AIM 2023: Smart Utilization of Technology Key in Marketing Multifamily

Habits of prospective renters have changed drastically. Marketing teams are taking note.

Center stage

Center stage at AIM 2023, with a discussion between Sarah Gencarella and Joe Coleman taking place. Image by Gabriel Frank

Both speakers and attendees at the first day of the Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference agreed that a diversified, experience-focused strategy is the cornerstone of any successful multifamily marketing campaign. Appealing not only to prospective and current residents, but to employees and investors is critical. In light of the rapid rise of platforms such as ChatGPT and other automated solutions, much discussion was also centered around the complex aspects of multifamily marketing.

Adapting to changing markets

Kicking off the event was an expert panel that surveyed ongoing changes to the marketing landscape, including the heightened demand for units in all asset classes that is taking place as supply slows down.

Not only has the broader market shifted, so too have the  practices of those being marketed to. A simple visit to a website has turned into a string of different online interactions through myriad platforms, Brooke Henderson, regional vice president of strategic partnership at Yext, said during a discussion focused on automation’s role in optimizing operations, particularly as prospective renters navigate a highly complex market.

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“It used to be that you could make a website and buy some Google ads. The website was the center of the digital experience, and the journey started with a URL,” Henderson said. Now, “(customers) interact through search, mobile messaging and chat. The new term is not search engine optimization; it’s search experience optimization,” she added.

In the same spirt, David Hoffman, a senior sales consultant for home and consumer services at Google underscored this concept in a separate panel, seeing the blueprint for attracting quality leads as one that is fluid, changing through trial and error. “You have to be playing around and testing all the time, because the consumer is going to make a decision, and that’s going to be unique for each individual’s journey. “If you have the best content with the wrong audience, it is going to fail. There are no random acts of marketing,” he said.

As the market adjusts, so too have the marketers, with the acknowledgement that their strategies depend on a range of budgets and end goals. At the core of this experience-focused strategy has been the task of actually surveying a property from the perspective of a renter, as well as utilizing the tools that can be used to most appeal to what they are looking for. “Are they looking at Yelp, your Google Business Profile or Zillow? It’s about making sure that you are spending efficiently at the right times and levels,” advised Sarah Gencarella, vice president of Marketing at Olympus Property.

For Olympus, this approach has taken the form of leveraging several technologies simultaneously, from utilizing artificial intelligence to setting a four-star rating target for all of its properties’ Google Business Profiles. “Smart digital advertising has been a game changer, especially in a market where we are focused on renewals,” Gencarella stated.

Joe Coleman, COO of Decron Properties Corp., agreed, noting that an adaptive, experiential marketing strategy is critical for investors as well. A particular example that Coleman mentioned was responses to negative reviews on a property’s Google Business Profile, which investors expect to be addressed and handled appropriately as “opportunities to improve.” An asset’s net operating income versus similar properties owned by peers and competitors should also be monitored, said Coleman. “If you’re at (negative) two percent and your competitors are at five, that should be celebrated.”

AI’s Ascendancy

In some form or another, nearly every discussion mentioned artificial intelligence, its indispensable role in the digital marketing landscape and its ever-growing potential to greatly enhance the capabilities of multifamily marketing through automatic outreach, lead engagement and content generation.

However, the process of teaching the AI itself to perform tasks associated with a given property’s marketing can be a daunting one, particularly given the complex nature of digital renter interactions. Catriona Orosco, director of REACH by RentCafe, emphasized the importance of structure in these aspects. “Identify what’s unique about each page on your website. All of those spaces should be sitting behind the scenes, so that any bot can understand it and what is unique about it,” she said.

While it may be tempting to delegate the bulk of marketing tasks to an automated assistant, marketing professionals should still prioritize the more nuanced, human aspects of the experience, something that no AI can replace. Even heavyweights such as ChatGPT, which can create original, machine-learned content in a matter of seconds, struggles with “hallucinations” of inaccurate information 15 to 20 percent of the time, according to Henderson. AI is best utilized when its user gives it the facts and data it needs to operate. “Put in the specifics of what you want, and you are going to get that product back. Make sure that you are the one controlling it, but control what it knows,” said Henderson.

Despite the excitement and concern over AI, Noma Nagaoka, a project manager at REACH by RentCafe, doesn’t see humans going anywhere. From his perspective, it’s a highly capable and efficient program that can function as an assistant. “It’s replicating a human interaction, but not replacing one.”

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