Derek Dunham

The month of March marked the one-year anniversary of COVID shutting down workplaces and businesses, as well as the one-year anniversary of our Sales & Marketing Roundtable discussions.

During this month’s virtual discussions, the takeaways were different — depending on the part of the country — but we found some common themes.

One theme that frequently came up was the anxiety senior living marketers feel heading into the post-pandemic era. Communities are all moving from the uncertainty of not knowing what life is going to hold during the pandemic to not knowing how things are going to change as they get back to business in this new landscape. One quote from a participant summed up the feelings of many: “The uncertainty of the past year has played out in this field also. Some days it feels hopeful and some days it’s crazy.”

A roller coaster of emotions

Another marketer echoed the ups and downs of feelings (and leads), saying: “It’s surges and lulls. We get a lot of leads at once and then it slows down. I’m seeing peaks and valleys. People are coming out of their shells, and want to make decisions and move forward. They are being  cautious and thoughtful to make sure they have all the answers to their questions. There’s more hand-holding than before. The closing time is definitely longer and requires more personal time and visits. People want to feel good about their decision.”

The good news is that, now that many residents and team members have been vaccinated, communities are starting to open up parts of their campuses, particularly dining areas. “I’m excited about opening communal dining,” said one participant. “This will be full capacity, and we’ll be able to serve everyone at one seating.”

Another marketer echoed the positive feelings that come with reopening dining, commenting, “It’s so nice to walk by the dining room and see happy residents.”

Reopenings spark marketing opportunities

As dining, tours and activities open, so do marketing possibilities. One participant shared: “Our staff is going through the database to reach out to those who said they wanted to wait until IL dining and common areas were opened up.”

Planning has also been underway at many communities to determine how to market events and tours, now that visitors are starting to be allowed on-site. “Our marketing plan calls for the first in-person event in July, but who knows,” said one participant. “The big word right now is ‘agility.’ Things change every week.”

Even masks may, at some point, be a thing of the past. “The governor announced in Ohio that once our infection rate goes down for two weeks running, we can do away with masks,” commented one participant.

But things are still in a constant state of flux — although, to put things in perspective, the marketing landscape is much better than this time last year. “Last year, the plan went out the window completely,” said one participant. “This year, at least we’ll have a plan that will be fluid.”

Government guidelines cause frustration

Throughout the month, some confusion occurred around the CDC guidelines, and many resident family members continue to be frustrated at the no-visit rules, even when both parties have been vaccinated.

“People are confused and it’s making things harder before they will get easier,” said one community marketer. “If I were a family member or a resident, I’d be beside myself.”

Another negative was that assisted living is in a decline at some communities, although independent living seems to be doing well, according to several participants.

“IL has been going really well,” said one marketer. “We sold our last two high-end apartments, three garden apartments and many others. All four IL areas are pretty much full. SNF is at 50%. AL is also not doing well. Our digital team is saying that people aren’t searching for AL anymore and that the search is really down. We’re not sure how we’ll fill these areas.”

But, overall, communities are feeling optimistic, as prospects who were staying home begin to venture out.  “Last week, we had four sales, which we attribute to pent-up demand,” one participant said. “People can now come into the community for a full tour and to meet residents.”

Here’s to even more positive news in April! Stay tuned for our next monthly recap of our roundtable discussions.

As always, you are welcome to join our Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.