmingly failed to ask the right questions, leading to less than satisfactory experiences in senior living - even before prospects walk through the door.

Additionally, untrained salespeople contribute to a culture that values profit over people, further distancing prospects from any meaningful contact with the organization.

Moving into senior housing is a major life decision - not a matter of deciding what's for dinner.

Ultimately, the most critical marketing strategy is not necessarily the content or the website, but the people behind them, who recognize the magnitude of the decision and treat each prospect as they'd like to be treated.

"Empathy is the greatest marketing skill in the world," Crestodina said.