Internet listing services (ILSs) remain vital marketing tools for property management. But with the proliferation of ILSs, the multifamily industry is increasingly focused on learning which ones bring the biggest bang for the buck.
While going dark has been entertained as a means of tracking leads, many view this as a draconian step with a genuine potential to backfire.
One alternative, according to Vice President of Product Management Chris Brown at Chicago’s Apartments.com, is, “assuming you can identify other sources as well as you can Apartments.com, [for example,] pull out the data from one of those sources, go back over time and try to identify where you’d be without that source. There’s an assumption if you didn’t have ILS 1 providing prospects, the same prospects would come from ILS 2. But with that assumption comes risk. If it’s not the case, you have prospects falling through the cracks.”
To help track leads, Apartments.com offers MyMedia, which captures all email leads the ILS generates and puts them into an easy-to-use Web-based interface, allowing properties to send e-mail to these prospects. “In a nice, clean format, it presents your rents, photos, floor plans, and also gives property managers a chance to tailor a message to that prospect,” Brown says.
Another observer convinced there are better lead-tracking strategies than going dark is Terry Slattery, president of Dallas-based For Rent Media Solutions. “There is more tracking available in this industry than property managers could ever digest,” he says. “It’s so transparent these days.”
As a multimedia solution, For Rent builds a custom dashboard for each client that tracks leads from print and Internet sources, video products and mobile products, and can also provide traffic via For Rent’s exclusive partnership with the Oodle network and the Facebook Marketplace, Slattery says.
ILSs realize they must manage expectations of clients, he continues. The reality is that not all leads are created equal, and when expectations are unrealistic, property managers may, regrettably, compare apples to oranges. Volumes of generic prospect traffic can be both manipulated and overstated, he adds.
For his part, Brown says he likes the idea of testing. “I think it’s good to have that mindset,” he says. “The challenge comes in making sure you have the right data, enough data, and the expertise to analyze the data.”
Slattery adds, “You don’t have to risk the portfolio’s financial stability by testing something that already has metrics in place to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t work.”
ILSs remain relevant
Like many in the property management field, Gary Redmond views ILSs as critical suppliers of prospective renters. “They are content aggregators,” says the assistant vice president of e-commerce with Englewood, Colo.-based Archstone, noting some 80 percent of those seeking apartments search online.
“Those aggregators work very well [at] the top of the research funnel. [Prospects are] going to start their research with ILSs, informing their decisions by going to owners’ sites and rating sites to see what others are saying about the community. [ILSs] drive a significant percentage of the prospects who find us.”
As proof, he cites statistics showing 70 percent of all Archstone’s leads in 2010 were from Internet sources, and the majority of those were from the ILSs. Overall, more than 40 percent of Archstone’s leads last year came from ILSs.
As for lead tracking, Archstone has shifted away from taking ILSs’ reported leads at face value. Once the ILS connects the phone call, its part of the interaction is done, and it doesn’t see what happens downstream, he says.
Archstone uses a Level One call center, which has given the company enormous insight into the nature of the calls and the overall quality of phone leads, Redmond says. Among data gathered is percentages of calls generating guest cards in Archstone’s system, percentages of calls in which prospects provide personal information that allows Archstone to follow up and percentages of prospects following through by scheduling visits.
“Those are data points that allow us to see the quality of the phone traffic from each ILS and other providers,” Redmond says. “We do look all the way down to whether or not that source is generating leases. You look all the way down the funnel, and you get a sense of how much each source costs per lease.”
The competitive nature of the listing business continues to spawn innovation, says Steve Lefkovits, the Emeryville, Calif.-based executive producer of the Apartment Internet Marketing (AIM) conference. Five years ago, he says, ILSs tended to focus solely on listings. Today, many provide bundles of services designed to improve marketing performance and solidify their customers’ allegiance. Going forward, it’s likely that ILSs that now offer subscription-only services will evolve to provide cost-per-lead or cost-per-lease models as well.
“These will augment the subscription model, letting customers choose the model that they want to pay by,” Lefkovits says.
Also, rather than serving as stand-alone ad networks, ILSs are likely to begin arbitraging other ad networks, offering space on the networks as an option, he adds. “Going to advertise with a listing service will mean it handles all of your ad placements, or more of your ad placements across different venues, not just its own Web presence,” he says. “I think you’ll see ILSs become more like traditional advertising firms in the services they provide.”
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