BrightStar Marketing Chief: Old School, McDonald’s-Style Ads No Longer the Gold Standard

In the past year, BrightStar Care has taken on two big marketing challenges: improving brand awareness and increasing online presence. Now, Chief Brand Officer Steve Schildwachter is preparing to tackle new goals in 2019. He’s adapting lessons learned from his past advertising work with McDonald’s and sees the potential in technology, such as augmented reality.

Gurnee, Illinois-based BrightStar is one of the largest franchise-based home care providers in the country, with more than 300 locations and system-wide sales of more than $400 million.

Schildwachter has been with the company since 2015. Since then, he says BrightStar Care has jumped from No. 10 in brand awareness among home care companies to No. 3, according to internal metrics based on bi-annual surveys of 1,400 consumers in the demographic. Additionally, BrightStar launched a new website designed in part to capture client reviews and improve the company’s online presence.

At BrightStar, Schildwachter oversees company marketing and national accounts, as well as the talent management department, which helps equip franchises to recruit and retain caregiving staff, and the clinical quality department, which consists of registered nurses based at BrightStar’s headquarters who work with franchises’ RNs to ensure high quality care.

Schildwachter reflected on the past year and the year ahead in a recent interview with Home Health Care News. Below are some highlights of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

HHCN: Looking back at the past year, what were your biggest marketing challenges and how did you deal with them?

Schildwachter: What we accomplished was not just better brand awareness, but also better online presence, and you have to have both.

The way that we increased brand awareness and the way that we increased online presence was the same: You’ve got to understand how people shop the category. It all comes down to knowing your consumer. Obviously, you have to know your brand story to be able to tell it well. You have to be able to differentiate and present yourself as superior, if you really are. I believe we are. I believe in this brand. 

About a year or so ago, we launched a completely new website. That, in combination with working with our franchisees to make sure we capture all the very positive client feedback that we have and capture it in online reviews, has really improved our online presence a great deal.

Looking ahead to 2019, what general industry marketing trends do you see?

Marketing and customer experience are the same thing now. As a marketer, it’s not possible to just advertise an experience, you have to deliver on it. I need to have a clear line of sight into the caregiving staff, the clinical quality, everything we do on behalf of a client, so then I can represent that most completely and accurately in our marketing materials, whether it be television, online, brochures. Marketing and customer experience to me are the same thing now. 

Many years ago, I was handling advertising for McDonald’s. I was at the agency at the time that was doing all their ads, and we had what was called “reputation advertising.” This was before the advent of the World Wide Web, so McDonald’s would promote its reputation with ads that were very emotional, very heart-warming. You’d have a really positive reaction watching them. That was reputation back then, but now, because people are constantly self-reporting their experiences with brands, that’s your reputation. You can’t just say what you think your reputation is. Your reputation it earned. That’s why I say marketing and customer experience are the same thing now.

Following on that same point, I think [that] AR, augmented reality, can be a powerful marketing tool. You use a piece of technology or a technological tool to simulate or represent an actual experience, so it could be as simple as holding your smartphone up in front of a sign in a public place, and with the help of an app, the sign animates or plays some kind of message. Another thing may be that you’re shopping online for a garment, and there are apps that will help you see what it looks like if you’re wearing it. The key is, in our category, how do you do that to help a client, to improve somebody’s life, which is what we do? How do you help them imagine? That’s a code I’d like to crack. There are brands out there in our category and out of our category who will strike a short term partnership with a company that traffics in augmented reality, and it gets a lot of headlines in the short term, but I’m waiting on someone to deliver on that.

Third, this is going to maybe not sound like a futuristic trend in marketing, but I think it’s something that’s being revealed as just as important as it ever was: having a fundamental point of difference is still critical. There’s a lot of marketing out there, including in this category, that tries to use lifestyle imagery as a proxy for an actual claim or reason why someone should choose your brand, and its still so much more powerful if you have a fundamental point of difference that gives people a tangible reason why they should choose your brand versus another. There’s a lot of good storytelling out there, but storytelling has to have meaning for the consumer. In order to connect the consumer and your brand, there has to be some basis for the connection. 

And what makes BrightStar different from the competition?

One thing is that every one of our locations has an RN acting as a director of nursing. The reason that’s important is because that RN director of nursing oversees every plan of care regardless of the complexity. It could be companion care, it could be personal care, it could be skilled nursing. So there’s some clinical accountability for our caregivers who are going out to people’s homes and doing what needs to be done. 

The second thing that distinguishes us is that every one of our locations earns on its own accreditation from the Joint Commission. 

In pursing your 2019 marketing goals, what industry challenges are you preparing for?

There are two big challenges that spring to mind. One is everybody wants to get at least their fair share of the labor market. I’m confident of our ability to attract potential clients, but we have to work especially hard to make sure we get at least our fair share of caregivers. The labor market is very tight right now. We’re almost at full employment. We have to offer a really great experience for our franchisees employees, just as we do for our clients. So remember that point: marketing and customer experience are the same thing? In this category, customer experience and employee experience are the same thing. 

To add to that, everyone is watching Medicare [Advantage] right now and what’s going to happen with that.

Written by Bailey Bryant

Photo Credit:

  • Steve Schildwachter: Courtesy BrightStar Care
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Bailey Bryant
When she’s not reporting, Bailey likes exploring Chicago for brunch spots and work out classes. Previously, she worked in book and magazine publishing before becoming a tv reporter.

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