Written by Kathleen Scharf, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

One of the most insightful things I’ve learned as a strategic director for an Internet marketing agency focused on mature consumers is the power of connecting with family caregivers when you want to sell your products and services to seniors.Family caregivers are the sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors who help seniors live their lives more fully. The levels of care provided can vary significantly, from running a few errands to 24/7 Alzheimer’s supervision.

In any case, with more than 65.7 million U.S. family members providing care each year, they offer a potent path to connecting with potential clients.

More importantly, according to a study published in Advances in Consumer Research, 66 percent of adult children reported that they have “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of influence on their parents’ major decisions such as whether or not to get a reverse mortgage.  In addition, 51 percent of the seniors being cared for by those 65.7 million caregivers live in their own homes.1

Who Are Family Caregivers? In most cases, the family caregiver is the adult daughter who is caring for her widowed mother. She is between the ages of 45 and 65 and still working. She generally lives within a few miles of her mother, is married, and has a family of her own at home. According to a 2009 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than three in 10 U.S. households (31.2 percent) reported that at least one person has served as a family caregiver within the last 12 months.

These caregivers spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. In 2009, the value of the services they provided for free was estimated to be $450 billion—that’s more than total Medicaid spending, total sales of the world’s largest companies (Wal-Mart had $408 billion in sales), and almost $1,500 for every person in the United States.

Family caregivers are busy, stressed and often exhausted. As individuals entering the fall of their lives, they are simultaneously experiencing more life events than almost any other age group. In addition to caregiving, they may still have children in school; be empty-nesters; have grandchildren; be retiring; be unable to retire; be considering starting a second career; or facing health issues of their own. These events, combined with taking care of their senior loved ones, can overwhelm family caregivers. As one family caregiver put it, “I just need time to breathe.”

Helping Family Caregivers Breathe As families provide care for their seniors, they face myriad considerations, including:

•    Where will Mom be safest and healthiest? Caregivers consider this question most important. •    What does Dad want? According to study after study, about 90 percent of American seniors say they want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. •    How will we, as a family, communicate and make decisions? Stressful caregiving situations can amplify family communication issues. •    How will we pay for care? Paying for senior care can strain even the wealthiest, best-prepared families.

Obviously, it’s easy to see how reverse mortgages can help family caregivers pay for care. But have you considered how your products and services can answer these other questions as well?

Remodeling a home to make it safer for seniors is one of the hottest construction trends. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) now offers a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation. Whether it’s adding a ramp, installing a walk-in tub or replacing the carpet with hard floors to let walkers glide more easily, senior-friendly upgrades can make a home safer and healthier for older adults. A reverse mortgage may be the answer to financing these often expensive upgrades.

In addition, a reverse mortgage can also fund in-home care that can help seniors fulfill their wishes to remain in their homes. In-home care generally comes in two flavors: medical and non-medical. Medical in-home care, sometimes called home health care, usually requires a licensed professional to administer services such as wound care, injections or physical therapy. These services can occur a few times a week, for an hour or so each visit.

On the other hand, non-medical, in-home care offers a broader range of support services. Non-medical care providers help with everything from meal preparation to doctor’s visits. Non-medical care takes over some of the more routine caregiving activities so families can focus on spending quality time with seniors. Unfortunately, many caregivers are unaware of both types of in-home care services, especially non-medical services. Consider the relationship you could build with a family caregiver if you help them understand these services, and more importantly, how a reverse mortgage could fund them.

Likewise, I encourage you to evaluate your marketing materials. Do you have materials specifically for family caregivers? What about their siblings and other family members? Family members may have concerns around reliability, trustworthiness and even loss of inheritance. Providing both the senior and the family caregiver with materials that make it easy to answer questions and provide information can greatly strengthen your positioning.

Positioning your brand as the solution to simplify the family caregivers’ lives allows you to become their resource for helpful information and in turn, to become the trusted brand to solve their problems.

Becoming a Trusted Brand When I discussed becoming a resource for family caregivers, I did not restrict the topic of conversation to reverse mortgages. Instead, I mentioned things like remodeling, in-home care, and communication tools. If you want to gain family caregivers’ trust, you need to address their needs to provide exceptional care, not your need to sell reverse mortgages. Focusing on the needs of your audience instead of the features and benefits of your product is vital to building a strong connection with mature consumers.

At Immersion Active, we subscribe to a marketing philosophy called Developmental Relationship Marketing (DRM). DRM proposes that we all share core needs and that our season of life predisposes how we will meet those needs. For example, as humans, we all have adaptation needs – we are biologically driven to learn and adapt to our environment. However, how we fulfill those needs varies depending on our season of life.

It’s easy to see children and young adults in the spring and summer of their lives meeting their adaptation needs as they learn to read, write, participate in society, have a career, and start a family. However, society often forgets that adaptation needs continue during the fall and winter of our lives. All of the simultaneous life events family caregivers are experiencing make their adaptation needs as strong as ever. Likewise, seniors face more medical choices, technological advances, and changes in society than any previous older generation, forcing them to continuously learn and adapt.

By positioning your brand as the resource that meets these adaptation needs, through helpful resources, advice, and information, you organically build a relationship between the consumer and your brand. But to become that trusted resource, you must fulfill these needs in an authentic manner. You need to provide information about which you might reasonably be considered informed or about which you can partner with other experts.

For example, if you want to share information about home remodeling and using reverse mortgages to pay for it, find a local CAPS contractor in your area and co-market your services. That’s authentic information and marketing. On the other hand, if you started providing medical advice, you risk losing your audience’s trust because you probably do not have the credentials to support your advice. Be a solution to the family caregiver’s needs, but only to the extent that your product actually fulfills that need. Don’t force a fit.

Fitting Your Message into Caregivers’ Lives Getting the attention of busy, stressed family caregivers can be challenging. However, here at Immersion Active we’ve managed to do so successfully by using four strategies:

•    Connect with the family caregivers’ social graph •    Encourage sharing •    Use the Internet •    Make an emotional connection

Connecting to the Social Graph To connect with family caregivers you must connect with the people around them: their husbands, daughters, siblings, friends, health care professionals, and yes, the seniors themselves. These individuals, often referred to as the caregiver’s social graph, touch and interact with the caregiver on a daily basis, but sit outside the daily stress and grind of providing care. As a result, they play key roles as confidants and supporters for the family caregiver and are considered trusted resources for advice.

Encourage Sharing Then, when you market, purposefully ask for referrals. Encourage the social graph to share your information. Make your content share-worthy and valuable. Incentivize people to share through rewards, loyalty programs, discounts, and other similar programs. The power of sharing can’t be overemphasized. Family caregivers, like all boomers, rely on their social graph for guidance. On average, boomers are asked for their opinion 90 times a year and they give it 90 percent of the time. Generally, 45 percent of that advice is provided online through email, reviews, comments, etc. So be sure your marketing encourages sharing between family caregivers and their social graph.

Leverage the Internet When busy family caregivers need information, they turn to the Internet. Not only does it offer a plethora of information, it is also available 24/7 so caregivers can research when and where they want. Naturally, the first Internet strategy you should employ is to ensure that your company website is easy to use, well optimized for the search engine, and contains the types of helpful information previously discussed. Having a solid company website is the foundation upon which you build all other Internet marketing tactics.

Once you have a strong website make sure your brand appears when and where family caregivers are looking for information. Remember that helpful content I encouraged you to create? Not only does it help you become a trusted brand, it also can provide a significant boost in your search engine rankings. Remember, family caregivers are searching for solutions to their challenges, not necessarily for reverse mortgages, so be sure to include the keywords and phrases they use to search for solutions when you create your content.

As mentioned above, the Internet is where 45 percent of boomers provide their referrals, often via email. Email is an especially powerful referral mechanism. By forwarding an email to someone else, the sender implicitly gives it a level of endorsement. In addition, email is one of the most common online activities for older adults, falling second only to conducting searches.  Email can offer a significant return on your investment, but you must use it wisely.

Make sure you have permission to send someone email through an opt-in option on your sign-up form. Then make sure the content is valuable. Sending out regular emails that simply list the benefits of your services may seem valuable to you, but will probably cause many to unsubscribe to your email list. However, sending out regular emails that address topics like senior remodeling, fitness, nutrition, etc., could have your subscribers not only reading, but sharing the information with others.

Likewise, Facebook offers a powerful resource to connect with caregivers and their social graphs. When busy, hectic caregivers do have time, they use technologies like Facebook to stay connected with friends and families in the most efficient manner. In 2009, insidefacebook.com reported that women 55 and older were the fastest-growing group on Facebook.

However, remember why users come to Facebook and what their mode of engagement is when they are there. Family caregivers and their social graphs rarely come to Facebook searching for brands and products. They come to Facebook to participate in a community where they feel welcomed, safe, and trusted; therefore, you have to mirror that mode of engagement.

Obviously, other Internet marketing strategies, such as paid search, display advertising, directories, and other social media tactics can also be used to connect with family caregivers. But as an experienced online marketer, my recommendation is to focus on a few tactics you can do well and consistently. Once they become ingrained in your marketing efforts, move on to a new tactic.

Make an Emotional Connection Emotions are physical responses initiated in our brain when it connects an external stimulus with internal information we already possess. Our brain determines the strength of these responses by the amount of relevance it places on the stimulus and whether it decides to make us aware of it. In other words, emotions are what make information relevant to a consumer. Therefore, they are critical to effective marketing, especially to more mature consumers who have more experiences with which to relate and evaluate the origin stimulus.

Ways to evoke emotions in your marketing efforts include storytelling; invoking the senses through words, images and sounds; and using conditional positioning wherein you define the characters in your messaging in such a way that the consumer can easily insert themselves into the story (like the beer commercials where you can imagine yourself on that beach). Making an emotional connection can significantly improve your marketing efforts. In a recent test for one of our clients, we compared emotional, story-based content to non-emotional, features-based content. The story-based content converted at a rate 400 percent higher than the features and benefits content.

Wrapping It All Up So, does all this stuff really work? Well, a little over four years ago, one of our clients decided to shift their marketing focus from seniors to family caregivers. At the same time, they hired Immersion Active as their Internet marketing agency and took the majority of their B2C marketing efforts online. Since 2009, together we have increased visits across their network of sites by 131 percent; grown their email list from 500 to 80,000; decreased their cost per lead by 62 percent, and increased their leads by 500 percent. And we’ve seen similar results for other clients.

Targeting family caregivers offers you an opportunity to increase your marketing effectiveness. You can become caregivers’ trusted resource by positioning your services to solve their needs. By connecting with their social graph, encouraging sharing, leveraging the Internet, and making an emotional connection, you can significantly increase the likelihood that consumers will engage with your brand. As a result, you can more successfully market your brand and, in turn, improve your return on investment.

 

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