AIM Special Report: Strategies for Successful Marketing

On the first day of the event, experts shared insights on the most effective tactics.

AIM Day 1 keynote speaker Shruti Buckley
Keynote speaker Shruti Buckley, senior vice president & brand leader, Hampton By Hilton, takes the stage during the first day of the AIM conference. Image by Jordana Rothberg

The importance of cultivating a strong brand was the main topic of conversation on the first day of this year’s Apartment Innovation and Marketing conference. Panelists speaking on the conference’s first day broke down what really matters to marketers and which decisions make an impact.

Understanding the larger landscape

Marketing is informed by the larger economic landscape. To understand what renters and consumers want, the multifamily sector must understand the trends that are influencing these renters.

Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, said that despite economic volatility and inflation, the rental market is strong. Despite high interest rates, there is an insatiable desire for finding a home, something reflected in increased prices for both home buyers and some renters.

“Renting is starting to become more normalized because of how expensive home ownership has gotten,” Fairweather said, noting a move towards people wanting to show off their rental homes as opposed to being shamed for not owning. And this demand for the rental side of the market is not going away. Consumer preferences are continuing to shift towards rentals.

Knowing the statistics and influencing factors behind shifting rental preferences arms marketers with a foundation to work off of. Then, it’s up to multifamily marketers to narrow down their audience and cater to their consumers.

“If you look at the younger generations, they are looking for things so differently than the older generations are,” Revai Seiler, vice president of marketing and data analytics at Rent said.

The balancing act of marketing

Multifamily marketing means juggling a lot of things at once. Often in a single community there multiple audiences to cater to, from Gen Z residents to baby boomers to students.

One of the things marketers are most focused on balancing is technology and human touch. Chase Hunt, vice president of marketing, technology and client solutions, Avenue5 Residential, asked AIM conference attendees to stand up if they are using artificial intelligence in some part of their business. Almost nobody was left seated.

“All of us in this room are in the business of humans helping humans,” Hunt said, explaining that while AI is becoming more integral to the job of a multifamily marketer, the human team on any multifamily property is the real reason people choose their future homes.

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For Hunt, there are four steps to creating a balance between AI and humans in multifamily marketing: Find out which processes are the most time consuming, collaborate with your team on implementing, ensure an easy transition from AI to agent and measure and have the freedom to adjust.

AI has to be paired with human interaction, both onsite and with respect to resident feedback, and marketers have to be open to changing their techniques, Hunt explained. These steps can help to create a harmony between tech and people.

“AI is very powerful,” Esther Bonardi, vice president, REACH by RentCafe, said. “But it is not self-sufficient.”

Maintaining a company website also requires balance: it has to look good while driving the results that the company needs. “Your website is probably your hardest working leasing agent,” Denise Todd, marketing director at DTN Management Co., said.  

For DTN, striking a balance in a website means that design doesn’t overshadow the goal. Todd explained that to do this, a website should be clean, compelling and attractive while crafted with intention.

Multifamily websites should have many elements: captivating images, animated renderings, rich graphics, personality, calls to action. Successful websites balance a plethora of enticing and data-driven factors instead of just an aesthetically pleasing design, Bonardi and Todd said.

A strong brand, from hotels to rental communities

While the hotel industry and multifamily have some key differences, there are some learning lessons to be passed between the two. The ways the hotels and multifamily properties can similarly market to their consumer was a central theme throughout the first day of AIM.

John Cashion, senior practice director, head of global delivery, Ritz-Carlton, told conference attendees that one thing multifamily and hotels can both do is go above and beyond for customer service.

There are tiers to customer service, Cashion said. The lowest is what is expected, followed by what is requested and, finally, what leaves a customer delighted. Brands that go the extra mile to make someone’s day or demonstrate how well they know their customer are the ones that ultimately stand out.

Cashion’s sentiment that multifamily and hotels can learn from the branding techniques of one another was echoed in the keynote panel of the day. Shruti Buckley, senior vice president & brand leader, Hampton by Hilton, highlighted in her speech that the housing industry is not just transactional, its experiential. “Brand is holistic,” Buckley said. “Keep that in mind.”

For Hampton by Hilton, the secret, according to Buckley, is a unique service culture. Across the more than 3,000 hotels under the Hampton name, each is held accountable against extremely tight brand and service standards. These standards are written out in a document that is hundreds of pages long and outlines everything from the general design of a building to where outlets should be located and the thread count of the sheets.

For Hampton, data shows that those who rate a hotel higher on a survey are more likely to return to the brand in general as well as to the same property. Because of this brand loyalty customers are willing to pay a premium to stay at a Hampton hotel as opposed to a competitor.

Multifamily can, and should, aim to create this seamless of a national brand too. It could result in renters resigning a lease, staying at a property for longer or moving to a different community under the same company.

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