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Through a narrow window: Opportunities to attract real prospects can be slim. (Assisted Living).

MAJOR TRADE ASSOCIATIONS, LARGE PUBLIC COMPANIES, AND individual sponsors have been touting the benefits of assisted living for the past 10 years. Literally millions of dollars have been spent attempting to communicate with seniors and their adult Children.

Now, the industry is asking the question "Why don't they get it?" Well, when you think about it, the answer is very simple. Families don't preplan" for assisted living any more than they would plan for a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Life circumstances happen, some of us eventually get in a crisis situation, and only then do we start becoming sensitized to available options.

It turns out that the window of opportunity to get a senior and his or her family to focus on your community is really very narrow--about 60 days or up to six months. (See "Time line for attracting senior consumers," below.) This means that, although we may have hundreds of leads and prospects, only a very small number of them are real prospects within that narrow window. Simply stated, the consumer is not generally sensitive to the cumulative effects of months and years of marketing communications.

We have to execute some new sales and marketing strategies. First, recognize that trying to educate the market is a marathon, but hitting the hot buttons of a specific family in crisis is a sprint toward an elusive, moving target! Converting a marathon to a sprint involves an understanding of the typical sequence of events. Regardless of our age, our health patterns are constantly undergoing subtle changes. But with seniors, some changes are quite significant and frequently first observed by their children. The children express growing concern as they witness procrastination, confusion, and, frequently, denial by their parent. Eventually a family crisis emerges and, for many, a most difficult decision for alternative, sheltered living needs to be made rapidly. Your objective is to be at the right place at the right time with an appropriate strategy for those prospects on our radar screen.

This implies a fresh approach to sales and marketing communication coupled with detailed and sophisticated lead tracking. When the time is right for the concerned senior and his or her immediate family, there are four market-positioning statements to communicate. The first is, "Assisted lying is a surprisingly affordable living alternative offering ambience, dignity, and maximum independence for seniors in the later stages of life." Second, point out that "Our assisted living community has a strong, but largely invisible, medical basis as the foundation for our operating philosophy." Third, "Although achieving high scores on resident satisfaction surveys and third-party facility inspections is very important, our primary concerns are quality of life for our residents and peace of mind for their care-givers." The fourth is, "Assisted living is a sound, practical, and necessary 21st-century personal-planning imperative--just like health insurance, life insurance, investments, and estate planning."

What's also needed is an honest and effective counter to three classical, but deadly misconceptions: "Assisted living is too expensive," "I can't afford it," and "They'll probably raise the rates beyond my future ability to pay." Increased focus must now be placed on a six-step approach to effectively positioning your community from a financial perspective. The six steps are: (1) Openly discuss and clearly establish the senior consumer's true affordability, (2) identify the senior's probable cost for various options and future level of care, (3) introduce advanced financial-planning benefits such as the medical tax deduction (see "When are fees deductible?" November 2000 CLTC, page 28), (4) conduct a customized and detailed personal comparative cost-of-living analysis, (5) address the three classical financial misconceptions, (6) put it all together in a customized financial and estate-planning summary. This six-step program will be covered in more detail in a future column.

It takes about 25-30 leads to realize one move-in, net of turnover. In any given week, you've got to keep an eye on your narrow window of opportunity and conduct the marketing equivalent of medical triage--sharply focusing primarily on those prospects that must make a difficult assisted living decision.

Jim Moore is president of Moore Diversified Services, a Fort Worth, Texas-based national senior housing and health care consulting firm. He is author of Assisted Living 2000 and, most recently, Assisted Living Strategies for Changing Markets.

RELATED ARTICLE: Time line for attracting senior consumers

Window of opportunity for individual prospects is very narrow--usually 60 days to six months (approx. 10 years)

Typical sequence of events

* Changing health patterns

* Growing concern (at least by adult children)

* Procrastination and confusion

* A family crisis

* Family or senior makes most difficult life decision
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Article Details
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Author:Moore, Jim
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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