Leveraging the Art and Science of Digital Marketing

Apartment marketers continually balance evergreen digital methods with new techniques—and strategy and measurement are keys to success.

Kettler’s chatbot feature enables prospects to get information 24/7 about its properties, such as 800 Carlyle Apartments in Alexandria, Va. The blue icon at the bottom left enables accessibility customization. Image courtesy of Kettler

Now, more than ever, apartment prospects of all ages spend hours looking at their screens. Multifamily marketers have responded to this reality with creative messaging and calls to action delivered to desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and wearables.

Unlike static print ads or billboards—which the American Marketing Association (AMA) describes as “one-way” communication—digital marketing is an interactive, dynamic and ever-changing process.

According to the AMA, digital marketing is the use of any method conducted through electronic devices to promote a brand or reach consumers. A multifamily digital marketing strategy generally involves a combination of various channels, including websites, online advertising, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing, content creation (blogs and video) and email to reach customers.

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Not all digital marketing channels deliver return on investment (ROI). Experimentation will reveal which ones are appropriate for specific properties or regions within the portfolio. Even when tried-and-true digital marketing methods have been identified as delivering results consistently, it pays to test new ideas—but not all at once—and always record cost and results.

The most critical part of an effective apartment marketing strategy is measuring the success of activities. In addition, be sure to define key metrics for each marketing channel and record them regularly on a real estate marketing report. Tracking your marketing expenditure and the closed deals from your online activity helps you easily determine the quantitative impact and overall real estate marketing ROI for your entire marketing funnel.

Once you have this framework in place, you can drill down deeper to look at channel performance and specific marketing activities to help you answer this question: What gives me the best real estate marketing ROI?

An Omnichannel Playbook

According to Daryl E. Smith, senior vice president & chief marketing officer at Kettler, one essential aspect is having a reputation management program.

“Having a robust partner who can manage your reputation means that if your people are commenting on any of your reputation channels, whether it’s Google My Business or anybody else, (means that) you have a way of responding to it, ” Smith said. “There’s also a transparency for the organization to be able to see what’s been said and take stock of what people are saying about the brand.”

According to Smith, digital marketing has evolved as both an art and science. “My peers in sister industries such as hospitality and retail have really figured it out, and they’ve done a great job with it. For us, it’s about how do we continue to make a meaningful experience for our consumers.”

At Kettler, the answer lies in omnichannel marketing, an approach that provides customers with a completely seamless and integrated shopping experience from the first touchpoint to the last.

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Omnichannel marketing builds on texting, e-blasts and other digital formats used to interact and engage with renters. “We’ve got all these digital entry points to connect with the consumer,” Smith noted. “Now we want to make it frictionless for them and tie them all together in a seamless experience digitally.”

For example, if a prospect is on Instagram or Facebook and sees a property ad, instead of writing down the URL and exiting out of Facebook to go to Kettler’s website, they can simply click on that link or on that ad and get all the information they need. If they want to transact, they can fill out an application or schedule an appointment and then exit back into the environments they were currently in. Omnichannel marketing provides more opportunities to capture and convert in a real-time, 24/7 format.

The second part of that omnichannel engagement is getting into a meaningful conversation using AI tools such as chatbots. “We’re really excited about that because consumers are looking for ease and efficiency—and that’s what digital tools have really positioned themselves to create,” Smith said.

Kettler’s chatbot can talk to prospects 24/7 and provide an experience very similar to a live leasing agent. It’s programmed with every property’s policies including what rents they offer, their hours, what’s nearby—all the basic questions that a prospect would ask a live leasing agent.

Customizing the Digital Marketing Stack

Every apartment company has its own needs based on market research. Harbor Group Management Co.’s digital marketing playbook focuses on quality content, professional photos and the ability to lease online.

“The goal is to allow prospective residents to gather as much information as possible to aid in their decision-making process and find the perfect apartment home for them,” Jennifer Williams, vice president of marketing at Harbor Group Management, told MHN.

In response to COVID-19, Harbor Group Management adjusted their digital marketing strategy with additional tools for prospects to visit and lease apartments virtually. Image courtesy of Harbor Group Management Co.

“By the time potential residents engage with our property teams, hopefully they are closer to a decision than they would have been otherwise. Once they’ve made their decision, online leasing provides a convenient and comfortable leasing experience,” Williams added. The pandemic has only increased consumer demand for tools to make the experience more efficient and worry-free.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Impact on Multifamily Lease-Ups

In response to COVID-19, Harbor Group Management has added additional contactless digital communication tools to their digital marketing stack. This includes chatbots, online tour scheduling and additional virtual video tours. These tools allow prospective residents additional ways to get the information they seek and in the way they would like to receive it.

“It’s imperative we listen to our prospective residents and provide them the leasing experience they are most comfortable with,” Williams said. “Finding a new home is stressful, and the more we aid our prospects with digital tools and content to help reduce their stress, the more potential we have for long-lasting relationships that benefit our residents and our businesses in return.”

Beware the Shiny New Object

Whatever digital marketing channels make it to the playbook, don’t take your eye off resident retention.

“You’re losing money every time a resident leaves. If your current residents are not happy, let’s figure out why. You’re always going to need leads coming in, but you can slow down the revolving door,” Rachel Ingber, CEO, Intentional Marketing, told MHN.

Ingber started in the industry as a leasing agent, moved up to property management and then marketing before launching her own multifamily marketing consultancy.

“I work with on-site teams to figure out what’s going on at the property itself, and what we can do better for the residents,” said Ingber, whose digital marketing strategy sessions help clients connect the dots between resident retention and attracting new prospects.

Ingber also stressed on the importance of having a customer relationship system (CRM) that is really tracking where the leads are coming from. Your Internet Listing Service (ILS) can look like it’s providing so many more leads than other similar services, but some digging can reveal that lead conversion is really low. Meanwhile, another ILS that’s not bringing as many leads is actually converting more leads to leases.

READ ALSO: Attracting and Converting Potential Renters With Your Website

Tracking digital marketing initiatives across the portfolio is a no-brainer but Ingber has noticed it’s not always done.

“Every property is different. At one property, your Google ads might be working amazingly and maybe your ILS is not—but in another market, your ILS is not doing as great. You really need to be understanding the bigger picture and tying it all together,” Ingber said.

Above all, don’t let your digital marketing strategy get stale. The marketing team should be testing ideas and tactics to see what works and—more importantly—what doesn’t have any impact. Make adjustments as you go along but beware the shiny new object.

“If you really feel like something new and exciting is going to be essential, then yes, you want to try it,” Ingber said—but rather than jumping on every new digital marketing platform, pick up to three and stay consistent with those. And if you can’t quantify their direct or indirect impact on your leasing or resident retention efforts, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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