Creating Senior Focused Direct Mail That Works - The LoveReportThere’s no doubt that the recession and housing market downturnimpacted the senior living industry. Marketing to the always-cautioussenior has been more challenging than ever, and our audience willnot easily forget the experience. Faced with tighter budgets andtougher lead generation, retirement communities need to spend everydollar as strategically as possible to attract qualified retirementcommunity prospects.Love & Company created a two-year research plan to gain insightinto seniors’ views and responses to direct mail. Following ourinvestigation of participants’ first impressions of direct mail pieces, wetook our findings regarding messages, vehicle and design and testedthem further to determine what truly is the more effective leadgenerator.Our Research ProcessIn this study, we applied our findings from last year to severalcampaigns we developed for our clients. We created two versions ofeach mailing so that we could test a variable, such as message,format or design. Each version was then mailed to half of the mailinglist. By examining the results of these and other mailings, we wereable to identify “best practices” for senior living direct mail.In this report, we briefly highlight some of the main findings of Part 2of our study and provide a glimpse into our conclusions andrecommendations for the most effective direct mail approaches formarketing to seniors.Instant Gratification: RSVP by PhoneWe included a reply card with one invitation version to determine if itwould prompt prospects to respond, either by calling or returning thecard, better than simply asking them to RSVP by phone to ananniversary celebration. The simple, 2-color envelopes andinvitations were identical.
Overall, the version without the reply card generated slightly moreresponses than the version with the card. However, only sevenprospects actually returned the card, with three times as manychoosing to simply call. The reply card did notgenerate enoughresponse to provide value for the added cost.Less Is MoreWe tested a 4-panel, 2-color invitation against a 6-panel, 4-colorinvitation for a series of sneak preview lunch events. Both 8.5”x5.5”finished size pieces were mailed in identical envelopes with theprominent teaser: “The Residents of Fleet Landing Cordially InviteYou...” From Part 1 of our study, we learned that an envelope with astrong invitation teaser effectively persuades recipients to open it,without needing a colorful image. We were therefore able to testwhich internal piece would generate the most RSVPs.The two invitations generated about the same number of responses:56 leads from the 4-panel and 54 from the 6-panel. Overall, thecombination of strong creative and refined mailing list strategygenerated more than double the original goal, enabling thecommunity to fill nine events rather than the original four. The 6-panel, 4-color piece was more expensive to produce, but did notgenerate sufficient response to justify the added cost. The 4-panelinvitation provided enough detail that additional information was notnecessary to create more interest. Finding the fine line betweenproviding enough detail to pique the recipient’s interest withoutovershadowing the retirement community’s event is key to findingsuccess with this type of piece.Using the “R” WordWe tested two versions of a traditional, 2-color invitation in anenvelope to promote receptions showcasing a new model cottage.One version employed a retirement lifestyle-focused approach andused “retirement” in the community name, while the second versionwas more straightforward and referred to the expansion as TheVillages at Edgewood. Our goal was two-fold: to determine whichmessage approach was more effective, and whether the word
“retirement” had an impact on response.The straightforward version drew a third more responses than did theretirement lifestyle invitation.As we have found through our previous research studies, seniorsprefer that marketing messages “tell it to them straight;” focusing onthe model open house resonated better with this audience. Plus, theresponse provides insight into seniors’ receptivity to the word“retirement,” indicating that younger, more active seniors are “notready yet”...until they actually experience the community by comingon campus.Mailing List StrategyThe larger the mailing list, the more leads to expect, right? Wrong.Mailing to every age- and income-qualified senior household within30 miles of your community doesn’t guarantee you will receive thenumber of leads you want. For the Fleet Landing mailing on page 2,we refined their existing list to hone in on senior prospects with thecharacteristics most like those of existing residents, therebysubstantially lowering the number of pieces mailed, and thus the cost.The retirement community had previously sent a mailing to 48,500prospects on the original list and generated 105 leads.The sneak preview mailing went to 21,500 prospective seniors andgenerated 110 leads. The second campaign produced slightly moreleads than the first, while mailing to less than half the list. In addition,no two list companies are identical, so you can obtain slightly differentlists and quantities even with the same criteria. Good companiesupdate their data regularly and guarantee no more than a 10%undeliverable rate. Budget permitting, purchase lists from more thanone company and test the lists to see which produces the greaterresponse, then merge the lists to reach more prospects that meetyour refined set of criteria.Weighty vs. Fun and Informative TopicsIn Spring 2009 we mailed an invitation for a retirement presentationby a financial columnist/author, in response to prospects’ objections
caused by the uncertain economy. The campaign produced 27 leads.In the fall we mailed a series of three invitations promoting four“deliciously fun and informative” events. This campaign generated 96leads.Both campaigns featured four-panel invitations in envelopes, andneither used the word “retirement” in the community name or on theenvelope. We learned that combining entertaining, social events withretirement lifestyle discussions drew greater interest and attendancethan the weightier, albeit relevant, subject of finances in an uncertaineconomy. While the temptation may be to address objections headon through your direct mail efforts, it is more effective to bring themon campus with fun, social activities that demonstrate yourcommunity’s lifestyle.Email blast-- Not your mothers direct mailWe tested two email blast versions: one enabled the viewer to seethe entire message in a single screen space, while the other waslonger and similar to a traditional color print ad, so the recipient hadto scroll down and spend more time reading the message. Version #1received a 0.35% higher click through rate: 1.41% of all recipientsclicked through to the website, versus 1.06% of all version #2recipients. This resulted in about 200 more people visiting the websiteand seeing the retirement community’s message.While seniors are among the fastest growing users of the Internet andemail, they still turn to trusted websites and traditional media whenready to seriously research and purchase senior living. Email can bea cost effective means to reach a large number of qualified seniorprospects and share updates with your wait list and lead base, but itoften does not result in immediate responses. It is important to craftthe creative to work specifically with this medium, rather than“repurposing” a direct mail or print ad.Case Study: A Tale of Two CampaignsWe analyzed two campaigns we created for Moravian Hall Squarethat produced very different results. In Spring 2008, we created anoversized postcard for a downsizing seminar series that generated far
fewer leads than anticipated. Then in Spring 2009 we produced amultiple piece campaign, including a save- the-date mailer and threeindividual invitations, to promote a series of “spring fever” events.This campaign generated 64 new leads. What made it so successful,when the previous campaign produced a fraction of these results?The oversized postcard format did not perform well in Part 1 of ourstudy, while pieces mailed in envelopes improved recipients’likelihood of reviewing the piece. In addition, the downsizing seriespostcard was a strong sales pitch but provided no information aboutthe client. By contrast, the spring campaign promoted entertaining,hobby- and retirement-related events that showcased the retirementcommunity without being a hard sell, and the additional panelsprovided space for brief copy about the lifestyle and amenities. Thiscampaign provided enough enticing information to bring prospects oncampus for entertaining, non-threatening events, at which point thesales team was able to introduce the community and schedule tours.Conclusions and RecommendationsLarger or more complex direct mail does not always generate enoughresponse to justify the added cost.Today’s seniors are comfortable calling to RSVP for an event; replycards are often an unnecessary expense.Refine your mailing list to best fit your resident profile, and budgetpermitting, purchase two lists and merge them.Tell it to them straight. Don’t try to be too cute with your approach oroffer details that cloud the core purpose of the mailing.Today’s younger, active seniors may not associate themselves with“retirement” yet, so use the term selectively.Email marketing is generally not an effective lead generator amongolder seniors, but is an efficient way to communicate with your waitlist and lead base.Plan and promote marketing events that are both fun and informative
for prospects to experience your community’s lifestyle.The 2009 direct mail research project was led by Jessica Kraft, seniormarketing account manager, and Tyler Sprecher, vicepresident/creative director. Please contact them with questions aboutthis project. For copies of previous research studies, please con- tactus or visit our Web site.