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Consumer experiences become brand differentiators in senior living

According to a recent report from Forrester Research, two-thirds of Chief Marketing Officers are now responsible for experience – keeping customers happy, satisfied and connected with the brands, not just driving them to products and services.

Sheryl Pattek, VP, Executive Partner serving CMO professionals at Forrester Research, says that organizations no longer own their brands; instead, customers define their brands.

As marketers, we can agree that the connection between brand and the customer experience is imperative in today’s business world, and we’ve seen this continue to be at a forefront in senior living.

Not only that, but according to Gartner, by 2017, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary brand differentiator.

While we understand the importance of customer experience, it’s something easier said than done. Janel Wait discussed this in her recent blog post, Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes could change your marketing approach.

Companies that excel in customer experience understand the three key areas listed below, all of which differentiate your community brand.

  1. Experience as a brand differentiator

Branding has been around for a long time, but the definition of branding continues to evolve in the digital age. Customers have access to more information and a greater choice in product selection. Brand isn’t just an identity mark; it communicates a promise about a product, a service, a company or a senior living community.

Brands compete daily to influence customer behavior and all the choices that are presented in a competitive marketplace. Today brand is represented through various experiences a customer has across multiple channels (web, email, social, in-person, direct mail).

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, people experience brand in three different ways:


Visuals include the graphic elements of a brand (logo, typeface, etc.).


Tone is the style of communication the brand uses (text, messaging, etc.).


Behavior is how a company acts in certain situations.

While it’s important for a customer to have an optimal user experience on your community website, you also need to remember to address comments on Facebook, respond to online reviews, send reminders to prospects about an upcoming appointment, and greet prospects and adult children with the hospitality they deserve when visiting your community.

Here’s the bottom line: To differentiate your community from the competition, every touchpoint and interaction with the customer must deliver a positive (and consistent) experience across all channels. This is true for prospects, but also for your residents and their families.

  1. Meeting the exact needs of the customer

Increased competition and greater access (through digital means) to multiple brands means it’s more important than ever to stand out by meeting the needs of your customers.

Think about ways to delight your customers by paying close attention to their needs, behaviors, and how they want to be treated. Consider the following ideas:

  • If a prospect or adult child reaches out to you by submitting a form on your website, respond to them in a digital format (email), unless they ask to be called. If a person is connecting to your community via the website, they likely want to begin the relationship process the same way. There might be several email exchanges before a tour is scheduled, and that’s okay. You can go through the same sales process, questions, etc., over email that you can over the phone or in person. You’re respecting customer preferences by paying attention to their preferred method of communication.
  • Respond to online inquiries immediately (within 30 minutes). Change your internal processes to accomplish this task. Think about how you would want people to respond if you were to fill out an online form. The customer expectations are high, and this is your chance to make a solid first impression that reflects your brand and community. The same is true for social media.
  • Offer prospects the opportunity to engage with content on your website to help educate them about their options (blogs, interactive floor plans, video, photos, virtual tours and downloadable brochures).
  • Provide customers with a custom (name printed on it) direct mail piece before they come into your community. Introduce them to the sales counselor they’ll meet (photo and bio or brief introduction), and include questions to ask or things to consider or expect when visiting your community.
  1. Customer experience programs that are supported by leadership and employees

Customer experience initiatives require executive leadership, and should be a daily conversation among top-level executives to truly become a key differentiator in the marketplace. At the same time, executive leadership must empower employees on the front line (sales and marketing counselors, move-in coordinators, dining staff, etc.) to do the right things during every encounter with prospects, residents and their families. When you have this kind of experiential alignment, the experience becomes a differentiator for your brand.

How is your community differentiating itself through the experiences that prospects, residents and families are having with your brand?

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