The growing popularity of online real estate platforms and advancements in technology are forcing real estate companies to design comprehensive digital marketing strategies. A recent report by the National Association of Realtors titled Real Estate in a Digital Age shows that 48 percent of all firms in the business expect keeping up with technology to be one of the biggest challenges they will face in the next two years.
The same survey found that 95 percent of homebuyers use websites as a primary source in their search for a new home. In the case of renters, roughly 80 percent of residents are using online ratings and review sites to gather information about the communities that interest them, according to J Turner Research. Large real estate companies focus entire departments on creating their marketing plan of action. The ongoing effort includes developing mobile apps, using social media networks and coming up with creative, perfectly executed strategies.
For investment and property management company Waterton, marketing has always been an important part of their story. Virginia Love, the firm’s vice president of leasing and marketing, has been overseeing these efforts for roughly ten years. Love discussed with Multi-Housing News what multifamily marketing looks like in the current landscape.
What role does marketing play in the growth of Waterton?
Love: Marketing is a member of the Waterton Operations team. As a group, we are aligned with other departments, such as Capital Improvements and Technology and Application Support. Our alignment with Capital is especially helpful when we are introducing unit renovations or preparing the community for extensive upgrades, as we are able to proactively market our value-add program and communicate the changes to our customers: the residents.
Similarly, our alignment with Waterton’s IT group helps us execute new technologies that improve the residential experience. If there’s a new device or app Marketing wants to try, the IT experts will be the ones who develop and implement it, ensuring it is seamlessly incorporated into our workflow and functions well over the long term. As marketers, we want to have all the bells and whistles, but without the support of the other departments we won’t be successful. Being aligned with the other departments has allowed us to be more innovative and move more quickly. Therefore, we are able to take advantage of those opportunities that move the needle.
What marketing tools does Waterton use in its regular activities?
Love: Waterton uses a variety of service providers that centralize our efforts and allow us to track performance. Having marketing products that integrate from the top of the leasing and marketing funnel is key. Our advertising and marketing efforts aren’t valuable if we can’t easily determine the best-performing sources and marketing campaigns, generate leads that are answered by the call center, manage leads in our lead tracker, and ultimately, house move-ins in our property management system so we can remarket them at renewal time. We select tools and partners that permit us to take all these bifurcated efforts and streamline them into a centralized system. As a result, we truly see these partners as an extension of our business.
What makes a great marketing strategy in today’s multifamily landscape?
Love: There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer for the best strategy. It would be great if it was just “plug and play,” but a lack of planning will result in poor performance. The best strategy is one that is aligned with the property’s short- and long-term business goals as well as any aspirations for the property. For example, content from the different social media channels—such as posts, photos, blog articles and ratings and reviews—might weigh more heavily on one asset than another due to the demographic or market.
Maybe aligning with an influencer, such as a foodie or photographer, who would promote a community through their own channels would bring the most bang for the buck. Another property might have a high level of resident satisfaction. Therefore, higher referral fees and well-planned resident events would be a better strategy. A well-rounded approach that includes not just advertising—internet listing sites, pay-per-click advertising, paid social posts and so on—but also marketing, content creation, resident events, customer engagement and other strategies is the best plan. The goal is to try a few angles to find what works best based on the data collected and then adjust the marketing plan accordingly.
Could you provide a detailed example of a successful Waterton marketing project?
Love: We recently completed a rebrand on a deal in West Hollywood: Duet at Wilcox. Marketing worked closely with an agency to determine the best way to take advantage of the trendy and colorful location while breathing new life into the community and making it attractive to renters not familiar with the neighborhood. Each touchpoint—including the advertising and outreach marketing, website and tour—had to look and feel like the message we were conveying: that residents aren’t just leasing an apartment, they are joining a community.
The project involved a pretty extensive partnership with Capital on the value-add program, which required us to accommodate residents as improvements were made. Between retaining residents who wanted to join us on this journey to improvement and finding those customers that would not have considered West Hollywood as an address before, it took a well developed and executed strategy, together with a strong site team, for the campaign to be a success.
What role does social media play in Waterton’s marketing strategies?
Love: Waterton was an early adopter of social media as a communication channel. Over the years, our social platform has evolved from a place to post content into a tool we can use to target our properties to specific demographics, boost messaging we are promoting, respond to important ratings and reviews, and utilize in emergency situations.
As we build marketing plans, social is always part of our strategy. With the many social channels available, we are able to reach a variety of followers by utilizing hashtags and sponsored posts. With social, our audience tells us if what we are posting is something that captures their interest pretty quickly. We recently created a new initiative to support the leasing teams in their efforts to post more relevant and captivating content. The program is off to a good start and already has helped the teams increase engagement and reach.
What can you tell us about Waterton’s marketing budget?
Love: As each property has its specific strategy, they each have a different budget amount to execute that strategy. We evaluate all marketing efforts quarterly—more often when needed—and measure cost per lead, tour and lease. Not all the pressure is on the advertising or marketing source. It’s important to align your leasing and marketing efforts, making sure leads are receiving the attention they need to convert to a lease. For this reason, we weigh a variety of key performance indicators to ensure our marketing dollars are well invested.
What would your advice be, regarding marketing strategies, for a real estate company that is just launching a program?
Love: Budget for content, then take the number you budgeted and double it. You need enough funds for great photos, professional and site-level-created videos, 3D floor plans, website copy, outreach opportunities, social media promotions and other initiatives that will keep content fresh. Sometimes these marketing items are seen as “one and done,” but successful plans will be built around new and refreshed content. This not only makes the search engines happy but also keeps customers engaged and interested.
Images courtesy of Waterton.
You’ll find more on this topic in the April 2018 issue of MHN.