Selling Seniors’ Housing amid Uncertainty
Selling seniors’ housing has been challenging recently. In times of political and economic turmoil, selling seniors’ housing is even more difficult, and the question becomes, what is the best way of selling senior’s housing amid uncertainty?
These coming months of the Trump / Pence administration and Republican-controlled House and Senate should make more clear what has been a swirl of speculation. Healthcare, very important to everyone, but especially to the senior demographic, is at the center of the uncertainty. The executive order signed by Pres. Trump on his very first day has thrown into question how the “repeal and replace” agenda will be fulfilled. Most of the speculation about this executive order focuses on the possibility of removing or modify the “individual mandate”. However this uncertainty will effect selling seniors’ housing as well.
Regarding seniors housing, the executive order could impact state-based programs for housing and services. Devolving more control to the states could impact a multitude of seniors’ housing and services support programs, and change how the markets perceive selling seniors’ housing.
Keeping things in perspective, this is not the first time we have encountered a period of significant uncertainty. The Great Recession, starting in 2008 created tremendous uncertainty about the value of the housing stock, and impacted seniors’ housing markets for years. While some markets and operators have recovered, others did not fare so well and overall occupancy and utilization in the seniors’ housing markets remains challenging.
What have we learned from the Great Recession about selling in uncertainty? What can we learn from the successes and failures during this period? Are there benchmarks in other sectors, from which we can derive guidance?
Marketing and selling services in an uncertain market represents an opportunity for owners and operators to “look up” from business as usual. When marketing and operations are reasonably efficient, there is less motivation to ask the difficult, even existential questions. These are also the times when consultants, such as Stackpole & Associates, are contacted and asked to help answer the tough questions. Here are few observations.
Strength of the brand
During periods of uncertainty, the natural and understandable management instinct is to cut back on “nonessential” expenses. What we have learned through several periods of boom and bust in seniors housing, as well as in long-term care, home healthcare, and healthcare services markets, is that strong brands survive. This principle appears to apply, with few exceptions, regardless of whether you are marketing direct-to-consumer (as in market rate assisted living) or business-to-business, as in skilled nursing, pharmacy services and rehab.
Measure your brand
In the midst of uncertainly is exactly the right time to measure your brand’s equity. What do your customers/consumers think about your brand, in direct comparison to others? This measurement is best done by an objective, third-party, but you can do this yourself. What’s most important is to do it, and to learn through the process how to support a strong brand, and how to build a weaker brand in direct comparison to its competitors. In an uncertain or highly discriminating market, “brand preference” may the most powerful predictor of enduring success.
Long term perspective
When occupancy drops from 90% and passes through 80%, and hovers at 70% or lower, the pressure to take short-term steps is overwhelming. A despondent client recently told me that she had stopped administering their customer satisfaction surveys because, “The results will be bad.”
During poor occupancy is exactly when long-term perspectives are needed. Emerging from periods of uncertainty requires trust among staff, program development, and an intense focus on customer loyalty. It should be noted that customer loyalty is distinct from customer satisfaction, and depends upon effective service error recovery. So this is not the time to cut back on monitoring the perspectives and attitudes of your customers, residents, guests and staff. These difficult periods are precisely when we should increase our attention to service errors, as these are compelling opportunities to strengthen customer loyalty for the long-term.
Stackpole & Associates is a marketing, training and market research firm with experience and focus on the healthcare, human service and seniors’ housing and services markets. We secure intelligent answers to the most important questions, measurably improving relationships between and among providers, customers and consumers.
Irving Stackpole RRT, MEd is the President of Stackpole & Associates. He can be reached directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.