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Blakeford CEO Speaks About Innovation in Senior Living

This article was originally published on The Business Journals under the name Trends in senior living: The importance of innovation  You can view the original article here.

In an age where people (and their perceived needs) move quickly and trends move even quicker, it’s easy to feel like you’re always one step behind. I find that this perpetual race often leads to “trend fatigue,” where you feel like you’ll never catch up to your competitors or your consumers.

However, these times of steady change also present infinite windows for innovation, brand differentiation and growth.

Steve Jobs is often quoted as saying, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” As a business leader, I have found this to be proven true time and time again. I have used this lens to consider the new generation entering the senior living space with raised expectations of hospitality, amenities and overall quality.

While these changes in wants and needs may be daunting, embracing change as an opportunity and preparing your business for the future are necessary for long-term success. In my experience, tracking industry trends, having a clear vision of what makes your brand unique and measuring the impact of new investments can provide your organization with immense possibilities and position it as a strong contender against competitors.

Three ways to prioritize innovation

1. Track industry trends.

One way to ensure your business prioritizes innovation is by tracking the trends occupying your industry at any moment. There are numerous ways to get informed and involved in every field. As head of a company in the senior living industry, I follow LeadingAge’s newsletters and participate on their Tennessee board, share ideas with Novare daily and regularly connect with other industry professionals and publications.

By connecting with others in the industry across these platforms, our team can discern what trends we believe will expand over the next year — these range across many topics, from dining and fitness to technology and wellness.

For example, I believe there will be a spike in the need for IT, prompted partly by the use of technology by facilities and the desire for technological understanding and training among seniors. Additionally, I foresee a more widespread venture into holistic wellness — something my company believes in and invests in consistently. This entails communities prioritizing community members’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and treating all areas as part of one cohesive care plan.

These trending topics are crucial for us to reflect on, as these are areas where our competitors and consumers also spend considerable time and thought. By monitoring trends such as these, Blakeford has been able to implement several innovative projects that have bettered the lives of our community members and kept us competitive, such as adding wellness centers, concierge service and Blakeford University courses, and upgrading dining facilities and therapy programs.

While it is vital to monitor trends happening in your region and across the country, it is equally essential to distinguish which trends are worth integrating into your business.

2. Consider your brand vision.

Understanding that some trends and areas of innovation are not suitable to your business, customer base or region is a critical first step in discerning what changes are worth the time, money and resources.

At some point over my 20 years in the industry, I began to understand that you’re moving backward if you don’t innovate and evolve. The next step for me was determining what was worth the risk and the resource allocation.

As a rule of thumb, I look at all business-oriented innovation from an ROI standpoint. When a new product or offering is of interest, I work with my trusted advisors to review the market research, determine its associated risks and costs and calculate the revenue it could generate. We discuss and assess our options and occasionally employ surveys within our community. From here, we can make an informed decision as to whether an innovative idea is worth the resources.

Innovation is often a “high risk, high reward” endeavor, so it’s important to think through every scenario and determine whether your business could recover if a new project fails. However, if there is a clear void to fill backed by demand and a good plan, you cannot risk missing the opportunity to innovate.

Consider Blockbuster. Arguably one of the most recognizable brands of the ‘90s and early 2000s, in 2000, Blockbuster decided against purchasing Netflix. Over the next several years, while brands such as Netflix and Redbox invested in changing with the times, Blockbuster found itself stuck in its old ways. Today, Netflix is a household staple, and Blockbuster is remembered for what it once was.

You can’t chase a new trend every week. However, evaluating which developments align with your brand’s values and pursuing the ones with a high ROI will propel your business forward.

3. Measure the impact.

Once you have recognized which trends are worth integrating, you must develop ways to monitor the milestones of the project and determine its impact.

The method for this depends on your industry and business. A few examples include developing key performance indicators (KPIs), tracking employee and consumer response, watching new lead development and evaluating profit margins.

At Blakeford, we focus on quantitative tools that measure the impact of a specific action on our sales and referral funnels. This is translated to the impact on occupancy revenue versus the required investment. Other decisions are more qualitative in nature, and we solicit customer feedback to measure the impact on overall customer satisfaction in those instances.

Final thoughts

Whether you are experiencing trend fatigue and feel like your business is always one step behind or you’re on your innovation A-game, it’s crucial that you continue to develop your business and evolve alongside your customer base and competitors.

To stand out as an innovator in your industry, do your due diligence, focus on trends that align with your organization and employ tactics to evaluate whether your changes are successful.