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July 5, 2006
Identify Your Market for Effective Use of Messaging and Media

May 31, 2006
3-Ms for Success: Message, Market, Media

May 10, 2006
Marketing Your Services Means Covering All the Bases

March 29, 2006
Selling Value Over Price Is Worth Every Effort

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Posted: December 22, 2004

Professional Caregiving

Buyer Beware: Advertising to the Subconscious

I recently saw a very interesting public television program on the power of language in marketing. The program was entitled The Persuaders, and the timing was perfect as so much of the pre-election rhetoric was about the enormous impact of language used in messages sent over the airwaves, print media and Internet, less so the content of the message itself.

Advertisers are placing a lot of emphasis on the neurological triggers stimulated by certain words and images that greatly influence our choices. In caregiving, we need to help our current and future customers understand this phenomenon.

Clotaire Rapaille, one of the famed advertising gurus of our times, helps Fortune 500 companies find the ?unconscious associations? -- or ?code? -- for their products and services. This code, he believes, will help sell the product, but through a primal urge, not on a rational or even emotional level. Whether purchasing new gadgets, cars or care for older adults, the message is often intended to trigger a reaction that has subconscious persuasive influences. He goes on to say that there is a first time when you hear a particular word in your life, and the connotation you make with that word then stays with you on a subconscious level throughout your life. He calls this our mental highway.

This premise is important for all of us to be aware of -- in aging, certainly -- where the marketing of new products and services has enormous impact on the choices our clients or relatives will make for the last years of their lives. To a certain extent, the brouhaha I wrote about recently, that assisted living consumers have fallen victim to this messaging confusion, gets to my point. A sexy new name sounds more attractive than the older institutional care environment (residential care, board and care, skilled nursing care facility), yet a name does not a facility make.

The term ?assisted living? has a gentler connotation, more palatable to many and for this reason it has been co-opted by numerous care models along the continuum of care. It may even draw some to consider purchasing the product without realizing that the name, or slogan, or image triggered a response in us that we were not aware of and was based less in reasoning than gut reaction.

The message communicated, in fact, led the consumer to believe more than it could offer. As I shared in a previous column, in Missouri we developed recommendations for assisted living regulations because a number of residential care providers began using the label assisted living and confused everyone. If this is ?assisted living,? then how is this other care center also ?assisted living? when the philosophies of care, range of services, and oversight issues are so different?

This, then, in our state as in many others, spurred the need to define very clearly what the model represented so consumers were not thinking one thing and buying another. But this advertising conundrum affects all the services and products we are being inundated with, including prescription drugs. Take a look at the images sold to you when you watch an ad for Viagra or Cialis.

Well, after listening to the marketing experts talk about the power of language, I want to know that our industry is using messaging for clarity, not to confound the customer into thinking they are buying something that they are not. Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, feels branding should bring a greater sense of community. While brands are filling needs, they may not be filling it well. She states that branding gives a false sense of satisfaction, equating buying a certain product for the image, or the dream associated with that product, but when you get home, you may have the object, but your need behind the branding, in fact, was not met. ?They?re not actually going to fulfill those needs, which serve them very well because, of course, that means you have to go shopping again to try to fill them,? Klein says.

In caregiving, this is accented by the fact that there are ethical decisions tied up in the way we sell services to our customers, such that, clear up front disclosure tells more about us than it does about the product.

Do our facilities and services clearly define the parameters of service, eligibility and range of care? Do we hear from our families that ?had they known x,y,z, they would not have made the choice at the front end to purchase the product?? Were we as clear as we could have been when promoting our services?

The rules of ethics tell us to be straightforward, honest and clear with the selling message. A confused buyer can become an angry customer who feels their trust was betrayed along with their pocketbook. If what has been sold cannot stand up to its advertised message, the seller has betrayed the confidence of their patron and will suffer not only the bad PR from unhappy customers, but will bring the industry into greater scrutiny as well.

As consumers we need to beware and look more deeply than the gimmick, logo or tag lines, and as service and care providers, we owe our customers the integrity in our messaging while reminding them that sales pitches have evolved into messaging that can seduce us into purchases we may not want or need.


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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