5 Strategies Multifamily Marketers Can Borrow From Hospitality

From branding strategies to amazing amenities, multifamily can learn a lot from hotels and restaurants.

Adopting the right marketing strategies can be critical to the success of your business—and no industry understands this more than hospitality, which has evolved rapidly to meet the demands of changing demographics, our increased reliance on technology and perhaps the most challenging two years in the industry’s history.

Due to the synergies between multifamily and hospitality, apartment owners and operators can benefit by borrowing on these successful marketing strategies.

Here are five marketing strategies used by the hospitality industry that you can adopt to better market your rental properties.

Leveraging Technology

Remember calling a travel agent to book a hotel stay? That’s no longer necessary, of course, because hotel guests today can not only get information and reserve a room online, they can also check in and access that room via technology. You can offer prospective renters the same seamless experience today by having a well-designed website with plenty of high-quality photos of apartments and amenities, as well as leasing information, virtual tours and the ability to submit a rental application online.

“As a prospective renter, I want immediate answers,” said Tom Sloan, president of Windsor Property Management in Boston. “AI and chatbot technology allow that person to make progress in their transaction even if the leasing office isn’t open. That’s the spirit of a hotel reservation department that we’ve adopted.”

Waterline Square, a luxury apartment building in New York City managed by Windsor Property Management, offers a concierge in its elegant resident lobby. Image by Evan Joseph

Branding Your Properties

Branding is a powerful marketing tool. If done correctly, it creates an expectation in the mind of the prospective customer of quality or service. You can stay in a generic hotel or you can stay at a Ritz-Carlton. Which would you prefer?

More and more apartment owners are branding their communities so prospects understand the level of service and quality they will get even before they take their first step onto a property.

“The power of brands is undeniable,” said Diego Bufquin, Ph.D., an associate professor at Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando. “When you’re trying to sell rooms as an independent hotelier whose brand is unknown, it’s hard. However, if you’re selling rooms under a strong brand like Hilton, it’s easier.”

Bonaventure, a development and management firm based in Alexandria, Va., recently rolled out a “flag” for the firm’s luxury communities. “We’re trying to build brand equity in the consumer’s mind, like Hilton and Marriott with their various flags,” said Dwight Dunton III, Bonaventure’s founder & CEO. Bonaventure’s brand name Attain is now used at the company’s Class A communities.

Windsor Communities is also branding its properties, using names such as “The Victor by Windsor” in Boston or “Allure by Windsor” in Boca Raton, Fla. “We’re a national company, and we want our customers’ expectations to be the same,” Sloan said. “We have a high expectation of quality, similar to the curb-appeal expectations of a hotel.”

Creating Loyalty Programs

The May 2022 event calendar for ARC, a 428-unit luxury rental community in Long Island City, N.Y., owned by Lightstone. The building’s lifestyle team hosts events and programs to integrate elements of hospitality into its amenity spaces in order to engage residents and foster a sense of community. Image courtesy of Lightstone

Hilton Honors. Marriott Bonvoy Rewards. World of Hyatt.

All are hotel loyalty programs designed to encourage repeat visits and create strong relationships with guests. Apartment owners and operators can adopt a similar strategy.

Windsor recently introduced a loyalty rewards program that has been popular with its renters. “A number of large institutional owners have partnered with a company called Bilt Rewards, which is essentially a loyalty program that allows our residents to pay rent via credit card without a fee,” Sloan said. Users earn points on their rent payments that they can redeem on travel, fitness classes or even on their next month’s rent.

“We feel like it’s a substantial value for our residents, a lot of whom are young people,” Sloan said.

Harnessing the Power of Email Marketing

Keep your apartment community top of mind by reaching out to prospects by email on a regular basis. Most apartment operators capture potential renters’ email addresses early in the leasing process—often when they visit the community’s website for the first time. Consider implementing an email marketing program, where you notify future residents of the availability of apartments, new programming and classes, and improvements to a community.

“That’s a strategy hotels use,” said Bufquin. “Have a strong database of existing and prospective customers you could target by sending frequent emails about your properties.”

Providing the Utmost in Customer Service

Clearly, customer service is the cornerstone of a successful hospitality business—and the same goes for the multifamily industry, whether that means having concierge service to meet the needs of your residents, an extensive amenity package or facilities that are sparkling clean.

And it all starts with your staff.

“Training is an important part of the service culture to deliver the best possible service to your customers,” said Bufquin, who added that employees of the Ritz-Carlton are trained monthly—and cross-trained to handle tasks other than their own.

Cleanliness of residences and amenities has always been important, but the pandemic has made sanitation even more important to prospective renters. “We pay hyper-attention to cleanliness,” said Lisa Gunderson, vice president of asset management for Bristol Development Group in Franklin, Tenn. The company recently deployed a robotic vacuum called Whiz in its communities that’s commonly used in hospitality spaces.

Bonaventure, a development and management firm based in Alexandria, Va., recently rolled out a “flag” for the firm’s luxury communities. Bonaventure’s brand name, Attain, is now used at the company’s Class A communities, such as this one, Attain Downtown, located in Norfolk, Va. Image courtesy of Bonaventure, Attain Downtown

Concierge services, increasingly more common in luxury apartment communities, were borrowed directly from the hospitality industry. Whether it’s making reservations, handling package delivery or arranging for a babysitter, it’s all about raising the level of service for existing and prospective residents.

Amenities are a key differentiator for apartment communities. Bristol’s Lyric at Norton Commons, in Louisville, Ky., boasts a suite of amenities that are resort-level quality. They include a heated saltwater pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center with Technogym equipment and even a pet spa. Amenities are open 24/7 because “people are paying a lot of money for a resort-like experience,” Gunderson said.

Many apartment operators offer programming and events to enhance the amenities.

“In our rental communities, we have a lifestyle director and team, and they are constantly creating activations and a sense of community,” said Scott Avram, senior vice president of development for Lightstone, which has a portfolio of 23,000 multifamily units and 4,300 hotel keys.

At the firm’s ARC community in Long Island City, N.Y., and 365 Bond, in Brooklyn, staff integrate elements of hospitality into the amenity spaces. “A lot of the activities we’ve done in our hotels have proven successful, so we’ll take a variation of that and do something similar in our residential platforms,” Avram said. The company has hosted pop-up events such as comedy shows, mixology classes and musicians at its apartment properties.

Northbrook, Ill.-based MZ Capital Partners, which operates 2,500 units, tries to replicate the experience of luxury hotels in its community amenities, with resort-style pools, high-end furniture, group yoga classes and pricey exercise equipment such as Peloton. These strategies not only help retain existing residents but also lock in new ones.

“I know for certain these techniques work because of comments on the guest cards when people take tours,” said Michael Zaransky, the company’s managing principal. “We show them the amenities and stress our responsiveness on tours with prospective tenants; people see it when they lease from us and then want to renew and stay.”

Read the July 2022 issue of MHN.

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