January 19, 2010
Case Study

Multichannel Testimonial Campaign Lifts Retiree Leads 267%

SUMMARY: The latest marketing tactics might connect with younger audiences, but not necessarily with retirees. Sometimes straight talk from their peers and a simple registration process can work best.

See how a retirement community’s marketing team lifted leads 267% with direct mail and advertising that featured testimonials from current residents, and a simple registration process for email communication. Includes samples of the ads and emails they used.

Karen Shinn, Director, Marketing, Westminster at Lake Ridge, needs a steady stream of leads to fill space at the continuing care retirement community located near Washington, D.C. To begin conversations with these potential residents, Shinn and her team needed more people to register for their email newsletter and attend free informational events.

But the team’s audience of nearby retirees aged 70 and over presented a unique marketing challenge.

"The generation we were working with, especially in Washington, does not like to give out a lot of information," Shinn says. "We needed to make it very simple and not hard for them to complete."

The team needed to connect with this audience, show they understood its needs and make it easy to request information.


They built a campaign around testimonials that spoke directly to potential residents’ needs, and disseminated the message via direct mail and print advertising. The media drove traffic to landing pages that further elaborated on the testimonials, and encouraged visitors to register for the team’s email newsletter. A follow-up email campaign helped energize the leads.

Here are the four steps they followed:

Step #1. Create relevant testimonials

During spring 2009, the team interviewed and held photo shoots with three community residents. They selected residents that embodied the answers to many potential residents’ frequently asked questions.

Here is each testimonial’s subject and emphasis:

- Pat: Cottage living

The first testimonial featured Pat, a retired businesswoman who "lived in a charming old farm house and was ready to give up the housework, but not the house." The testimonial emphasized that Pat "retired her lawn mower" and moved to one of Westminster's cottages that included yard work, housecleaning and utility coverage.

- John: Retired military

Another testimonial featured Sgt. Major John Henry who considered his move to Westminster one of the smartest decisions he ever made. Washington, D.C. has a high rate of retired military personnel, and John’s testimonial showed potential residents that if they were from the military, they would be in good company.

- Penny: Pets welcome

Penny is the pet dog of Westminster resident Dorothy, and her testimonial emphasized that residents are encouraged to bring pets. Often when potential residents have a final, very important question, Shinn already knows what it is: "Do you allow pets?"

Step #2. Create postcards and print ads

The team used testimonials to create three postcards, each featuring a different resident. They sent the cards in July 2009 to consumers within 20 miles of the facility who met the team’s age and income requirements.

The team also created three print advertisements -- similar in design to the postcards -- featuring the three residents. They ran the ads in regional publications, including:
o The Washington Post
o Military Officer magazine
o A local Alexandria/Arlington newspaper
o National Active Retired Federal Employee Associate magazine

Both the postcards and print ads included:
o Images of the residents
o A few paragraphs telling their stories
o Contact information for the facility
o A URL personalized with the resident’s first name and the title "Real Residents. Real Stories."

Step #3. Create landing pages

The team created three landing pages to accept traffic from the testimonial media. The images and design of the pages matched the postcards and print advertisements.

The pages also included:
o More of the resident’s story, in bulleted lists rather than in paragraph format
o A form to register for the team’s email newsletter

The email registration form only required four pieces of information:
o First name
o Last name
o Email address
o How the visitor heard about Westminster

By comparison, this form was much simpler than the team’s standard Web contact form, which also asks for a mailing address, phone numbers and topics of interest.

Step #4. Create three follow-up emails

The team built three email messages to help coax new newsletter subscribers into becoming more active leads and submitting additional information. The welcome series was used for this effort only.

- Welcome email

The team sent the first email 24 hours after subscribers received an automated sign-up notice. It included:
o One sentence thank-you message
o Attached version of the most current newsletter
o A two-sentence description of the newsletter
o Contact information for the team

- Luncheon invitation

The team sent the second email one week after the welcome email. It started as a "check-in" email to make sure that subscribers received and were able to read the newsletter sent earlier.

The email also invited subscribers to attend one of the team’s "Smart Decision" luncheons, where attendees could learn more about Westminster and meet current residents. The email included:
o Details for the luncheon
o Link to a schedule of later luncheons
o A request to RSVP, and a phone number

- Information request

Two weeks later, the team sent the final email to subscribers who had not signed up for a luncheon.

The message featured a team member who introduced herself as a personal retirement living counselor and shared a few welcoming details with the subscribers.

The email then requested recipients to click to visit a form to provide more personal information, such as:
o Mailing address
o Phone number
o When they’d like to move in

The email also provided a phone number that subscribers could call to dictate the information over the phone.

The message emphasized that the team wanted this information to be better able to send subscribers relevant information and event invitations.

"And guess what? It worked," Shinn says. "Some of these people have moved in."

- The team generated 267% more newsletter registrations/leads from July-September 2009, compared to the same period in 2008. Lead generation during October-November 2009 was also higher than in 2008.

- Lunch event attendance more than doubled in July 2009, compared to the previous year, and August 2009’s event attendance was about eight times greater than the year prior.

- The website’s unique visitor count was 24.3% higher from July 2009 through November 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.

Due to the campaign’s success, the team plans to run a similar effort in 2010 featuring three other residents.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Westminster’s testimonials campaign

FTC’s New Endorsement Guidelines: 6 Key Areas to Examine

How to Collect Higher Impact Testimonials from Consulting Clients: 7 Practical Tips

Creating Results: Helped the team design and run the campaign

Westminster at Lake Ridge

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