We spoke with Cindy Hale, strategic thought leader and marketing professional in the senior living and wellness sectors, about how to market to different audiences, what changes she sees on the horizon for mental health, and what consumer insights will impact seniors in the coming years as they increasingly "age in place". Hear from a seasoned expert with a passion for marketing to her target consumers with heart and authenticity.

Image courtesy the Boston Hospitality Review

Your career has spanned broad demographics and needs, from children to senior care. What has made you successful in marketing to different audiences?

Marketing that resonates deeply with any audience is the outcome of a unique blend of art and science. Getting the recipe ‘right’ is an evolving process and it is important to be committed to the iterative nature for success.

There are three key components I recommend focusing on to create marketing programs that ‘stick’.

  • Brand
  • Customer
  • Employee Engagement

Brand: Since I focus on working with companies that are driven by purpose and often in the aged adult space, it is essential to assure you are taking steps to create a clear, tangible connection between the brand, the customer, and employees in a meaningful and authentic way. I think of this as ‘inside out’ brand development, meaning the root of who you are and why you matter as a company. It is essential to define this in a simple and meaningful way so that it appeals to all stakeholders from your customer, partners, and employees. This is the first step in that delicate balance of art and science.

The brand’s purpose, vision and mission need to be clear with a values platform that works seamlessly and meaningfully across all stakeholders. When you are authentic from the heart of the brand, essentially, inside out, it is much easier to bring all stakeholders together under one belief roof and build a marketing program that is authentic, differentiated and ultimately believed and desired by your customer base.

Authenticity at every touchpoint is key to building a trusted relationship with the senior demographic.
Image courtesy of Karsh Hagan

Customer: The art and science of understanding your customer can only be accomplished if you get deeply into the hearts and minds of your customer. Without this depth of information, certain brands that I have worked on would never have been able to scale and create a completely different approach to engaging and building relationships with the customers.

Deeply understanding the nuances of your customer helps build bonds and connectivity with your employees and your customers. This type of mutuality of relationship and deep-seated beliefs are what is key to marketing that truly matters today. Customers and employees can sniff out inauthenticity quickly. They are equally as adept of understanding when they are heard and believing that what they do matters.

In speaking with aged adults as well as a mother of a severely physically and mentally handicapped 16-year-old daughter, in both cases, they were keenly aware of their limitations. Yet, what they sought were partners that helped them ‘live’ better. This meant focusing on what they can do, reach for, etc. They don’t want to be reminded of what they can’t do.

For aged adults and individuals with compromised health situations with some limitations physically and mentally, these individuals didn’t want to be talked ‘to’ or be talked ‘around’ to family members. They continued to seek a better way to live their life each day, each moment. This is a paramount learning to market lifestyle services, health tech products and medical.

Speaking ‘with' vs 'to’ with humanity at the heart of it all, you move to a form of kinship and connectivity that many companies never attain.

And lastly, seeing ‘people like me’, helps all audiences identify with a product or service. Real life examples by users that are honest and spoken with authenticity are your influencers that help others appreciate the meaningful product/service values.

Employee Engagement. As important as it is to meet a customer where they are in ways that truly resonate with them, it is equally as important for your employees to feel that they are central to the success of the company. Customers, in general, and very specifically the aged adult market, thrive when they can feel brand authenticity and employees are invested in the product and service too. Thus, unified brand values that personify the full experience for all stakeholders and can be lived by employees goes a long way to building partnerships that are clearly differentiated and authentic to all.

Simply put, if your employees feel valued, they bring that with them with any interaction with a customer.

This is as important with a call center team as it is with the product development teamworking to humanize a product. If your lowest level employee feels empowered and connected, if they feel supported, the brand will be clearly different from most competitors. When you think about your company values, consider that a value is a ‘way of being’ vs a transactional outcome.

Image courtesy of the World Health Organization

Mental health is on the rise across many demographics and an area you’ve worked in. What consumer innovations do you see that give you hope?

The COVID pandemic accelerated an already growing trend of mental health disease with the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increasing by a massive 25%, according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID also helped accelerate ways to bring mental health support and prevention to individuals vs an imperative ‘in person’ approach that was considered essential prior to COVID. Mental healthcare services for everything from eating disorders to anxiety and depression have benefited from new products and services, group therapy, individual therapy with technology advances.

Bringing mental healthcare and prevention to the customer is a key ingredient to helping transform how we deliver mental healthcare today.

Another trend that is gaining prevalence rapidly is a ‘whole person’ approach to mental healthcare. Blending a traditional pharma model with integrative and functional medicine models of care helps transition to more fully understanding underlying metabolic, genetic and lifestyle components that might influence treatment for mental health disorders and help with prevention too. Moving from symptom management to lasting recovery means treating mental health as you would any other medical condition, looking more holistically to diagnose and treat an individual. Realizing the brain is made up of 60% fat cells does bring into consideration the importance of a cholesterol test for problems relating to the brain as a very simple example of understanding all potential issues related to mental health.

Based on your work in senior care, what are the top 3 consumer insights that you think will have the biggest impact for seniors choosing to age in place?

Senior Living’s lifestyle benefits are hindered by negative connotations. There are plenty of benefits to aging in a senior living community. However, the industry has not kept pace with the changing consumer mindset. Senior living as an industry would benefit from building a brand of desire. Today’s aging boomers appreciate community. They want to stay as active and healthy as possible and community living can well enable this. Until community living for seniors is based on what active aging adults want today for lifestyle standards and desires, aging adults will choose to stay in their own homes. Once the senior living industry catches up to consumer demands and desires, and the industry reputation has improved, the lure of wellness and community living may become more appealing to ‘choice based’ seniors.

Image courtesy of PYMNTS

Uniting chronic disease management and home technology. About 60% of boomers have been diagnosed with at least one chronic medical condition. 87% of aged adults 65+ want to stay in their home/community as they age. New home technology products and services that focus on medical management and wellness are transforming aged adults’ ability to live more independently at home. New products to help manage chronic diseases that are easily administered and managed from the home allows aged adults to maintain better health while living with chronic diseases. The longer aged adults can manage their own care with home health tech support, the longer they can live independently in their own homes.

Smart home tech products and home delivery services. Boomers are financially stable, controlling 70% of the disposable income and 80% of personal financial assets in the U.S. today. With financial clout like this, the amount of smart home products and services that cater to aging adults has surged. Families can keep track of their aged adult loved ones living at home through technology, communicate easier which creates peace of mind for all. Aged adults are savvier than they are often credited for in terms of internet use. Aged adults are finding communities online, ordering what they need and want online, and appreciating home tech products to keep them safe and happy.

With independence being the universal goal of most aged adults, and the power this demographic yields, taking the time to understand what really matters to your audience and being able to meet them where they are is key. Aged adults are loyal once you have earned their trust and to do that, listening first and not being assumptive is key.

Annette Herz

Annette is skilled at identifying growth opportunities and successfully guiding products from concept to launch. At Compass, she advises leading brands and category disruptors in the health & wellness, personal care and digital health sectors.

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