Smooth Digital founder and care marketing expert, Tobi Alli-Usman, shares how his specialist team are helping care home operators build back occupancy through digital marketing.
Having pursued a successful career in marketing, Tobi developed a passion for care after working his way up to running the Health Care Division of a global advertising company.
“It was here that I really doubled down on online marketing and became an expert in marketing in the healthcare space,” Tobi told CHP.
“I worked very closely with some of the largest health care providers and brands in the country, gaining a deep understanding of their unique challenges and helping to promote growth of the organisations with tailored digital marketing strategies.”
Having a passion for entrepreneurship, Tobi then set up Smooth Digital initially as a multiservice marketing agency in 2016.
The ever increasing demands of serving a wide-ranging client base in different industries, however, led Tobi to decide it was time to specialise.
“If I was going to take Smooth from a very good agency to a great agency, we had to start to specialise,” Tobi said.
With almost two-thirds of his clients in the health care space, more specifically the care sector, it was a no-brainer for Tobi to take the business in that direction.
Coinciding with that realisation, it was apparent that the wider care sector was greatly falling behind other industries in adopting advanced modern marketing methods in line with changing consumer behaviour.
“This did make it more challenging than some other sectors, but with my background and the team’s already glowing results for our care clients, we knew that focusing all of our efforts solely in this meaningful sector and concentrating on care services was the right path to go down,” Tobi explained.
“Of course, at the time, it was extremely hard having to turn away business from other industries, but I believe without a shadow of a doubt that without this short-term sacrifice, we would not have become the award winning agency we are today.”
In the years that followed the business has built a strong and varied client base in the care home sector, ranging from small, family independents to some of the largest and most well-known care home groups.
The company’s geographical reach is equally diverse, covering both city and rural based providers.
“We do, however, predominantly work with operators who have a focus on targeting self-funding residents and families, as this is really where digital marketing is second to none,” Tobi stressed.
“It is important to note that as margins become tighter for care home operators, there has been a big shift in priorities in attracting self-funding clients over local authority referrals. What we see is that, in general, clients come to us because they have a problem: empty beds that are losing their company revenue every week they are not filled.
“We also have clients that are in the fortunate position of having filled their empty beds and seeing great value in working with us to help build up their waiting list, should a bed become vacant.”
Smooth Digital supports care home operators by creating a strategic digital marketing campaign that is aligned to their business and current challenges.
“We, of course, continually adapt this strategy as they grow to ensure they are making the most of their marketing activities,” Tobi explained.
The agency boasts a team of specialist digital marketing account managers who build marketing campaigns that consistently and predictably generate inbound enquiries by getting client’s care homes in front of families looking to move their loved ones into care.
The entrepreneur said there were a number of nuances to consider when marketing care providers, mentioning that a lot of the time families live in different areas to their loved ones and, therefore, fall out of the target radius of the care home.
“This is actually one of the many reasons why most digital marketing agencies from outside the sector fail to deliver,” Tobi noted.
The business employs a variety of platforms, ranging from Google, Bing, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to 24 Hour Smooth Live Chat, which are managed by its outsourced team, to successfully target families no matter where their location.
As part of Smooth Digital’s aim to help care businesses maximise their ability to provide the very best care to their communities, Tobi launched the Tea With Tobi podcast in early 2020.
The podcast features growth focused conversations and aims to provide solutions to the obstacles that prevent business expansion through sharing best practice from the biggest names in the sector.
“I had honestly not anticipated just how incredible the reception was going to be for the show,” Tobi reflected.
“The countless messages of support and thanks on LinkedIn/email really highlighted the need for such a resource in the sector. We’ve tried to keep each episode fresh and jam packed with value, and the beauty of it being a free digital resource is that people can still listen and learn from all the previous episodes, even today.”
With the launch of Season 4 of the podcast coinciding with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Tobi decided to focus recent episodes on the unsung heroes within the sector.
Guests featured include Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum, Tony Banks, chair of Balhousie Care Group, Sam Monaghan, CEO of MHA, Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO of Care England, care workers Jijo Jonny and Zuva Chinhori, and more.
“I felt it was time someone gave a platform to the individuals and hidden heroes that continue to brave a storm of lethal strains, lack of political harmony and increasing danger during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tobi told us.
“That’s why this season is all about speaking to different care sector leaders and letting them share their story and document their struggles over the past 12 months. For me, recording this season and hearing the experiences was at times tough and heartbreaking, but I think it’s important to give the care sector a voice through these individuals, and tell the stories that the media just wasn’t covering.”
A further major milestone for the marketing agency came with the launch of its Building Back Occupancy campaign.
With care home operators facing a perfect storm of low occupancy rates, financial strains as a result of high operating costs and negative media coverage with the onset of COVID-19, the programme is designed to offer support to as many care home operators as possible.
Through tailored consultations with care home operators, Smooth Digital is able to assess their current occupancy levels and familiarise itself with their needs and objectives.
The team then creates and implements a robust strategy to modernise their client’s marketing in order to increase inbound leads, build back their occupancy and future proof their business.
The Building Back Occupancy campaign has become a key component of Tobi’s mission to offer care homes an effective digital marketing strategy in the COVID and post-COVID age.
“Believe it or not, a lot of the perceived challenges actually play into the strengths of digital marketing,” Tobi noted.
“For example, more people are at home spending time on the web. This means, not only do we have more opportunity for them to see our ads (especially remarketing ads) but we often have periods where we are paying less for those ads, because the platforms have more real estate available as people are consuming more content, and feeds have to be constantly replaced with fresh content.
“That said, we are brought new challenges, especially on the messaging side, as people have more concerns surrounding COVID-19 than they did before. That means we’re trying to raise awareness and promote the good practices care providers have in place, like PPE, as well as secure visiting arrangements, etc to reassure families and build confidence in our client’s facilities/teams.”
So what is the secret of an effective digital marketing strategy?
“The trademarks of an effective digital marketing strategy are financial benefits and predictability of enquiries, which are somewhat connected,” Tobi explained.
“It’s very easy to lose money when investing in any kind of marketing and the complexity of the digital sphere makes it especially risky for inexperienced individuals who take it on board themselves. We’ve had countless providers come to us who have tried a number of marketing activities with little to no return.”
While highlighting how digital marketing tools can be combined with more traditional methods, such as flyer drops and community boards as part of a holistic marketing strategy, Tobi said providers should prioritise digital campaigns to be most effective.
“Unlike any other marketing medium, the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns can be directly measured and over time establish an accurate return on investment for every penny put into marketing,” Tobi explained.
“This level of attribution is essential for care providers who are looking to grow in a financially stable way.”
Tobi stressed the importance of developing a campaign with a focus on driving highly targeted paid traffic to a care provider’s website. This can be done using Google Search Ads.
Google Search marketing campaigns are a powerful digital means of attracting care home enquiries, the business founder said.
“Google is the largest search engine in the world, in fact it’s many times larger than all of the other search engines combined,” Tobi explained.
“It allows care providers to showcase their businesses to people who are highly likely to be interested in their services while filtering out people who aren’t – because it’s unlikely someone is searching for care unless they have a need for it.”
Tobi highlighted Google Search Ads as an effective way for providers to get their homes at the very top of
“These are ads that care providers pay Google to promote,” Tobi explained.
“Often users won’t even realise they are actually clicking on an ad, especially as Google in the last couple of years has adapted the design of these ads so they look more like organic search results. Once the user clicks on the ad they will be driven to a particular page on a provider’s website so they can learn more about their service and hopefully reach out to them.”
Unlike traditional marketing methods, Tobi said Google Ads offered a far clearer way of tracking the effectiveness of advertising mediums.
“You can track a vast number of things but just to give you an idea we are able to know things such as how many people saw an ad, how many of those people then clicked on the ad, how many people actually reached the website and whether they were using desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones,” Tobi added.
“We can then use this information to spend an advertising budget in the most optimal way and get the best ROI.
“We understand that care home operators can find digital marketing confusing, and what I’ve said may be a lot to take in, but ultimately Google Ads allow providers to show the right message (their ads), to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.”
Having attracted visitors to their services, Tobi stressed the importance of care homes having an effective website landing page in order to turn these into enquiries.
“A bespoke landing page isn’t necessary to run ads, but providers will need to ensure their website is effective in turning site visits into prospects, and really that should be a top priority for everyone, whether they are running ads or not!” Tobi emphasised.
In terms of the key things for providers to take away immediately, however, Tobi highlighted focusing more on functionality and less on the aesthetics, as often the latter is where people mistakenly put most of their focus and resources.
Additionally, he suggested providing as much value as possible on the homepage/landing page so people don’t have to go searching for information around a website, as this can make them lose interest and return to the Google search results page to view another care provider.
Tobi stressed the importance of having clear Calls to Action (CTAs) and Lead Triggers, which are a form of offering an item of value in exchange for someone’s contact details and email address. This could be a downloadable brochure of the facility or making use of the 24 hour Smooth Live Chat service, which answers website visitors’ questions and generates leads by gathering contact details, helping achieve a 30% increase in monthly enquiries.
“These things will help make sure that whenever a visitor lands on a provider’s site they know everything they need to know about them and their business and it’s clear to them what actions they should be taking, which ultimately leads to higher conversion rates for a provider’s business,” Tobi said.
With the majority of clients reaching out to Smooth Digital using traditional marketing methods, Tobi said being able to track what was working and what wasn’t was a key challenge.
“Providers lack visibility and, more importantly, they don’t know which of their efforts is yielding the most success, if any,” Tobi reflected.
“Anyone who has seen our content before will know that I am laser focused on ROI and a huge advocate of care providers knowing their numbers. As I mentioned earlier, we specialise in digital marketing, which means we are spoiled with the vast array of data that the likes of Google and Facebook report to us. That makes our ability to track ROI extremely accurate and instantaneous but I know the level of data can be overwhelming for a care business leader.”
In order to address this, Smooth Digital has created a user friendly platform for clients, called Smooth Analytics, which pulls in all of the data from the various platforms that clients are advertising on.
“This means operators don’t need to have their calculator out or spend time sifting through multiple reports to work out what they are spending and where enquiries are coming from,” Tobi noted.
“They can simply log in and instantly see exactly how much they’ve spent, how many people have clicked on their ads, visited their website and contacted the business, etc.
“As you can imagine, this makes tracking ROI from marketing campaigns far easier, but for the non tech-savvy operators who may find this data daunting, our account managers ensure they are talking about return on investment in their regular client update calls.”
The business founder cited Hythe Care (see box right) as an example of a highly effective campaign where admissions rose by 60% in 12 months, as well as a smaller campaign for Unity Homes who were getting one to two self-pay enquiries per month, and now receive an average of nine to ten self-pay enquiries per month.
Looking forward, Tobi said digital marketing will be key to helping restore confidence in residential care and promoting a positive care home narrative.
The entrepreneur pointed to comments shared by Balhousie Care Group chair Tony Banks recently on Tea With Tobi on how media sensationalism had irresponsibly whipped up a “frenzy of fear” during the pandemic.
“What care providers want to do is combat negativity and negative press through proactively sharing information on the precautions they are taking within their homes, as well as anecdotes of how they are keeping people’s loved ones safe yet still allowing them to enjoy their time in the home,” Tobi stressed.
“There is no better medium to deliver this positivity than through digital marketing. This could be through visual means, images and videos on social media showing how you are combating social isolation whilst keeping your residents safe.
“Providers absolutely must emphasise they have the correct PPE available and that it is being used correctly and use these platforms as a window into daily life inside the home. People love to see their loved ones having fun and keeping busy, and not only does it reassure the families of residents but it demonstrates to potential clients that a home has created a safe and enjoyable place that they could visualise their loved ones living in.”
Smooth Digital has launched its own ‘Care Home Confidence Building Campaign’ with providers that shares the positive experiences of residents and families during the pandemic (see box below).
Looking to the future of digital care home marketing, Tobi said a shift to mobile devices would be a key trend over the next five to ten years.
“It’s very rare for us to see a care home’s website that has been designed with mobile use first in mind, normally this is an afterthought to desktop design,” the Smooth Digital founder observed.
“It’s been five years since mobile Internet browsing numbers overtook that of desktops, and that’s ever increasing, so a poor mobile user experience is only losing care providers business.”
In tandem with this, Tobi predicted an increasing need to optimise websites for people using voice search platforms such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Voice.
“As the number of voice searches increases, we will also see changes in the types of searches that are bringing traffic through ads,” Tobi suggested.
The digital marketing guru predicted care home operators would ultimately shift from a reliance on referrals to really investing in marketing as a permanent function of their business.
“We’re seeing more and more care providers taking a strong interest in setting up a sophisticated digital marketing strategy that integrates branding, traffic and conversion – giving them an omnipresence online,” Tobi said.
“No matter where you are on your Digital Journey, the way the world is advancing with technology, social media and communication changes the way consumers seek out care and this makes digital marketing the most powerful tool in reaching more families to build back occupancy.”