- Meet Hollie Walker, Vice President of Marketing at Arrow Senior Living Management
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Meet Hollie Walker, Vice President of Marketing at Arrow Senior Living Management
Hollie Walker is a widely respected thought leader in Senior Living marketing. Her diverse career has spanned multiple industries and includes roles at Nestlé and Yves Rocher where she built and launched global brands, products and services from the ground up. Hollie’s training in chemistry has provided her with a hands-on ability to merge analytics and creativity to create a formula for highly effective marketing strategies.
In a wide-ranging interview, Canopy’s Kayla Bravo spoke with Hollie about her purpose-driven approach to maintaining brand integrity during challenging times and some of the ways digital marketing is directly transforming the Senior Living industry.
KB: Talk about a versatile career! What motivated you to branch out into senior living and what do you find most gratifying about your role as Vice President of Marketing at Arrow Senior Living?
HW: My passion for improving the lives of women began during college at a beauty counter. I saw how small acts of kindness like doing someone’s makeup can transform a person’s outlook on themselves and make their day better.
During COVID, the Senior Living Industry was being hit hard and I reached out to Arrow’s Chief Operating Officer, Amanda Tweten to see if she needed help. It turned out she needed marketing support, and my journey helping seniors live better lives started. I am so grateful to learn new ways to market and capture the attention of women and seniors. When they start working with us at Arrow to find a new home, I know we are making their day better and even improving their lives.
KB: Did you have any fears transitioning into Senior Living?
HW: No, because I had already faced that journey of transition from something so different, shifting from cosmetics into infant nutrition. What made it easy was that in any job you need to know your customer and that’s what marketing is.
KB: Arrow’s impressive multi-state portfolio oversees more than twenty brands spanning Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care. How do you balance the need to differentiate a community’s brand voice, so it complements Arrow’s core mission and values?
HW: About three months into my time at Arrow Senior Living, I noticed that the core values given to me on my first day and listed on our website are the foundation to a good life and how Arrow stands out from other organizations. The first thing you read on Arrow’s website https://arrowseniorliving.com is “I believe acts of kindness can drive change in the world.” When you build a community on kindness, fairness, dignity, transparency, trust, and laughter it is a strong foundation to build on for marketing. Arrow’s core values make us unique in the industry and differentiates us from our competitors. I also see those core values in the communities and in our leadership. Stephanie Harris and Amanda Tweten [the CEO and the COO respectively] are always hoping to improve the lives of seniors and they’re doing it following these values, which come up every day so it’s super authentic and I love that.
KB: How would you describe the process of developing and marketing a successful Senior Living community from vision to outcome?
HW: I have been lucky to move around throughout my career and I’ve noticed wherever I call home – Houston, Evansville or Madison – that I have an intense pride for my town and my community. Ryan Frederick in Right Place, Right Time says, “The place where you live has the power to elevate your personal wellbeing because the environment that surrounds you has an impact on your health and happiness.”
Our goal in marketing is to “win locally” and be the “most joyful” place in town to live. To do this we need a strong local digital presence, a targeted list of influencers (adult children) and customers (prospective residents), and brand awareness that is strong enough to make Arrow the top choice. I have a small team and we rely on agency partners to help us build a best-in-class program that inspires more people to contact our communities.
KB: What do you find most exciting about the impact digital innovation is having on the ability for marketers to reach and connect with their audiences in a meaningful way?
HW: One outcome of COVID is that it pushed everyone to use their mobile phone to survive. I recently learned that more than 80% of the orders made at a local smoothie shop are done on the restaurant’s app. We’ve learned that it is faster and easier to use our phones. This is so helpful for a “win local” strategy. We have an ability to deliver our message right where and when our customer is open to seeing a message.
So much comes down to testing and experimentation. For example, we’ve been in the process of developing a new set of fantastic ‘small and mighty’ ads. We ended up launching one third of them with the same budget we’d typically allocate, and they ended up performing with a far higher than anticipated engagement rate, and at no point did our existing campaign slow down.
I had a conversation with Stephanie Harris, where she mentioned that “digital is where you need to test. Digital is the opportunity to try things that you wouldn’t ordinarily try because the cost is relatively low, you’re not spending $6,000 on direct mail in this instance.”
We’ve tested different ads over the last six months and realized that within one week we’ll know if a campaign is performing better or worse because we can now compare data from the previous months. And that’s why working in the marketing field requires that a person be reactive to what’s happening in the communities and be smart regarding their next move. (Ability to build proactive strategies but also having your finger on the pulse to know when to respond and pivot)
KB: According to the 2022 CMO Survey, digital marketing budgets now account for 57.1% of marketing budgets and are expected to grow by 16.2% this year alone. However, investments in data analytics grew by nearly 40% over the last year and are now the most common investment by marketers. What’s your perspective on how to manage data to tell a clear story?
HW: Our north star is the number of qualified customers (leads/prospects) marketing sends to the communities. We look to the past to show how our marketing campaigns have performed and can see in a three-month and twelve-month trend what works best for each community.
Dashboards which compare impressions, clicks, traffic, and conversions help us make creative decisions, but seeing how digital has impacted tours and move-ins over time has caused us to invest more in this channel.
KB: It seems like a lot of younger people are entering the Senior Living world across a wide range of career paths, including marketing. What advice would you give to a recent college grad who is new to senior living?
HW: I am lucky to have two college graduates on my team working as freelance marketing consultants. I tell them that Senior Living marketing is a great place to get a strong foundation in marketing. Just the fact that we have almost thirty communities to fill gives them a great playground to test their ideas. We really do value/utilize their expertise and creativity. We are leveraging digital, print, and face-to-face marketing at every location. You get great experiences fast. Having your first job out of college get such a diverse scope in skill-building and making a meaningful difference in someone’s life is a win in my book.
I think it’s also important that when you’re thinking about your career you know what things you want and like. For example, I was a chemist and worked in a laboratory, but I talk way too much and I’m super messy, neither of which work well in a laboratory setting. I was constantly trying to talk to everyone around me and my lab bench was a mess, so someone suggested I go into marketing and product development. I really think that the world is at your fingertips if you know what you like and can communicate what you’re interested in.
Marketing allows you to work in many ways because you’re dealing so closely with people and the decisions they make. You can conduct interviews, develop research, create a print campaign and so much more.
Networking is so important. You should meet people and you should keep track of them, and you should develop relationships over the long term because people can help grow your career.
KB: Who came up with the idea of creating an Arrow Senior Living branded online store? The “Flu-Fighters” t-shirt is great!
HW: Our COO, Amanda Tweten is by far one of the most creative people I have ever met. She loves a great t-shirt and really lives by the Arrow core value, “I believe in the power of a chuckle.” She is constantly creating traditions and events where matching t-shirts bring the sense of community together fast. Once you have a library of t-shirts the next step is to have an online store. I know I couldn’t wait to get another Arrow Strong shirt in black. I love that I can wear a t-shirt to work that’s so fun and promotes a job that is so cool.