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Oct. 28, 2013

MHN Interview: Marketing to Millennials

Alexis Vance thumbnailBy Leah Etling, Contributing Editor

Alexis Vance wants to get inside the minds of the Millennials.

So the vice president of marketing for Alliance Residential Co. and her team completed an in-depth demographic analysis that revealed not just facts, but helpful nuance, about the country’s newest powerful renting and spending cohort.

With a nationwide portfolio that touches 24 major metro markets, Vance knows that going beyond the surface to understand Millennials, who seem to appear in every other news story on demographics these days.

While there is some definitional discrepancy about the exact range of the Millennials’ birth years, they are essentially in their early 20s to mid-30s today. Many moved back in with their parents during or after college due to a tough job market, but as the economy has improved, they are expected to account for formation of up to 3 million new households.

They’re an important new consumer base for apartment owners and managers, and some of their unique behavior patterns—including reliance on technology and social media to accomplish almost any task—have made them the subject of focused marketing studies like Vance’s.

“I do believe our industry needs to do its homework to truly understand this complex demographic. We need to shift marketing and communication habits significantly in order to effectively market to and resonate with this highly media-savvy generation,” Vance said.

MHN: Could you define: experiential marketing, social responsibility and incentive to share as they are relevant to the multifamily leasing and living experience?

Vance: Experiential marketing goes beyond a basic tagline, brand or event. The effort is comprehensive and engages the prospect in a way that allows them to participate with the brand. Because this demographic is skeptical of traditional advertising channels, experiential marketing is an excellent way to create conversation and develop rapport through non-traditional marketing methods.

Social responsibility simply refers to Gen Y’s drive to give back and positively impact their communities. This demo sees value in brands that also support this concept. In our industry, there are a number of ways to demonstrate how we are socially responsible—for example, a community may decide to plant a tree for every electronic application that is received.

Incentive to share is pretty much just as it sounds—providing a reason for residents and prospects to want to tell others out our brand and share our marketing message/their experience with it.

MHN: How is Alliance using this insight to develop its marketing plans?

Vance: We begin every campaign, promotion, brand, etc., by digging into the demographic; not only age and income, but really diving into consumer habits, trends, likes, dislikes and more. From there, our goal is to shape the marketing message, media channels and overall tactics in a way that will inspire our target audience to take action (call, visit and ultimately lease with us).

This group’s demand for personalization and immediate interaction does create a challenge our industry hasn’t tackled to this degree before.

As an example, Gen Y highly values experiences (and they want to tell everyone about it!). For a new lease-up, I’d look at tactics that allow the prospect to participate in the building process and provide them with unique experiences they will want to share, then craft our messaging around this concept.

Hyper-local tactics are also extremely effective with this group. Consider ways you can partner with local businesses to even further connect with the neighborhood, to include a highly targeted marketing message, event and/or social campaign—this heightens and expands the sense of community and belonging, which is key.

MHN: We know Millennials like to rent, and it’s a conscious choice they are making. But what are the top three or five factors that really make renting so attractive to this generation?

Vance: Contrary to previous generations, this group will change careers three to five times throughout their lifetime (not just job changes) and apartment living provides the flexibility this group is looking for. Although we still see Gen Y purchasing homes, uncertainty in the economy has impacted buying habits for this generation. Similarly, this group tends to gravitate toward urban centers, where there are many options for apartments and many are in areas this generation may not be able to afford to live in if purchasing a home.

MHN: Millennials seem poised to be huge influencers of our society—they’ll be 27 percent of the U.S. population by 2015. How do you think they’ll change us as a nation?

Vance: This group is absolutely going to make (and leave) their mark. Although this generation can be perceived as self-absorbed and highly demanding, there is much we can learn from them as well, such as their focused expectation to achieve a work/life balance, the desire for flexibility in all areas of their life and the time to step back and enjoy their experiences, as well as a drive to give back and think of the greater good. Gen Y is the true definition of a multi-tasker—as marketers, we need to be on top of our game because, let’s face it, we often have 140 characters or less to get the word out.

MHN: Some very small cities, including Boulder, Colo; Santa Barbara, Calif; and Trenton, N.J., made the list of places best accommodating Millennials. Do you think bigger cities have to worry about 20-somethings departing for smaller urban locales?

Vance: I don’t believe so. We interpreted this to mean that there are general preferences to live in cities that provide a unique experience, allow the Millennial to stand out in a crowd, and provide transportation and other amenities that fit their lifestyle. I believe big cities continue to be a draw for this demographic, however small urban locales are also now of interest if they deliver key lifestyle attributes that are important to this demo.

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