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Aug. 7, 2014

Strategies for Success

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor

As always, the Apartment Internet Marketing (AIM) Conference this past May served up two and a half days of constructive insights into Internet marketing, advertising and branding, lead tracking, social media, web technology and applications, mobile platforms, online leasing and resident retention.

For those not able to attend, or AIM attendees who would like a quick refresher, we present a handful of the critical takeaways from the yearly event.

Reputation management and more

A panel titled “Digital Doomsday Scenarios: Marketing Out of Your Control,” spotlighted the biggest online threats to the industry, and examined the issues of net neutrality, reputation management and Internet security. Among the trio of presenters appearing on that panel was Jill McNiesh, social media and reputation manager for Folsom, Calif.-based FPI Management, a completely fee-based management company that manages 450 apartment communities and about 70,000 units across a dozen states.

Net neutrality is the notion that Internet service providers can determine upload and download speeds based on how much is spent. A larger apartment community could spend more with a given provider and get a faster-performing website, and gain a clear advantage. “That’s a concern,” McNiesh says. “The way around that is by optimization on the server side with web images, java scripts and removing any unused or unnecessary plug-ins or tags.”

The panel also examined reputation management, particularly how property management companies should respond when reviews go terribly wrong. “Reviews are all over the Internet now, no matter the product or service,” McNiesh says. “We talked about embracing reviews, not hiding from them. For instance, at a Seattle restaurant, the head chef responds to reviews with YouTube videos. It’s a new way of responding. It’s adding that personal touch, so you’re not just a name, you’re a face. It’s personalizing and humanizing it.”

A final issue addressed by the panel was Internet security. Panelists noted that hackers succeed because their targets become complacent. According to a Fortune.CNN.com study, 97 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have been hacked, McNiesh reports. “The way to avoid hacking is to avoid viruses and phishing scams by creating good passwords and changing those passwords when we terminate employees,” she advises.

“It doesn’t have to be terrifying if you’re aware of what’s going on around you, and you educate and arm yourselves with some good tools to use to overcome challenges that will be presented to you. These are things that will happen to all of us in property management eventually.”

Lead conversion and management 

Arthur Kosmider appeared on the AIM panel headlined “Score: Assigning Lead Value and Motivating On-Site Conversions.” Kosmider joined TGM Communities in March 2012 to assist on the customer service and marketing front, overseeing marketing, branding, public relations, signage and communications. He moved to New York City-based CompassRock Real Estate in June 2014 as director of marketing for Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, where he is using similar processes and procedures.

“I’m a big fan of data-driven initiatives, and I see our industry still needs a lot of work in how we capture and use data,” he says. “Leasing associates should be following up on every lead at least twice with phone calls, emails or both. But nobody really knows how to track it back into data.”
By following up on leads, property management boosts conversion rates and data transparency, he says. Focus must be placed on actual conversion, to ensure already-existing traffic is being leveraged to the maximum extent.

The advantage of a data platform is it allows benchmarking and quantifying of marketing initiatives. “We all wish we had huge budgets, but that’s not the case,” Kosmider says. “Having your initiatives organized around actual numbers makes it easier for you to understand where you’re heading.”

Adressing the attendees, Kosmider gave examples from his own experience. At TGM Communities, his team expected agents to follow up and record actions taken. When that took place, conversions soared. Benchmarking permitted the team to identify where additional attention was necessary.

“The recipe for success is establishing the data platform, and building an entire training culture around it,” Kosmider says.

“Everyone knows what the expectations are, and everyone has the tools, such as workshops, to be able to follow through. It’s a holistic approach that involves not only collecting data but also making sure you’re utilizing it, understanding it and making actionable decisions based on it.”

Integrated marketing campaigns

The AIM session “You Can Do It: Empowering Consumers Via Integrated Marketing Campaigns” cast a spotlight upon consistent brand messaging and evoking participation among clientele. One of the panelists, Dana G. Pate, marketing director of Atlanta-based Matrix Residential, reports the purpose of any marketing campaign is to inspire action. That action can be a phone call, an email, a tour of the community or application to lease.

“As multifamily marketers, we often look outside the industry to inspire us,” Pate says. “Our session focused on select national brands that have mastered the art of creating and maintaining brand ambassadors, and how our own companies have applied those strategies with real-world examples.”

Among the national brands highlighted was GoPro, the video camera maker that uses experiences to communicate its value. GoPro’s customers define what the experiences will be. As a result, the company has successfully leveraged its own consumers by way of video to publicly advocate on its behalf.

“In studying GoPro’s IMC strategy, we as a company were inspired to take that concept and apply it to the multifamily industry,” Pate says. “A core competency at Matrix Residential is our ability to establish brand recognition at our communities prior to doors ever opening for first move-ins. Creating positive buzz in the neighborhood is critical. No one ever likes change, especially when the change may mean a four-story mid-rise apartment development next door.”

To better manage and measure the results of this campaign, Matrix Residential initially focused on one community in rolling out what it called its “GoPro Strategy.” BOHO4W in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward was a clear choice, given the forward-thinking ownership, dynamic neighborhood and need to differentiate from the several new competitors within walking distance.

Matrix Residential started by selecting 10 restaurants, retailers and associations that were geographically close to BOHO4W and held strong social influence. That influence might have been quantifiable in the number of Facebook likes, Twitter followers or YouTube views, for instance.

Those businesses were featured in the “BOHO4W Presents: Meet the Neighbors” video series highlighting the neighborhood, rather than the property. Given the company’s research, Pate and colleagues estimated a potential reach of almost 50,000 end users. By the end of the campaign, a total of 15 videos were released as teasers leading up to the property’s grand opening. “To date, we have over 5,000 views on our YouTube channel, and have seen an increase in web traffic and time spent on our website rise 80 percent,” Pate says.

The neighborhood-centric content resulted in BOHO4W empowering its consumers to participate in the brand. “They shared our content, recommended new businesses to feature and established brand ambassadorship,” Pate says. “They defined what our community stood for, and what it could add to their lives.”

The end result, she adds, was a more successful lease-up experience. Vis-à-vis other properties in the submarket, BOHO4W saw a dramatic surge in overall traffic and online applications during the pre-leasing phase. More than 40 leases had been generated prior to the first delivery of units, Pate says.

“The concept of empowering your consumer is simple in theory, but is often complicated when put into motion,” she concludes. “Looking outside the multifamily industry may spark inspiration, providing proven strategies that take not all but some of the risk out of the equation. The name of the game is to deliver cost-effective, measurable and interactive content that plays into the subconscious of today’s renter. And when you master that strategy, multiply it across your portfolio for even better results.”

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