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In our recent white paper, The Future of Long-Term Care: Industry Predictions, we note the importance of staying relevant with the younger generations offers challenges, but will become imperative in 2019 as the landscape of decision makers is changing as Millennials and Generation Z begin making more decisions than ever before for aging family members. Making it more challenging is the importance of not losing sight of the other generations as you find ways to engage the younger population.

Evolving your marketing and communication styles is going to be more important than ever.  The elderly are projected to outnumber children for first time in U.S. history according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Technology is offering new ways for healthcare organizations like skilled nursing and assisted living facilities to market to and engage families of residents and potential residents. Finding new ways to engage with families through technology will be necessary to complement the tried and true ways that have been used with success in the past.

How the Different Generations Make Decisions:
Many would argue that deciding what type of healthcare facility is best for a loved one is one of the most heavily weighted decisions an individual will make.

It’s no secret that generational differences are prevalent in the decision-making process for healthcare options. Currently, decision makers include individuals from:

  • the Silent Generation
  • Baby Boomers
  • Generation X
  • Millennials
  • Generation Z

Five different generations that are involved in the decision-making process!

The choosing of a healthcare facility is often a multi-generational decision, so it is important to understand the mix of decision makers and appeal to different decision-making styles to keep occupancy levels high and business going.

The Silent Generation:
Someone from the Silent Generation (or otherwise known as, the Traditionalists Generation) could be making a decision for their spouse, sibling, or friend. The Silent Generation often makes decisions based on what’s standard, or what the general consensus is at the time they’re evaluating the decision. They may pick a skilled nursing facility, assisted living facility, or specialty clinic because others in their circle have chosen it in the past, their family physician recommended it, or because it has a longstanding positive reputation in the community. Being a part of the community and reaching out to other networks for word-of-mouth referrals is essential to reach this group.

For the Silent Generation, you may want to consider an ad in a trusted local newspaper or magazine, along with making sure you can be quickly found online through a Google search.

The Baby Boomer Generation:
Baby Boomers like making the “right” decision. And you can be sure that they want to know they are making the right decision when it comes to their loved ones. This generation is a large share of those making decisions about healthcare at the moment. They could be making decisions for a loved one, all while keeping notes for what they will want for themselves someday in the future.

Trustworthiness and brand reputation greatly affect their decision-making process. To reach this large group, avoid hot trends and stick to a message that resonates with the evolving needs of their loved one.

Generation X:
Generation X (or simply “Gen X”) likes to explore all their options. Gen X is a smaller generation and they often feel forgotten, possibly due to the fact that advertisers have historically overlooked this group, they won’t trust a decision until they’ve vetted all options. They often make extensive use of search engines, online reviews, and social media networks before making a decision. It is critical to make your services visible on multiple channels; you’ll need to be accessible online by using SEO strategies to optimize their online searches and have an active social media presence to demonstrate a personable and authentic brand image. You will also need a well-rounded email communication strategy integrated with direct mail to really resonate with this group.

GenX and Baby Boomers spend more time on Facebook than the younger generations, so you have real opportunity to reach these two groups on this social media platform.

The Millennial Generation:
Millennials (also known as “Generation Y”) gravitate toward online user-generated testimonial content when making decisions. To remain competitive, ensure your online reviews are positive and that you follow up with negative reviews to see if you can offer an opportunity to make it right (and the review positive).

In healthcare, Millennials prefer strong patient-provider connections, but ultimately want what is practical and are not afraid to question their doctor’s methods. They may want to meet with a variety of staff members at a facility before making a decision, but could ultimately make a decision based on location or service offerings that they see as essential. Reach millennials by making sure you have compelling patient testimonials online, while embracing their preference to tour (or virtually tour) facilities. It’s important to note that sometimes online searches take place on a mobile phone or tablet, so ensuring you have a responsive website is beyond essential for 2019, it’s expected.

Millennials will likely find a few options online based on star ratings, narrow the list based on something practical like location. On the flip side, a GenX family member will likely research several options online and create a pros and cons list of them before deciding which to visit or choose.

Generation Z:
The youngest of your potential influencers is Generation Z (or “GenZ”). This generation is just beginning to be a decision maker in this space. They might be making decisions for a grandparent, great-grandparent or for a parent that has complex health issues. GenZ often looks for quality, transparency, and integrity in a brand; healthcare certainly will not be an exception here. GenZ tends to be more cautious than the previous generation and therefore, when researching, they’ll use a plethora of digital resources to compare prices, amenities, availability, and ratings to make the most educated purchase possible. Similar to GenX, but more tech savvy. You must embrace technology to reach this crowd. And not just the tech that you would use to reach a Millennial or GenX, but newer technology, like apps, and specific apps at that. GenZ is less likely to be on Facebook than Millennials, GenX, or Baby Boomers. They gravitate toward Instagram and Snapchat and will likely be the early adapters of whatever big social app comes next.

Because they either grew up during the Great Recession or were entering the workforce, these two younger generations keep a watchful eye on ROI. If their grandparent was in a skilled nursing facility and then needed to be readmitted, they are less likely than the other generations to go back to that facility based on the perceived “result” of the initial visit. These younger generations also tend to question doctor decisions more than their parents and seek second opinions regularly for larger medical issues.

With longer lifespans, care complexities rise and families will need to be a part of decision making along the way. Family members will aid or completely lead the research behind finding which facility is best for their loved one. They may not take the first recommendation from a physician or choose the closest facility to them because they can research options more easily than ever before. They may feel that a skilled nursing facility which offers specialized services like Memory Care, or one that has more personalized care plans, or one that has better ratings on a review site will take better care of their loved one.

Standing out to different generations:

Standing out to decision makers from each generation may sound exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. You must be well organized, well-rounded, and more than anything, conscious of the fact that different generations will make decisions based on different priorities.

It’s important to remember there isn’t always time for a family member to visit a facility. The decision could be based solely on the referral of a friend, online research, or the range of services and amenities offered.

The Role of Communication
Once an individual’s family has entrusted your facility with their loved one, they will have varying expectations as well. Communication is likely to be one of the most important factors for family members (plus, it likely played a large role in their decision making). They’ll want to know how the person they love is eating, how their speech therapy is going, and generally how their general mood is. In short, are they comfortable and happy.

This information was previously delivered by phone, letter or in-person meetings. Now, with a family portal, a family member can log in and check without having to play “phone tag” or physically come to the facility for a meeting. The family can also make payments, review care plans, and ask clinical staff questions regarding their family member. Family portals can do wonders with keeping the family happy. Bonus, it saves your staff time!  Providing real-time data across all tools is a great way to ensure that no matter who families talk to, information is consistent. This way they will not feel that they’re being getting misled.

In addition to wanting clinical updates, families hold the long-term care facility responsible for their ability to connect with their loved one. Families are more spread out than ever before, making in-person visits more difficult. Offering a phone line is not enough anymore, reliable Wi-Fi is a must as families are increasingly using video call services like FaceTime to feel connected.

Millennials and GenZ also see the value of wearables and other new technology being infused into healthcare. Currently these are not overly common, but we expect to see increasing emergence of wearables in SNFs and other healthcare facilities in 2019 and beyond. Seeing these at one facility and not another could be the impetus behind choosing one over the other for younger decision makers.

In Summary:
There are a lot of things to consider when marketing to and communicating with family members of potential or current residents. Ensuring you communicate your dedication to quality patient care is the most important thing to do, but it may not be enough when there is ample competition. While one generation may be used to making decisions based on word-of-mouth from a neighbor or colleague, another is used to online ratings & reviews to determine the appropriate expectations for what they’ll get for their money.