Marketing to Fit the Times

Over the years that I have been consulting, writing this blog, contributing to various publications, newsletters, podcasts, etc., I have tried to impress industry folks to stay connected to the current times in terms of marketing. By this I mean, don’t lose sight of what is going on in the world around you, locally, nationally, socially, economically. It’s perfectly fine to be idealistic and even futuristic in planning and strategizing but be careful in getting too far ahead of where your customer is at, their lived reality.

A few cases in point are salient. First, when Bud Light decided to launch a marketing campaign featuring a transgender social media influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, it spun-up outrage with its largest customer base. Interesting enough, that base wasn’t necessarily identified as politically conservative although, conservative identified beer drinkers were part of that base. The boycott group viewed themselves as every day, beer drinking, weekend barbecuing, family-oriented Americans. The term I use is “middle Americans”. Race, religion, politics, etc., were not top of the boycott group’s minds.  They felt the brand became disloyal to them and instead, pushed an agenda of some sort, that they found offensive and non-representative. Bud Light/Anheuser Busch sales fell 30% and the company market value dropped $27 billion. Its beer market position (Bud Light) lost its number one position (sales) to Modelo Especial.

A second illustrating case belongs to Target Brands (Target stores) which took a similar path to Bud Light, deciding to highlight or showcase Pride theme clothing (LGBTQ+ designed apparel) in its stores during Pride month, including a line of swimwear designed for transgender youth. As shoppers reacted to Target’s retail positioning of the Pride merchandise, displays were toppled and sales plummeted, with Target losing $10 billion in market valuation in 10 days. The typical Target shopper is a suburban mother between 35 and 44 years of age. The typical Target customer also has some college education and a household income of $80,000.  The lesson? Suburban moms were offended by Pride merchandise displayed and targeted (no pun intended) to children.

The parallel between Bud Light and Target is that the main customer thinks about your brand in a typical way.  They have a bias, but it may not be as agenda driven as folk want to believe.  They may simply wish that what they are buying, using, consuming remains free from current social issues involving sexuality, politics, or religion.

My work is healthcare, mostly involving senior healthcare and senior living.  The title of this post fits as I watch senior living organizations struggle to regain occupancy levels post COVID and now, position for new trends that seem to be influenced by Boomers and lifestyle related issues for seniors.  An element of the struggle that will continue is the economy. Marketing campaigns need to seed economic reality into their messaging. Value proposition is critical to achieving sales successes, particularly in above market rate projects and Life Plan projects. Back in 2010 (remember the market conditions then?), I wrote a post about value propositions and marketing. The post is here: I also did a presentation on the same subject at a variety of conferences and trade shows. The presentation is here:

As I watch more senior living organizations morph their marketing strategies to incorporate more digital tools, experience suggests that a few tips, etc. are relevant.

  • Seniors are more digitally savvy these days but not high-end social media users.  It is more likely that their younger family members are willing to shop for senior living/care options digitally.  An internet presence is very, very important BUT the website must be intuitive, easy to use, and devoid of too much clutter and information. I also suggest videos wherever possible work better than lengthy text sections.  
  • Authenticity matters so honestly, ditch the actors and the stock senior citizen photos wherever possible. Seniors know who they are and what they look like. They also know what is fake and there is really nothing worse than seeing the same pitch person making a sales testimony for more than one community. Testimonials have limited value as everyone knows by now that a bad testimonial will never be used – only good things will be said.
  • As campaigns transition to incorporating digital media and tools, I advise to use the same strategically and in limited quantity versus widespread. I like the PESO model for campaigns and media, equally weighted.
    • Paid media is the traditional types of print and online advertising that you know are familiar with, as well as paid social media advertising and sponsored content.  Don’t discount radio and television here.
    • Earned media is media from gatekeepers such as journalists, bloggers and influencers that publish content based on your news. This kind of media is best obtained by doing newsworthy events or developing newsworthy stories.  I like shared partnerships (see below) that generate earned media stories. Educational programs are great.
    • Shared media is the content shared through your social media handles and community sites—where others can pick it up and reshare it with their networks. Shared media is how your story can create buzz and even go viral. Shared is also media that is jointly hosted and jointly produced. Again, a unique partnership with a college or university or a hospital system, or even a restaurant can generate unique and creative “buzz”.
    • Owned media refers to content that exists on your organization’s website(s) or blogs. Like paid media, you control where and how it appears. It’s a great option because of its low cost and the high degree of content control the organization has.  The challenge is to keep it relevant and current.  Nothing is worse than clicking on an organization’s blog and the story is months old.
  • It is imperative to understand the signs of the times.  Like the Bud Light and Target examples, don’t step over your customer and become quickly irrelevant. Know your customer in terms of who they are, what their core demographic is, and how the same influence what they think about the world around them. What concerns dominate their thinking? What is the local environment like in terms of economic conditions? My top five “must knows” about seniors and the times are as follows.
    1. Current economic conditions greatly influence senior demand and consumption. Seniors are far more sensitive to economic conditions given their “static” estate conditions. Good economies can produce great sales leverage points.  Tough economies, especially real estate, require different sales and marketing tactics and messages. 
    2. Demand for senior living is heavily influenced by care needs, current and expected. Real estate value is important (curb appeal) but we know, service density and quality are hugely important. If you are a Life Plan community, make sure your care is stellar and that you continue to add service depth (home health, home care, outpatient, wellness, etc.).
    3. Boomers are gradually entering but the primary consumer remains in the age range of 78 to 82.  Doing the date math, the 78-year-old is in the very first year of the boom while the 82-year-old is a WW II birth.  They aren’t quite full Boomers, but they do have cultural connections that are more Rock and Roll than Big Band but not 70’s rock, more sock hop.  This group is Vietnam era. 
    4. They are locally connected and not likely to have been too transient in their careers or where they lived.  These folks put down roots.  In other words, don’t expect to draw from a wide market geography unless your organization has a unique connection such as a university affiliation that can draw alumnae. 
    5. This group is still pretty socially plain and conservative. While they have a greater depth of culture via some social media applications and the internet, they still rely on traditional news and information sources and outlets such as television, radio, direct mail, print media, and direct referral/direct connection sources such as church, clubs, and affinity organizations.


Leave a Comment