Transcript – Laura Bates: Founder & Principal, Brand Verve
[00:00:00] Michael Mahoney: Laura, branding within the senior housing industry is a hot topic, and the news is again talking about you. I’m looking forward to talking about this article that was just in the senior housing news and the drivers behind this new brand concept called Choreograph that you’re working on with Discovery Senior Living, but first, why has brand positioning become such a hot topic in senior housing?
[00:00:29] Laura Bates: Well, I think that hopefully, brand positioning is not something new to the people who are in senior housing. I think for many, they have done their best to try to differentiate, but this industry, like many others, often is a sea of sameness in terms of what the companies say about themselves and how they describe themselves. The trick with the positioning is to really figure out how can you look in that vast sea of sameness and carve out a unique proposition that can connect emotionally with your target customer.
[00:01:05] Michael Mahoney: What are some of the challenges for a senior housing provider to find their brand position and to break out from the pack and that sea of sameness?
[00:01:16] Laura Bates: Well, it really gets down to identifying what are your core strengths as a company. What do you do uniquely different and better from other companies? The next piece is to identify some really crucial needs from your target audience and digging into an insight that really presents itself as an “aha”, like, “Wow, that’s a really deep emotional insight.” It’s something that maybe others are not tapped into that we can build a promise around what we can deliver to that target customer and deliver on that unmet need that they have. I think that really doing deep research into your target audience to unlock that “aha” is where the magic typically is in coming up with a compelling brand proposition.
[00:02:08] Michael Mahoney: Well, with that in mind Laura, let’s talk about this recent article from Senior Housing News. It’s called Embrace the Revolution, Discovery Launches Experiential Senior Living Brand, Choreograph, with Boomers in Mind. I’ll just read the first couple of paragraphs. It says, “Discovery Senior Living is catering to the evolving preferences of the incoming baby boomer generation with a new brand of experienced focused communities called Choreograph. As planned, Choreograph communities will focus on experiences it can curate for residents. For example, the company is opening a new community near the University of Florida in Gainesville to give residents the full experience of living in gator country. In Daytona Beach, the company is planning another community that will deliver ‘a vibe that is a little racetrack, and a little beachy’ according to CEO Richard Hutchinson.”
[00:03:00] Michael Mahoney: “In an effort to better connect with the demographic, the baby boomer demographic, Discovery began working with Brand Verve, a brand strategy and insights firm that, in addition to operators like Sunrise Senior Living, works with such hospitality clients as Loews Hotels, Marriott, and Hampton by Hilton.” Of course, you are the founder and CEO of Brand Verve. They’re talking about you and I’d love to hear more about this. How did you get brought into working with Discovery Senior Living, and can you walk us through this process that you went through to help them better connect with their demographic and this new brand?
[00:03:40] Laura Bates: Absolutely. Thank you. One of the executives there at Discovery was actually someone that we had worked on in a hospitality project, and so we’ve known each other for a number of years and he was happy with the work that we had done in helping to create a really unique story and brand for them in his hospitality company. When he moved to Discovery, he contacted me about this new offering that they had in development, and they had some really good hypotheses about who the customer was and what the competitive space looked like. They asked us to come in and do a deep dive to really help them think about how they could craft a unique brand. What we did as we started, and where you should always start is with the customer. We really dug deep into this target audience to understand who they are, how they think, and what they want. We did a custom quantitative research study for Discovery to really get the needs and aspirations of this target audience.
[00:04:48] Michael Mahoney: You used data analysis. This was not just anecdote.
[00:04:51] Laura Bates: No, no, no. We did use data because you want to make sure that if you’re launching a brand, you’re launching it on fact, not on gut instinct. We did do this proprietary research study for them, but we also looked at trends and studies that had been done on this market to get a broader look and to validate some of the things that we were learning. Then we looked at the competitive space and what others are doing, and we used all of that information to come up with what we felt was a compelling proposition for Choreograph. What we found is that a lot of the companies that are doing these active adult apartments, the apartments feel like they could be just anywhere. What we really want to do is create local stories and a design aesthetic that feel integral to the destination and give residents a sense of place.
[00:05:53] Laura Bates: One of the other big insights too was that many of the other active adult companies are providing long lists of activities that can just fill someone’s time. What we think this audience is looking for is something with much more purpose. Our idea is to really curate a series of meaningful experiences that are really tailored to the individual and can create a greater sense of purpose for them as they go into this chapter of their life.
[00:06:23] Michael Mahoney: In the article, Richard was talking about location-driven experiences and wellness rather than just simply healthcare. It makes sense. It reminds me of when I traveled with my wife and our daughters. We want the local experience. I don’t want to go to a US chain restaurant when I’m in Italy.
[00:06:43] Laura Bates: Exactly.
[00:06:43] Michael Mahoney: I want that experience. I think you’re suggesting they take advantage of local, unique opportunities and vibes. As Richard used the words “the vibes” of the local market to make a unique experience. That is different in this market.
[00:07:00] Laura Bates: It is. It’s something that we do a lot of work in hospitality as well, and it’s something that hospitality companies have been doing for a number of years when they realized that people wanted something more than the standard brand. It’s a concept that’s gotten a ton of traction in the hospitality space and it’s where we saw promise for in this active adult housing market. The other thing I think that’s important too, my goal is that Choreograph is not only going to reflect the locale when you’re on property, but they want to also serve at a launching pad to help connect their residents to unique and meaningful experiences in the community so that they can almost help them explore what it is that’s special about Gainesville or Daytona.
[00:07:47] Michael Mahoney: Is that a scalable concept? Do you think you’re going to be able to? Because you’re talking about localizing each one of these experiences, but they’re a national brand.
[00:07:55] Laura Bates: Yes, we think that it is because there is a common promise across the brand and then there are going to be certain things that are common to each of the locations and then there’ll be a degree of localization that’s allowed, so it’s not that everything is a hundred percent going to be localized because that isn’t scalable. A mix of 40% or so that can truly be localized. The other thing that we think can be leveraged is creating some national partnerships that could be leveraged across the multiple properties to give them these reach and scale in trying to develop some of these experiences.
[00:08:38] Michael Mahoney: What would be an example of a national partnership or how that might integrate into this concept?
[00:08:43] Laura Bates: As an example, there are organizations who work with people to help train service dogs, and potentially with the idea of helping residents find something that has great purpose and meaning to their lives. There could be an opportunity for residents to take part in a program such as that, where they’re raising service dogs that could help people who have a need for that.
[00:09:08] Michael Mahoney: What about this concept of a lifestyle center? Richard Hutchinson, the CEO of Discovery Senior Living, in the article, he references lifestyle centers. What’s this idea about?
[00:09:20] Laura Bates: Well, I think that what we learned through the research, and I think one of the hypotheses that Discovery already had is that people are going to want to be near a vibrant area where there’s shopping, dining, and entertainment, and they’re going to want that to be fairly readily accessible to them. Locating these properties near those lifestyle centers will truly help fulfill a need for people to continue to be active, engaged, and involved in a vibrant lifestyle.
[00:09:53] Michael Mahoney: Sounds exciting. It sounds like a great place to live the way you’re describing it sounds like active, obviously engaging, different, driving learning and experiences, and not just being in a cookie cutter program. Where did this concept come from? That’s unusual as well, not the concept, the name, Choreograph.
[00:10:16] Laura Bates: Yes, that was also part of helping to define what the brand is because you have to understand the customer and then you need to develop what the brand positioning or the promise is and then say, “What are we going to call this?” What we came up with when we came up with several different name options, we landed on Choreograph because our take on Choreograph was that we are going to help the residents orchestrate a series of meaningful new life experiences by living here. The way that you choreograph a dance or a musical, but it was that idea of helping people to orchestrate these meaningful new life experience in this next chapter of their lives.
[00:11:02] Michael Mahoney: How will the experience affect how you market a given location? Because it seems like each location will have a slightly different marketing strategy.
[00:11:12] Laura Bates: That’s true. As I said, there’s a common strategy or positioning for what Choreograph is, but each location will have a unique selling idea that represents how that location can distinctly deliver on the overarching brand promise. They will be communicating a common benefit, but the way you might experience it in Daytona would be a little bit different from how you might experience it in Gainesville. There will be some unique selling ideas that are adapted for each different location.
[00:11:46] Michael Mahoney: How are they thinking to integrate the concept of leveraging new technology within these lifestyle centers?
[00:11:55] Laura Bates: Well, this target audience is pretty tech savvy even for being in the retirement age. They’re very accustomed to it. From things like an app that could be a custom Choreograph app where they could understand what are the activities and experiences that they could participate in, to being able to book a fitness class, to being able to use that as a way to open up their apartment. I think they’re looking in a lot of different ways to think about how to integrate that into the experience, and they’re just at the tip of the iceberg in understanding what that could be.
[00:12:35] Michael Mahoney: To be clear, this is a one of multiple brands that Discovery Senior Living has. This Choreograph brand will be a new brand that will be a part of their destination or experiential living communities, correct?
[00:12:50] Laura Bates: It is, and Discovery has historically been one of the largest and better providers of senior living offerings in the country, and this is a new market space for them. This is intended to go after someone who is approaching that retirement age but is not ready for an assisted living type environment. What’s interesting that we discovered in the research is that a lot of these people are still working, either full-time or part-time, and their significant others are as well.
[00:13:24] Laura Bates: That’s something to really take into account as we think about the experiences in the program and even how you might design some of the units, understanding that people might still be working and they might want quiet office space to do a Zoom call without the dog barking, or their spouse making something in the kitchen and making a lot of noise. All those insights are the things that can help them design a product that better meets the needs of their consumer.
[00:13:51] Michael Mahoney: Before we go, I’d like to share some ideas with other providers because the listeners of this podcast are those in the industry and have communities around the country. What should providers be thinking about as they are considering positioning their brand for the future?
[00:14:14] Laura Bates: This sounds super simple to a complex question, but it really comes down to having a deep understanding of your consumer and really digging deep into what they want, what they need, what are unmet needs that they have, and understanding how you can uniquely deliver on things. I also think that the companies who are extremely successful in tapping into their customer needs also involve their customers in the process. I, before becoming consultant, worked for Procter and Gamble, and worked for Marriott for a number of years, and there are a number of innovation efforts that we undertook where we collaborated with our customers to really identify needs and to develop and refine innovations. I don’t know to what extent that has really been a common practice in this market, but I think it’s one that is definitely needed because that’s where you really learn. That’s where you get some of the best insights that can then help you differentiate and provide a compelling brand promise for people.
[00:15:26] Michael Mahoney: Talk with your residents and listen, right?
[00:15:30] Laura Bates: Yes, right. That sounds so sounds good. Also, show them early rough ideas of what you’re thinking about. Have them react to it. Have them give you feedback on what’s working, and what’s not. It should be an iterative process. It’s not just this one-way conversation. It really should be iterative and continual in how you engage them and understand them and really study how they’re using products and experiences and what are gaps that need to be filled.
[00:16:00] Michael Mahoney: That sounds like a great place to wrap this up, and it’s a great point. It needs to be an iterative process. You listen and you feedback and share and continue to evolve, but it’s no wonder you’re one of the thought leaders in this industry when it comes to brand, and I appreciate you sharing your story today. Tell us, for anyone who’s listening and wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to find you?
[00:16:27] Laura Bates: Absolutely. Thank you very much for that, Michael. It was a pleasure being with you today. The best way to find me is just to go to our website, which is brandverve.net, and you could take a look at what our capabilities are regarding brand positioning and some of the other work that we’ve done inside and outside the industry. It’s an exciting space to be working in and one with tremendous potential with where the demographics are going. It is a terrific space to be in right now.
[00:16:55] Michael Mahoney: It is exciting, it’s evolving, and it’s growing. It’ll be fun to watch. I’m here in Florida, so hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity to see some of these communities as they’re coming online and see this come to life.
[00:17:07] Laura Bates: You should definitely go.
[00:17:10] Michael Mahoney: All right. Thank you so much, Laura. I appreciate you being here today and hopefully our paths will cross again soon.
[00:17:17] Laura Bates: Great. Thank you so much, Michael.
[00:17:19] Michael Mahoney: Thanks. Bye everybody.