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Be prepared
The key to effective marketing

Chris Tarry shares his expertise on seeing the process through from information gathering to developing marketing products.

Planning your marketing has to be the most important aspect of developing your strategy and ensuring it is effective.

Marketing activity has not traditionally been high up the priority list for most care providers. This holds true throughout the sector, where even the largest groups are, by comparison with similar sized consumer goods companies, far from marketing focused. This is partly understandable due to a necessary concentration on care delivery and regulation compliance, however many owners have been guilty of complacency in the face of a seemingly limitless supply of referrals, both publicly and privately funded.

Despite current demographic trends this situation has changed. Overarching local authority strategy throughout the country has shifted from traditional residential placement to alternative models of care delivery, leaving large holes in care home income streams. At the same time, the private market has become more competitive, partly through the development of greater supply, but also through heightened media focus on the sector and as a consequence an elevation of public expectation of residential care facilities.

The result is a more commercially focused market, as well as one where many owners are ill-equipped to deal with a downturn in occupancy, as they have no experience of marketing their businesses in a focused and efficient manner. Too often marketing collateral is created, and marketing initiatives undertaken, on the back of little real understanding of the marketplace they are meant to serve – the rush to produce this marketing support is often counter-productive.

As such, if you are reading this and thinking I need to update my marketing or perhaps market your business for the first time, then I would suggest you pause, and take a reflective approach. Below I consider two areas of marketing activity to consider when moving forward – one information gathering and one creative which can transfer across marketing materials.

Information gathering

Efficient marketing of any business, not just those in the care sector, starts with asking questions. The most essential of these should be asked of yourselves. Honest self-appraisal is vital. Where is our business currently? Where do we want it to be? What do we already know about our local marketplace? The first two questions should be easily answered, however it is surprising how many care providers know very little about the local marketplace in which they operate.

The following questions might help with that process:

  • Who are our main competitors?
  • What is the likely catchment area for our business i.e where are we most likely to draw future enquiries and clients from?
  • Where have our existing clients come from?
  • What facilities/services are competitors offering?
  • What is their policy on social services referrals and top-ups?
  • How many vacancies do they have?
  • What are their websites and brochures like?
  • Do they have other marketing materials available?
  • What is the likely future supply and demand going to be in my area?
  • What planning applications are there for new care homes in my area?
  • What is the commissioning strategy of my local authority?

These are basic questions, which once answered will provide your business with a good idea of the framework within which it is trying to compete. Without at least some of this information it is very difficult to know at what level to position your offering, and how to market it effectively. Frequently owners spend money on marketing initiatives without understanding who they are competing against, where their target market resides, and how their offering compares to other providers within their catchment.

Developing marketing products

Perhaps more surprisingly than those owners who lack the above information for their business is the large number of homes who do not have a website or a brochure to market themselves with – this makes them effectively invisible to the public.

One common misconception is that these are simple things to produce, and available from any number of design companies. On one level this is true, but many providers underestimate the complexity of the thought process that is needed to ensure that you end up with a website or marketing products that represent and sell your organisation to its best advantage.

For instance, one way of looking at the process of creating a website might be as follows – it is interesting to note the number of steps involved. If you’re looking to develop your other marketing materials, you can draw upon the main points here to translate them to printed materials such as brochures and advertisements too.

1) It is likely that many people will look at your website before choosing to make contact with you. They will want to see if your business is providing the sort of care and services that match their requirements and if you look professional and capable. People’s boredom threshold on the internet is incredibly low so it’s very important that they can instantly identify with your image, understand the information on your home page and navigate your site easily and quickly. As well as this, if you haven’t got any existing marketing materials such as a brochure to carry design across from, it will be important to spend some time getting a design with the right look and feel, which accurately reflects your business ambitions for your organisation.

2) There are a number of different types of website you can have. Some websites are essentially electronic brochures for potential new customers to see. Some clients want a website they can update and control themselves with an in-house Content Management System (CMS). Most will want to give the potential service user some form of interaction with the company – for example this might be requesting a brochure or arranging an appointment to come to see you. Everything is possible and any combination of the above could be achieved. It is important to say that the process to be adopted needs to be the same no matter how sophisticated or you won’t get the end result you want.

3) The design process should ideally follow a number of basic steps.

  1. Establish the exact marketing aims and objectives for the site – who is the target audience, and agree on the type of information that visitors to the site will be looking for. This helps to define the content for the site.
  2. Establish the site architecture. This includes detailing all the information required by the site visitors, how many pages, pictures, links, request links etc. that you need. At this stage you might also decide a draft copy structure to give a guide as to how much text you would like to display in relation to any one page.
  3. Draft a site map; this involves designing a flow structure for the site to show how the pages will integrate and how you will enable visitors to move through the site as efficiently as possible.
  4. Consider creative design – this is where the graphic design takes place, and the final appearance, style, tone, fonts etc. are agreed. Typically you might develop a draft home page and the style of that would be reflected throughout the site. This style can then easily transfer to printed materials such as advertisements and brochures.
  5. Alongside the creative design, this is the time to agree and draft copy for the site. This copy and tone can then be adapted for your printed marketing materials.
  6. Implementation – now comes the time to put all the content together with the design that has been agreed to see the website taking shape.
  7. Testing – test the site and get rid of any bugs before it goes live. It’s important that everything is fully functioning before going live as a website that doesn’t work properly can reflect badly on your business. I would then suggest that you do a complete click through to make sure everything works as you want, all pages link where they’re meant to and load properly. Once you’re happy then you can sign off on the project and go live.

It is very important to spend sufficient effort on the planning, development, aims and objectives in order to avoid making changes at the back end of the process. Last minute amendments and changes are costly and time-consuming, and can be a major reason that costs escalate. If you know what you want and have thought it through before the design phase then this is hugely beneficial. The project will need to be managed by one person who understands all the above and is capable of liaising with the design company to achieve the best results.

Good marketing of your business is not as straight-forward as it might seem.  To get the desired result it requires the right amount of time and thought to get it right. This will, in return, save you money and deliver more effective returns for your business.

Chris Tarry is Director of The Care Marketing Consultancy.

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