Passionate in Marketing in conversation with Ms. Piali Dasgupta, SVP Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities

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Passionate in Marketing caught up with Ms. Piali Dasgupta, SVP Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities to discuss about senior care business and how senior living sector is evolving itself.

Ms. Piali is a Multi-award winning marketing and communication leader with over 14 years of cross-category experience across e-commerce, retail and real estate. She has cultivated skill sets in strategising and driving branding, imagery, brand positioning, brand architecture, customer segmentation, PR and corporate communication, storytelling, campaign creation, digital marketing, performance marketing, offline marketing across ATL and BTL.

  1. Please tell us about Columbia Pacific Communities and a little about senior living sector in India?

Columbia Pacific Communities (CPC) is India’s largest senior living community operators, with 9 communities across five cities and 1600 residences in its care. Its 10th project and its first signature project in India, The Virtuoso Club and Serviced Residences has been launched in 2019. The Virtuoso is the country’s first senior living community designed to international standards.

Columbia Pacific Communities is part of the Seattle-based Columbia Pacific Management, that pioneered senior living in the USA and has over 40 years of deep expertise in senior living across USA, Canada and China.

Columbia Pacific Communities is one of the 100 Most Admired Brands in India by White Page International

2. What is the role of CPC in enhancing lifestyle of senior citizens?

Columbia Pacific Communities is committed to providing a zero-headache lifestyle to seniors helping them live healthier, happier, better, more engaged and enriched lives for longer. Its communities are designed in a way that seniors end up becoming physically fitter, mentally more agile, emotionally more centred and culturally engaged. Through 24/7 medical care, senior friendly amenities and facilities and taking care of all chores and every requirement of seniors, Columbia Pacific Communities helps seniors live a worry-free, active life marked by physical fitness, mental agility, social interaction and cultural curiosity. 

Loneliness has been named the single biggest killer for this demographic. A great benefit of community living is that seniors are amidst like-minded people with shared interests. And this goes a long way in eliminating loneliness.

3. What are the major challenges and opportunities in senior care business?

The key challenge is to fight the stigma around senior living as a concept. It’s still a taboo subject in our country and a conversation that a parent and a child find difficult to have.

Children fear that sending their parents to a senior living community would be seen as abandonment, when it is quite the opposite. The fear of being judged by society and the guilt associated with it make it a hard decision for them.

It doesn’t help that “senior living” as a concept, has often been likened to “old age homes.” This is unfortunate, because senior living communities are a lifestyle choice; they are NOT old age homes, where people live more out of compulsion than out of choice. 

So, there is little awareness around the product offering given how new the category is.

The other challenge is a sense of hesitation among seniors to invest in an asset quite late in their lives with financial policies not in their favour.

COVID has changed things and there is certainly better awareness and acceptance around the concept today. But there is a long way to go before the concept becomes mainstream and enjoys greater visibility.

India has 104 million seniors currently, and 20% of the country’s population will be senior citizens by 2050. A large part of this would be urban seniors, and therefore, it’s a huge TAM (total addressable market) we are talking about. Hence this is a sunrise industry with huge growth potential and there lies the opportunity.

4.  Who are your primary target audiences?

The primary target audience is someone who is either planning retirement or is already retired and is looking for a solution such as ours for his golden years. People in the age bracket of 55 to 75, who are looking for a fully serviced community full of like-minded people where their every need is taken care of, is our primary audience. They are upwardly mobile, have fulfilled all their duties towards their children and society, and are now looking to live a relaxed and engaged life post retirement.

5. How is a communication strategy for senior citizens different from a younger target group?

Seniors tend to have a comparatively higher attention span than the millennial and Gen Z audiences. They have a healthy appetite for good quality content – irrespective of the length of it. So a marketer isn’t under constant pressure to grab their attention in the first three seconds. If you serve them meaningful, relevant and helpful content, they would engage with you and keep coming back for more because most of them do have the luxury of time. Unlike a younger audience, seniors look for meaningful content, as opposed to ephemeral content and respond very well to long form content in the form of articles, blogs and magazine features. At Columbia Pacific Communities, we have a monthly magazine called Tales, which is read by 1800 of our residents. There is also a blog section on our website that is for, of and by the residents of our communities.

6. Positive Ageing – what exactly do you mean by this and how do you promote this through your campaigns?

 “Positive ageing” is our brand credo. Simply put, “positive ageing” is an attitude towards age and ageing that proposes that age is just a number and one is as old as one feels. As an organisation, we are committed to changing conversations around age and ageing in India, and breaking all age-related stereotypes. We are committed to help seniors live healthier, better and happier for longer through the power of positive and active ageing. Our communities are designed to ensure physical fitness, mental agility, emotional wellness and social engagement, which together define “positive ageing.”

We look at age as an enabler rather than a deterrent. We aim to build communities that offer seniors a worry-free life where they can focus on all that they truly love and cherish, leaving the mundane, troublesome and hectic chores to us.   

All our award winning campaigns – whether it was RELEARN, our launch campaign aimed at shattering age related stereotypes and carry the central message of positive ageing forward, or our innovative senior citizens Christmas flash mob campaign done in December 2019, or the OK Boomer campaign which challenges ageist attitudes, or our Christmas campaign #SignsOfLove that had seniors learning sign language to perform a Christmas Jingle for the deaf and mute community, pivots around the brand’s core philosophy of positive ageing.

7. How effective is digital and social media in communicating with senior audience?

Today’s senior citizens are not averse to technology and have understood the many boons of it. It is a misconception that they are digitally challenged because most urban seniors today are on one or more social media channels.  Facebook is their primary channel on social media, and they are equally active on whatsapp. They access emails regularly and could also be targeted through LinkedIn and news websites. However, they are not active on channels such as TikTok and Instagram.  

All our brand marketing initiatives are on social media and manage to reach out to and engage millions of seniors. And even for performance marketing, we rely heavily on channels such as Facebook and whatsapp to target relevant audience segments for our products.

So, social media has been a very effective channel in communicating with seniors, and interestingly, the most popular Facebook page in India belongs to a senior citizen – Narendra Modi.

8. How do you think COVID has impacted business and marketing strategies?

In the past six months, we have witnessed a 4x rise in enquiries and also unearthed a key consumer insight. And the insight is that seniors today feel less secure ageing in place than ageing in a community, particularly in the face of an adversity. They have realised the value of living in fully serviced communities where their every need is taken care of, particularly during a crisis situation, making them feel safe, secure, protected and well looked after at all times. Seniors living in our communities have unanimously agreed that they have not felt the impact of the lockdown in their daily lives. On the other hand, seniors who live on their own have realised how challenging it can be to fend for themselves without any help during uncertain times such as these. It is this realisation that is spurring the demand in senior living with both seniors and their children actively looking for this solution.

Business and marketing strategies have obviously evolved in the past year. Heightened use of technology throughout the customer lifecycle and use of digital marketing tools such as walkthrough videos and whatsapp calls from the site have replaced site visits, with customers making purchase decisions remotely.

In terms of marketing mix, we have always been digital first, allocating about 70% of out marketing budgets to digital channels. Post COVID, OTT budgets have been redirected to digital as well, and in the initial months of COVID, budgets for print media were also realigned towards digital. Also, when the pandemic hit us in March 2020, we took a conscious call to not hard sell the product, and instead adopted an engagement-first strategy on social media for a few months launching campaigns such as #SeniorsInCommand that brought to the fore inspiring stories of seniors giving back to society and taking charge of the situation at hand during the pandemic. We also launched a Facebook Live initiative called The Living Room to enable seniors to interact live with celebrities and luminaries across disciplines from the comfort of their homes during the lockdown.

9. Highlight key marketing trends for 2021 for senior care sector?

Marketing for senior care in 2021 would be marked by using technology as a key enabler to drive sales, conversations and engagement. The future will be about high digital adoption even for this demographic as it’s largely a misconception that seniors are averse to technology. In the post COVID world, senior care brands would lean on technology in every step of the customer lifecycle.

Senior care marketing would focus on partnerships and collaboration and influencer tie-ups.  Given that, senior care is an emerging industry with several start-ups in this space, senior care brands would build symbiotic relationships to save or stretch marketing dollars and tap into this demographic which forms 8% of the country’s population to ultimately create value for customers.

Senior citizen influencers from Bollywood, cricket and social media will partner brands to appeal to and reach out to this demographic with more sharpened brand messaging.

And finally, senior care marketing would really be all about celebrating seniors. At Columbia Pacific Communities, we have always shone the spotlight on our senior residents. Whether it was our recent Christmas campaign where our senior residents came together to enact Jingle Bells for the deaf and mute community using sign language or our video campaign during the early months of COVID – “Community Beats Uncertainty”, where three of our senior residents lent their voices to the video, it has always been about giving seniors the sort of visibility and voice they have always deserved.

More and more brands in this space would base everything around the lives and , behaviour patterns of seniors.

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