Like most of the senior living industry, in early 2020, we didn’t fully anticipate the full effect that the coronavirus would deliver, especially here in New Jersey.

The onset of the virus here was fast and devastating. Our community mobilized in early March by limiting visitors and installing hand sanitizers at every turn. Just days later, we supported a state-mandated stay-at-home isolation status, which was in place for nearly 10 weeks.

As I am writing this, our community is still closed to non-residents.

These early steps absolutely reduced the number of diagnosed cases here. Recently, we enjoyed 40 consecutive days with no COVID-19 cases in a community of more than 300 residents and 150 staff members.

My sales and marketing team quickly pivoted from promoting Applewood to prospective residents to an all-hands-on-deck commitment to ensuring that current residents were comfortable at home, with all of their immediate needs met.

We next shifted focus to more than 100 prospective Applewood residents who still were residing in 55+ communities, private homes or apartments.

Admittedly, none of us had been in this dire situation before, and we certainly had no formal guidance on how to initiate contact with prospects successfully during a pandemic. As a team, we collectively agreed to reach out with a single question in mind: How can we help you?

The response was powerful and significant. From needing groceries, prescriptions, gas in the cars and help with banking, we got to work on the phones and in our cars. We grocery shopped for a frightened single woman who was (and still is) stuck in her home with no family. Matt Mazzucca, sales counselor, went to the store with her list and bought the items she needed. Sales professional Mary Somers delivered ready-to-eat meals to several of her clients via a “pop and drop” (pop into their home, drop off food and staying socially distanced).

We’ve helped put our future residents in touch with distant family members, dentists and plumbers. Whatever needed to be done, our sales team has done our best to help.

From a business perspective, we also performed safe and protected on-site home visits with prospective residents. By checking on people’s well-being, we worked to solidify their trust.

Keeping the CCRC lifestyle alive, even in isolation

In April, we sent a direct mail piece to our database regarding our Engaged Living at Home program; it outlined home-based activities designed to support our Engaged Living lifestyle. From fitness tips to a simple healthy recipe, the piece was a personal, colorful, informative “insider” look at Applewood, meant to help keep our community top-of-mind. The mailing included a personal and heartfelt letter from our executive director, encouraging people to stay healthy, positive and engaged.

Applewood Connections, a new pandemic-era publication, is being published by our Engaged Living coordinator, compiling social, club and special event activities along with creative submissions from residents. The result is a fun and uplifting printed newsletter, hand-delivered to each resident.

Our marketing team also shared this newsletter directly with prospects, to make them feel like part of our community and engaged during our prolonged social isolation.

We were delighted to receive responses asking when the next newsletter would be available. During the long and challenging days of April and May, these compliments inspired us to increase the personal attention to future residents even further.

Customized video messaging

We frequently shoot personalized video tours using an industry-specific program to present apartment models and answer buyers’ pointed questions (For example: Can you show how far the walk-in closet is from the bathroom? Or: What exposure does that cottage have?)

Here’s an example of a video I created for a prospect.

Although our website offers several virtual tours and images of our public spaces, some people also want to see the bocce court location and the beautiful views along our lighted walking paths. 

In late June, we hosted our first-ever drive-through open house, inviting older adults and their families to see Applewood live — all from the safety of their cars. Along the afternoon tour, guests were treated to delicious dessert specialties provided by our dining services team, received community marketing collateral materials, were given branded hand sanitizer and face masks, and had the opportunity to chat with our sales team live, from a safe distance.

Seniors use time at home to plan their next move

During the second week of March, when New Jersey was on the cusp of implementing a stay-at-home order from the governor, we closed and moved-in six new households. We also have confirmed five new contracts from singles and couples eager to end the isolation in their homes and move to the more protected and service-rich environment of Applewood. These new relationships were established under Applewood’s strict community guidelines and precautionary protocols during this global pandemic.

In fact, after the prolonged isolation caused by the coronavirus, we already are seeing robust interest from new customers looking to improve their quality of life in the COVID era and beyond.

Marketing a senior lifestyle of mind, body and spirit

Seniors benefit in mind and body from socialization and being part of a broader community. The pandemic has sent a clear message to many seniors — and their loved ones — whose mental and physical health was jeopardized by lack of access to food, daily necessities, routine healthcare and regular social interaction.

Certainly, times have changed for all of us. But our innate need for the incomparable safety and peace-of-mind of home remains strong and desirable. Although the methods we use to market senior living are different, they never have been more essential to supporting seniors seeking to escape isolation and gain added services and socialization benefits.

Today, our managed care community’s doors are open to new faces, old stories and new experiences. We just need to tell the story of Applewood a bit differently.

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