People, Proptech and Partnerships: AIM Report

Clearly-defined goals are key, panelists said on the conference's second day.

A discussion between Adrian De Smul, Brianna Bocker, Jacob Kosior, Austin Lo and Dustin Lacey taking place on the second day of AIM. Image by Gabriel Frank

A discussion between Adrian De Smul, Brianna Bocker, Jacob Kosior, Austin Lo and Dustin Lacey taking place on the second day of AIM. Image by Gabriel Frank

Speakers and panelists at the second day of the 2023 Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference underscored the importance of centralization, cooperation and collaboration as keys to success in multifamily marketing, in everything from proptech to recruiting processes.

Panelists emphasized the need for a sense of prioritized balance, to allocate the most time, attention and resources to partners and practices that are in line with the “why” of a firm’s operations, above the “what” and the “how.”

Too much tech?

To make sense of such a deeply saturated, competitive and flashy proptech landscape, the first expert panel of the day discussed strategies for piloting and implementing effective proptech marketing solutions. Dustin Lacey, vice president of marketing at Mark-Taylor Residential, spoke directly to his firm’s experience with co-developing different proptech solutions and how it decides which programs are best to implement. “(Our) existing point solutions meant more staffing of different things. We needed to find an agile partner with the market vision to say that there is more fit for our product.”

For Mark-Taylor, the solution to these problems comes by way of some self-reflection, particularly concerning a property’s asset class, location and renter demographics, all of which inform which marketing technology tools are best to use. “It’s mutually beneficial, because (we) both have the same goal. If you (both) understand it well and partner at the outset, it will be a force multiplier,” Lacey said.

Successful partnerships will involve converging end goals, regardless of a proptech development partner’s size or resources. “You can be surprisingly small, and be a good development partner,” said Brianna Bocker, director of marketing technology at Cortland. “It’s a lot more about the alignment of the vision, and the willingness to commit to an iterative design and rollout process.”

Still, any productive implementation should involve due diligence. Any professional partnership is a considerable investment for a marketing team. “It’s like a hiring decision,” said Adrian De Smul, managing director of Customer Experience at Greystar. “You spend as much time with them as you do with your own team. Are things going well? Are you celebrating successes?”

De Smul emphasized that relationships between development partners should be as important as a company’s actual returns, like increased website traffic and lead conversions. “It’s not about whether each toggle or feature works, it’s about whether the relationship works.”

Centrality and consolidation

On the opposite end of the innovation spectrum, speakers on a later panel discussed centralizing and consolidating the people behind marketing and property management operations. Stéphanie Versin, senior vice president and head of marketing and leasing at Veritas, detailed her firm’s “ecosystem” of structured leasing teams within its properties in the Bay Area. The teams are sectioned into three separately trained roles dedicated to receiving, responding to and transferring inquiries. These all fall under the firm’s own quest to find the best-fitting renters. “Lead management is (only) the first step of centralization. Which leads are coming from which sources?”

READ ALSO: AIM 2023: Smart Utilization of Technology Key in Marketing Multifamily

Still, the firm is cautious. “You don’t want to roll out too much of a program at once. What are the reviews looking like? Are there significant changes to operations?”

Alongside team specialization within the consolidations has been team restructurings, particularly for management companies with a large market presence and less room for creativity. Heather Wallace, managing director of client services at Bozzuto explained centralization as being a matter of cost savings, above all else.  “It’s not really a tech challenge, it’s more of a budgeting challenge,” she said.

The changes to her company’s marketing and property management teams have been many, from moving bookkeeping operations off-site to reorganizing divisional positions, Wallace said. “Where we had four assistant managers, we now have two. We put four general manager positions in each pod, rather than having two community managers.”

Both panelists agreed that tech consolidation moves in tandem with management operations. “Find a partner, make sure that you are getting a sense of their values compared to yours, as well as your challenges. You need to make sure that (they are) willing to modify their product for you,” Versin concluded.

Marketing to employees

When it comes to the act of building teams, multifamily property marketing could serve as a recruiting playbook. During a labor shortage, with workplace tenures down to a quarter of what they were at the start of the pandemic, a values-centric approach to a new generation of marketing professionals is a must.

According to Tyler Marker, director of marketing & professional development and Zidan Property Group, the recruiting practice is a lot like that of appealing to would-be renters. Understanding their priorities is critical in the same way a potential lessor must know what a resident is looking for. “The number one request in a work environment is professional development. What does the employee journey look like?”

In attracting quality marketing talent, forging a human connection is a must. “(We need) the ability to look at solutions through a more creative lens, and add those solutions to our employee side,” Marker said.

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