Never underestimate the power of a goal—or a vision board. In 2010, multifamily marketing consultant Kate Good set her sights on being a partner with a multifamily development group because she knew that the apartment sector was going to lead the way out of the recession, and she wanted to be there front and center. The opportunity subsequently presented itself when she was introduced to Sandy Aron, founder & president of Hunington Properties Inc.
Good flew to Houston to meet with Aron, who had recently expanded into mixed-use with apartments after focusing on retail for many years. Sharing the same vision led to the decision to become business partners. Aron invited Good to start a new division called Hunington Residential, which currently has five projects in the pipeline and two under construction.
In her role as partner & senior vice president of multifamily, Good’s mastery of marketing is one of HPI’s biggest assets. She amassed her knowledge while working as director of training & marketing at Trammell Crow Residential, director of people success at Gables Residential and owner & partner at KateGood.com and ApartmentAllStars.com. Multi-Housing News recently caught up with Good to find out why she’s still passionate about marketing and how sometimes the best ideas don’t cost anything at all.
You recently judged the 2020 MHN Excellence Awards. Do you think multifamily design and marketing are interconnected?
Good: I loved the MHN awards. There were diverse opinions and the dialogue was so healthy and eye-opening. I wish I could judge every awards program so that I could be there to hear the conversation.
I do agree that design and marketing are connected, and I call it the HGTV effect. Everybody is starting to understand their design style through TV shows and what they love on Instagram. We hear this all the time when we’re showing apartments. Prospects say things like, “This is a great use of shiplap.” Nobody said anything about shiplap 10 years ago. They also didn’t know what farmhouse kitchen meant.
Now, when we bring those elements into our projects—maybe it’s Hollywood Regency or a theme that is relevant to the area—the renter is noticing more. In the past, if a space felt really great to them, they may not have known why. Now we have a (shared) language to translate their (preferences) in a meaningful way. It’s important that we really embrace it.
Can you tell us about your new development project in Baytown, Texas?
Good: Yes—in November we put the very last nail in the wall. It’s called the Vic at South Winds. We are really intentional with our memory points, and I always call that memory-point marketing, but it’s really memory-point design. We used design elements so that prospects will remember the place that had a special room in the fitness center, which was unlike anything they had seen before. This goes beyond the catchy name or the tagline or the location. There’s a huge blending of design and marketing, and it really is translating to people remembering our projects more, identifying with them more, enjoying being there and knowing why they’re enjoying it.
Is this kind of marketing even more important during COVID-19? How do virtual tours fit in?
Good: In 2020, we saw extremely high closing ratios at HPI because were able to close on the first visit. People are looking for apartments, and they’re serious lookers. They’re not just out there because you’re the new property and they want to see what was just built in their neighborhood. During COVID-19, they’re not going into public spaces unless they need to be there. So we’ve had this highly closable traffic, but to be able to close on the first visit, we know it’s because they’re identifying with that space very quickly and that’s important to us. We know that design is a big element of that.
Virtual tours are something that the industry had been dabbling in before COVID-19. I was of the mindset that humans would close the lease, but the virtual tour was really great for the person who was searching for an apartment at eight o’clock at night. We were creating our virtual tour videos so that they could live on our websites. And then when the pandemic hit—and that’s all we had to rely on—we were very thankful that we had dabbled in it and saw the value. I think it also created a bit of a shift with the renting public that you didn’t have to walk into a leasing office to rent an apartment anymore.
Our self-guided tours grew out of the pandemic. We open the model and the prospect says, “Hi Alexa, start my tour” and Alexa walks you through the apartment. It was pretty exciting to have that technology bloom so fast this year. Even when there is strong traffic and people coming back to our leasing offices, I can still see a great combination of “watch the video and then come in or call us” so we can walk you through picking out an apartment and any questions that you have. I’m seeing virtual work in conjunction with our human effort. But it was great to know that when that’s all we had, it would work for us so well.
You have been a developer since 2012, but you still maintain your marketing consulting and speaking business.
Good: I don’t take on as many clients as I used to because I need to be here in Houston developing my own properties. My consulting projects are in markets that don’t compete with my HPI projects and are usually new construction-related, which is my area of expertise. I love new construction or a big-time renovation that’s redeveloping the profile of the community. I do consulting because I like the exposure—not as a consultant trying to get more work, but as a development professional looking and seeing what’s working in other markets, what’s special about this project and getting that experience and bringing my expertise to the project as well.
I will always keep my hand in the consulting world because of that opportunity. I like having a place in the industry conversation, and that pushes me to keep looking for what’s new. I’m absorbing all of that. And I think I’m an even better speaker now because I’m testing it at my properties before I get on the stage and talk about it.
What is it about marketing that continues to attract you? Do the basics such as “plan the work and work the plan” still apply?
Good: I still live by that. What’s important to remember is that part of the process is evaluating to see what’s working, what’s effective and do we need to pivot? Certainly, 2020 has been a big year of pivoting. I opened an apartment community in March when the rest of the world was shutting down. And so, our plan wasn’t going to work—we had to plan our work again. That thoughtful process keeps us all focused and goal-oriented. I work with a team and the team likes to know what the plan is and to be a part of designing and then executing the plan.
I became obsessed with marketing working with Trammell Crow as a leasing consultant. My property manager used to say to me all the time, “Generate your own traffic.” And I didn’t know what that meant, because I wasn’t placing the ads, I didn’t control the budget for that. How was I supposed to generate my own traffic? What did that mean?
As I grew and began training others, I realized that you have a guest card file that’s full of people who are interested, and you have leads that are coming to you. What are you doing with those leads and what are you doing to get people back? What are you doing to get referrals from the existing people that you’ve rented from? And then it all moves on from there. How are you responding to social media and creating relationships? Those people want to come in and lease from you. I don’t think you can be a great salesperson today without understanding how to market and generate your own traffic.
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Does marketing always require a large budget?
Good: The No. 1 class that I present is Marketing Ideas for Under $500. I’ve been presenting it for over 10 years, and I change the content all the time because I find new things that are really smart that apartment marketers should do. For example, earlier this week I found a Facebook group for traveling nurses where you can advertise your apartments for free. They want the apartment industry on there and certainly traveling nurses are a great way to lease-up some three-bedroom apartments that are hard to rent right now. So that’s marketing with no money.
What is the most overlooked marketing tool or strategy?
Good: That’s a great question. Today nobody would even think about doing newspaper advertising but let me tell you what just happened to us. We opened up an apartment community in Baytown, Texas, as I said. March, April and May should have been big-time lease-up months for me, but nobody was getting out to look at apartments because of the coronavirus. I realized we’re all looking at news sites right now because of our obsession with the pandemic.
So, I contacted the local newspaper to buy (online) advertising. But they said we would need to advertise in their print newspaper in order to be on their website. It wasn’t a lot of money in the scheme of things. It was really a no-brainer, especially looking at how much traffic the news sites were generating. So, I went back to old-fashioned newspaper advertising that had a digital component to it and we got a lot of awareness for our apartment community and it didn’t cost a lot of money. I also got them to do a human-interest story about living in apartments and the pandemic. That was nowhere in my original plan. Never did I think I would go to the Baytown Sun and do newspaper advertising. We were able to push our traffic numbers back to it and we know that it produced for us.
Every lease was so valuable to us. Even if we got one lease from that marketing channel, the cost per lease was still smart. We ended up getting plenty of leases from this partnership with the local newspaper. And I think that’s something that people just forget about doing today because it’s all about the internet listing services and developing your website. And of course, all of that was really important, but we needed to be where the customer was—and they were obsessed with news sites. I was really excited that we jumped on board and did something there because it paid off.