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How adopting AI helped families find the right care home during the Covid crisis

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Care homes hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2020 as the sector struggled to cope with the outbreak of Covid-19. Despite, or perhaps because, of this demand for high-end care, homes able to provide first-class accommodation and facilities remained abundant. With top-end locations charging as much as £3,000 per week, potential residents and their families expect the kind of service and seamless process associated with a five-star hotel when making an inquiry.

MCG Digital Media looks at the Porthaven campaign as an example of how care homes got it right during the pandemic

To be considered, each and every home needs to ensure it is serving potential residents or their family the right information at the right time and in the right place. Nowhere is that truer than online, with families searching not just for the homes themselves, but also reviews and Care Quality Commission reports. For independent care home provider Porthaven, a new AI-enabled digital strategy ensured it had more inquires at a lower cost than ever before at one of the most challenging times in its 11-year history.

A new digital approach

Over the past five years Porthaven has nearly doubled in size, growing from just ten bespoke care homes to 17 covering the Cotswolds, the South East, Derbyshire and Cheshire, supported by Julia Wild, managing director of the Iconic brand agency, and digital strategist Gez McGuire.

During the five-year period, advertising spend steadily grew in line with the expansion, with a carefully-managed PPC campaign and skillful branding ensuring inquiries climbed at a commensurate rate.

As part of overall cost-cutting measures, however, the care home business needed to reduce media spend. This presented a distinct challenge as the search volume on Google exceeded the available budget by a factor of 3:1. Rather than simply capping ad spend, however, McGuire and Wild set to work delivering an overhaul of the care home’s digital advertising strategy, taking advantage of the latest developments in AI and machine learning to ensure the best return on every £1 spent.

McGuire explains: “It may sound strange, but one of the best ways of understanding modern AI marketing is to consider commercial airflight. For decades now it has been widely accepted that the vast majority of international flying is controlled by computers.

“Despite concerns, a New York Times article revealed that in the decade to 2019 there was only one fatality in nearly 100 million flights by United States passenger planes. What this apparent conquering of machine over man doesn’t reveal, however, is the huge number of office pilots or data scientists and analysts that made that possible. Modern digital advertising is no different.

“We now have one of the most advanced and highly-developed AI engines at our fingertips. Billions of pounds of investment and trillions of searches have ensured that Google is one of the most sophisticated machine learning tools currently known to man. Yet, despite all of this, it can be next to useless without the application of human intelligence, and this is often where non-specialists fall down.

“For a traditional media buying agency, particularly one whose focus is predominantly traditional or social media advertising, a need to reduce spend like the one requested by Porthaven would simply lead to exactly that – a spending cap on that channel. If we refer back to the plane analogy, however, if a plane originally bound for Milan was re-routed to Paris, you wouldn’t expect the ground crew simply to reduce the amount of fuel. A whole new route needs to be developed and optimized to ensure the safest and most efficient way of reaching the new destination. The same is true of PPC, but it is often overlooked by generalists. With significant savings needed and a new destination set for the now much-larger Porthaven, we needed a new route map.”

Optimizing spend and increasing inquiries

Fortunately for McGuire and Wild, years of search data and analysis meant they were not flying blind.

McGuire says: “Care home audiences tend to be quite diverse. The key variables are who is searching (whether a family member or potential resident), where they are searching from, what they’re searching for and what device they’re using to conduct their search.

“A family member in central London searching for a care home in Derbyshire is unlikely to respond to a resident-focused ad on a care home in Tonbridge. Analysis of extensive PPC reports and analytics accrued over several years revealed that 50% of the total traffic was from tablets, yet the most engaged traffic came from mobile devices. Research also identified which campaigns delivered the traffic that engaged with the website for longer and were most responsive in terms of page views and numerous other factors.

“Based on our research, we were able to expand the campaigns to allow for granular targeting from both a budget and bidding perspective, per care home. This ensured maximum relevance and visitor engagement. Using a blend of responsive, expanded text and display ads comprised of the graphics and copy that we had ascertained worked best, we were able to increase inquiries while reducing spend.

“The use of display was central to the multi-touchpoint experience from a remarketing perspective. Targeting in-market prospects who were searching for care homes and/or had visited competitor sites via their geographical location gave us an extra dimension, without requiring a significant increase in spend thanks to the Google Display Network’s cost-competitiveness.”

Increasing engagement on the site

To further support and increase lead engagement on the Porthaven site, Wild from the Iconic brand agency oversaw the integration of an industry specialist live chat on to the site. This was a particular challenge in such a sensitive sector.

Wild adds: “Deciding whether or not to move into a home or relocate a family member to one is, by its nature, an emotionally-charged decision with a number of serious considerations. We understood that anyone looking to make that decision would need to speak to someone in person or over the phone, but in the first instance we wanted to make it as easy as possible to find what they needed with maximum speed and efficiency.

“For many, this would be the first point of contact they had with Porthaven, so we had to ensure that it was reflective of the care homes’ high standards of customer service and its five-star offering. The language and tone of voice needed to mirror the daily interactions with current and prospective residents as well as their families at the homes themselves.

“Simply adding a chatbot was not an option that we considered, given the tactile and sensitive approach needed. Even so, we needed the type of functionality that a chatbot would provide in enabling visitors to quickly and effectively get the information they need within the site, providing more time to review some of the premium services, including in-house chefs and cinemas that Porthaven has become known for. Our solution is a care home-specific live chat facility where potential residents and their families can chat to real people and get the answers they need for any additional inquiries. The result has been an increase in dwell time on the site, which in turn has helped to increase inquiries.”

The results

The combination of a highly-intuitive PPC campaign strategy, coupled with a facilitating industry specific live chat, allowed Gez and Julia to achieve:

  1. A combined increase of 20.83% in sales inquiries from Sept 2019-Feb 2021

  2. An overall reduction of 38.7% in cost per inquiry over this 18-month period

  3. Over 23,000 in-bound calls delivered across 17 care homes in 2020

More importantly, however, the campaign enabled thousands of families to discover and engage with a quality care home provider during an incredibly stressful time. Porthaven did not know exactly how testing the year ahead was going to be but it proved to be a pivotal moment, helping the care home provider to reduce spend while increasing inquiries in the context of a pandemic.

The Porthaven campaign has also been shortlisted for the best paid search category of the Performance Marketing Awards under the title MCG Digital Media: Providing the care home industry a welcome boost in 2020.

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