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Be market ready or be left behind

From banking to private health, tertiary education, utilities, telecommunications and superannuation, over the last few decades Australia has seen the deregulation of whole sectors. Through these major changes, we have seen consolidation and a state of flux as sector participants struggle to make sense of new market challenges.

One of the last sectors to be deregulated, the aged care sector, is beginning to shift its focus from business to government (B2G) and business to business (B2B), to business to consumer (B2C).

Lessons learned

Much can be learned from the mistakes and successes of organisations that survived sector deregulation before us. Those that have stood the test of time have recognised the need to rethink their approach and make whole of business changes.

They have undertaken market modelling, rather than setting unrealistic targets. They have understood the need for progressive business planning and to be agile in order to better respond to emerging market opportunities, rather than ‘set and forget’. They have moved from a focus on operations at the centre, to the customer and prospective customer at the centre. They have become commercially savvy without losing their values. They have brought in new capabilities such as market insights, digital, person-centred service design, sales and more, to better understand their market and strengthen their offering.

The new aged care paradigm

Now, it is our turn. Until now, every aspect of the aged care provider business such as structure, funding, IT and resourcing has been focused on serving the government and the industry. Our questions have been: How do we secure funding from government? How do we secure referrals from health professionals? How do we ensure we’re well positioned with peak and industry bodies? As with our predecessors, only those businesses who transition their whole of business functions to put the customer and market at the heart of what they do will survive in the new environment, and ultimately be best placed to grow.

To do this in a saturated market with extensive choice for consumers, we need to understand the new paradigm. Previously, the target market was a small but engaged stakeholder pool of around 10,000 participants in government, professional/allied health and peak/industry bodies with funding flowing from these stakeholders to providers. There was a minimal spend on marketing to customers as they were not the target audience. The main marketing tactics were advocacy, stakeholder engagement, PR, industry events and B2B activity.

From 10,000 to 1.7 million

In this new paradigm, the target market is the prospective customer. Now, we ask ourselves: How do we reach the family decision-maker and end-user? How do we persuade them to choose us over our competitors? How can we best understand and respond to their desired outcomes?

In Victoria alone, the new prospect pool comprises around 1.7 million people, i.e. 865,000 potential end-users (Victorians aged 65 and over) and a minimum of one additional person in their life involved in the decision-making process. While the industry stakeholder pool continues to be important, our focus needs to now move to connecting with the future customer. This customer – the end-user and their family decision-makers – is motivated by a completely different set of drivers than the industry pool, requiring a new range of marketing tactics. First, we need to create demand using above the line and below the line brand building, then develop lead generation, i.e. sales campaigns, then employ retention strategies to keep clients and ensure they become our best advocates.

In essence, the industry has gone from consumers queuing for providers to providers queuing for consumers.

Data from the Benetas Customer Centre tells us that 90 per cent of enquiries by phone are coming from a family member or loved one. Of these calls, 80 per cent have already searched for information online before making contact. One-quarter of people influencing aged care choice are aged 18–39, and a further quarter are aged 39–45.

The game of the new paradigm is reaching eyeballs – volume and reach – from the small invested industry pool to a large, busy, disengaged and confused audience, for whom aged care is a reluctant purchase. By reaching the audience through brand connection, supported by smart and considered tactics, providers can start to build the future customer pipeline, secure business growth and, in fact, ensure sustainability by building market share.

Reconciling commerciality with heart

At Benetas, our vision is a positive, fulfilling experience of ageing where everyone has the opportunity to age well in communities of choice and support. To provide this experience, however, we must adapt to the needs and demands of an ageing Australia and a changing sector, and do it in a financially sustainable way to ensure our long-term future. We are being impacted by greater competition and expanded choice, and the sector is becoming more commercial. In a landscape where consumer choice is the new market force and the new business focus is finding, attracting, converting and keeping clients, we need to adopt contemporary professional marketing practice which understands and responds to consumer drivers.

It’s an exciting and challenging time of sector reinvention.

Nicola Reynolds is general manager (customer innovation and marketing) at Benetas.

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