by Coleen Cook, Spectrio Creative Consultant

Effectively marketing your assisted living facility, means constantly using the latest tools to engage your target audience, right? With your marketing budget getting tighter, what new trendy gizmo should you employ next to attract new AL residents?

Some professional marketers will implore you to focus your marketing efforts on each new virtual fad: Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. YouTube. Google+. Pinterest. Perhaps good advice for some businesses, but potentially misleading for assisted living. What marketing tool deserves your closest attention? The answer may be in the palm of your hand. Your phone.

Reaching Cold Callers through the Power of MOH

Just how important of a marketing tool is message-on-hold for assisted living facilities? According to the Assisted Living Federation of America, in most cases, the first contact a senior or their family member makes with assisted living is on the phone.

Their data shows that your potential customers are still “cold callers,” not twenty year olds who Tweet or post. Eighty is the average age for an assistant living resident, and their concerned child is sixty. They may be on a cellphone instead of a land line, but they still belong to the telephone generation.

They may search online and respond to ads, but ultimately they will call and ask about what you offer. However, the Assisted Living Federation also notes that, after that important initial phone contact, only about 20 percent of callers actually come for a visit. What does that statistic tell you about the importance of your message-on-hold? Plenty.

What a Difference a Message Makes!

These numbers suggest that effectively engaging your cold-calling customer via the phone is essential. Yet many assisted living directors I write scripts for frequently regard their MOH as a marketing afterthought, not the prime marketing tool it has the potential to be.

It’s often a struggle to get them to take it seriously, or to even carefully read or approve a script. Yet the time they invest in designing the right on-hold messaging may be more critical to filling their facility than any other marketing initiative they engage in.

Unmasking Your Audience

So who are your callers? Either potential residents with an average age of eighty, or their sixty-something children. Regardless of who makes the initial call, their particular concerns must be effectively addressed by your MOH.

Many of your callers now face tough, life changing decisions. Whether it’s a senior who now understands that they can no longer care adequately for themselves, or a caregiver of a mentally declining loved one that’s desperate for help, both are in emotional turmoil and now face tough decisions.

Their call is totally need-driven, and their first contact with you may be your MOH. How does your MOH address their hot button needs? What they hear as they wait is critical.

ADLS and On-Hold Messaging

Your callers are concerned about ADLs, or Activities of Daily Living; daily self-care activities like feeding ourselves, bathing, dressing, grooming, work, homemaking, and leisure. Their call is initiated by issues with any or all of these categories and they are phone shopping for the place to address them.

Perhaps the search is for a setting that helps maintain independence, or one that’s safe and secure. Maybe it’s about support services or supervision for safety issues like wandering, not eating properly, or not taking medication.

What assistance or food service does your facility offer? If your caller’s parent is isolated, lonely or bored, how do your activities meet that need? Your caller may be grieving or angry over having to sell their house or downsize, or they want a more convenient location to be closer to family. Their child may feel guilty about having to move them.

As they wait on-hold, what assures do they hear that you are best solution to their problem?

More than a Marketing Afterthought

Your MOH must be more than a marketing afterthought. It may be your first and only chance to answer your caller’s most important questions. It must not only inform, it must also offer comfort and understanding as well as relevant information. So design your message content, not just to address the reasons they called about, but to foster a sense of trust in your staff’s ability to meet their need.

Take advantage of every second that your potential customer waits on hold to assure them that the welfare and comfort of your residents is your organization’s primary concern. Create a friendly, comfortable sounding on-hold atmosphere that empathizes and assures them that you have answers that are worth waiting for.

Amenities Are Only Skin Deep

Don’t just describe amenities, spotlight the medical services your facility addresses. How medically qualified are your managers and staff? Are there nurses or nursing assistants on staff? What expertise do they offer about age-related topics and senior care?

While shopping assisted living for my own parents, a deciding factor for me was finding a facility where an RN was the director. Yet such issues are seldom addressed on assisted living message-on-holds. That may be a major marketing mistake.

Geriatric information is extremely important to both aging adults and their children. Does your website offer links to geriatric organizations and other referral networks? Their call is need driven and your mission is to meet that need, why not include this information online and promote it through your MOH?

One Good Platform Enhances Another

Talking about your amenities is definitely important, but do it through an audio tour that evokes images of beauty and appealing features. This is one way your MOH can effectively partner with your website. Both hearing and seeing what you offer is critical, so drive your caller online by including your website address in your messaging.

It’s not unusual for your customer to be at a computer as they wait for you to take their call. Don’t discount the importance of your website or your message-on-hold’s ability to drive your audience to it. Some assisted living directors leave website addresses out of their MOH, failing to recognize its marketing importance.

Web shopping grows daily by leaps and bounds. A picture is “still worth a thousand words.” Never underestimate the impact of visuals to a busy, overstressed, need-driven child who needs a safe place for mom quickly and feels guilty about it.

They need to see if your facility is worth their time to visit. Tell them where to look while they wait.

Reach Out Across Platforms

If most assisted living customers either call first, then look online, or vice versa, be sure to create a partnership between your MOH and your website. Make certain that branding is consistent across both platforms, and paint a positive verbal picture in your MOH that encourages a caller to see more online as they wait. Good pictures and videos not only capture important amenities, they also evoke powerful emotions that influence your cold caller’s decision.

Include a Call to Action

Use your MOH to encourage tours. Instead of building in tired old MOH clichés to your script like “please be patient” and “we are sorry to keep you waiting,” explain what you have to offer and include a call to action like “ask us about arranging a tour when we take your call.” This not only encourages a visit, it also assures them that you will return to the phone.

Choosing the Right Voice and Music

Recognize the importance of selecting the right voice and music for your assisted living message-on-hold. A voice talent that sounds like a twenty something is probably not the best fit. Since more women than men are potential residents, a mature sounding female talent may be your best pick.

What genre of music most appeals to your demographic? Rock music probably isn’t it, at least not yet. Does the music you choose evoke a feeling of tranquility, peace, or whatever atmosphere you want it to convey?

Is it upbeat and positive without being too contemporary for your target audience? Does your music underscore what your messages actually say, reinforcing the image you want to project? The right voice and music are a powerful combination to convince your caller that your facility will meet their hot button needs.

Lift the Curtain

So use the power of the phone to bring your assisted living facility to life! “Lift the curtain” for callers through descriptions of important moments: family visits, birthdays, happy hour, fitness classes, caring staff, memory care and respite care. Paint an appealing audio picture of inspirational, joyful times not to be missed, while highlighting key services that meet pressing needs. Underscore what makes your facility special and different, and what it truly means to be a part of your vibrant community. And after you do, don’t be surprised that your need-driven caller is still waiting when you finally take his call!

(Image courtesy of Ambro at