Marketing: My Favorite Channel

Apartment marketers share plans for the new year and touch on what's not working

By Jessica Fiur, Senior Editor

January is the time for resolutions—what do you plan to change in your marketing methods? MHN talked to several marketers in the multifamily industry to find out what they are most excited to implement in 2014, and which marketing channels they plan to retire.

❝At Dolben, we are currently enhancing our social and reputation management programs, both of which will remain a focus for next year.
In addition, we went through a corporate image enhancement project this year, and over the next 12 months, will be working to drive more traffic directly to our property websites through a combination of SEM and SEO. Though we aren’t planning to retire any marketing programs, we will continue to monitor all of our advertising sources, and make changes as needed to ensure that we are maximizing our owners’ marketing dollars. Staying nimble is a key part of our marketing strategy.❞

—Sara Graham, Director of Marketing, The Dolben Company


❝I am still super excited about blogging. I am a firm believer that content will continue to lead the way. Where I see a shift is in the length of blog articles.
Attention spans are shorter, so content marketers will need to keep their message focused. I don’t see my dropping any platforms. I feel they all have a purpose, and my metrics indicate that there are different audiences for each. Some platforms are for readers and lurkers and other platforms have a higher level of engagement. What I am looking forward to seeing in 2014 is how different types of content will create awareness. Marketers will look to leverage more video content with platforms such as Vine and Instagram. I am really excited to see brands continue to alter their perception of social media and ROI. Social media is a communication tool. When did we ever see companies wonder what the ROI of buying a fax machine was? It just communicates our message.❞

—Jonathan Saar, Vice President of Marketing and Educational Solutions, The Training Factor


❝I’m most excited about as a marketing channel in 2014 for students and parents searching for off-campus housing across the nation. It’s more competitive and more challenging than ever to get your community in front of students and parents searching for off-campus housing online. Additionally, students are savvy, resourceful and have a laundry list of expectations of what they want to find out about your off-campus community. Students are constantly on the go from classes, jobs and social activities, and they don’t want to spend a lot of their time searching for an apartment. It really comes down to distance to campus, price and reputation. Once students find properties that meet these top three factors, they will explore communities more deeply by comparing features, floor plans, video and peer engagement through social media. It’s critical to pique their interest with resident-life activity photos and videos showcasing the living-learning experience of your community, and to highlight the features and amenities students crave to fit their lifestyle. This online off-campus search site is the marketing tool I dreamed of having when marketing to today’s student renter and their parents.❞

—Kim Cory, Director of Student Media, For Rent Solutions
❝We are focusing on what I like to call our ‘Digital IQ,’ or the customers’ online experience, in totality. To do so, we’re taking a step back and looking at the big picture: the website, the search optimization, the organic search, the paid search, the content marketing, the digital footprint, the social media, the online reviews—collectively, all of this now has control over your brand, and we need to be paying attention to each element. This is different than in the past when we relied on directories and advertisements to promote our brands. Although they will continue to be important, we are relying less and less on Internet Listing Services (ILS) and Craigslist to “get us found.” And I think this trend will continue. Instead, we have to make sure our content marketing—via blogs, videos, social media, etc.—is top notch in order to get our communities the attention, visitors and leases we want.❞

—Jamie Gorski, Senior Vice President, Corporate Marketing, The Bozzuto Group


❝The majority of apartment marketing experts address technology, and justifiably so. There are daily advancements in marketing via our communication devices, and most are exciting and worth trying. We are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, texting, email, Pinterest…the technology world is our oyster. Add locators, realtors and a variety of other services, and we should be overrun with traffic. Rather than write about what we might want/need to retire, I of course want to share some reminders of things that do still work other than technology: specifically signage and resident referrals. Tap your existing residents; ask them to take information to their workplace, where you may have tried in your outreach effort to get in and were refused. Remind them regularly about referral fees; get them working for you! And while we still have to fight sign ordinances, don’t overlook the power of a weekend bandit/bootleg sign. I recently used yellow stake signs with red letters: “3 Day Special, 3 Apartments at Reduced Rate.” The client leased 11 apartments in five days. The point? Don’t neglect tried and true marketing techniques.❞

—Anne Sadovsky, Certified Speaking Professional and former Vice President of Marketing and Education of Lincoln Property Company


❝In polling our team of 40 marketing professionals across the country, most cited Remarketing/Behavioral Targeting as the new marketing channel they were most excited about for 2014. Whether it is social media channels like Facebook, mobile apps, online news sources or lifestyle sites, being able to target an apartment seeker while they shop for related items such as new furniture using the locational services from their iPhone is now a reality. The idea of aggregating location, demographic and behavioral data is not new, but being affordable within an apartment community’s limited budget is new and an exciting opportunity for apartment marketers. In polling our team on channels they are retiring in 2014, the majority cited ILS advertising. Marketers want to pay for performance. With data and metrics readily available, the idea of subscription-based advertising no longer makes sense. Our data shows that the traditional ILS’s ability to convert leads has dropped steadily the last few years. Our clients demand solid ROI, and we are not seeing it in this space. In addition, there are too many ILS-style sites. Today’s technology makes it easy to aggregate and reformat content to create an apartment search product. Combining traditional ILSs with the new breed of search sites has flooded the marketplace. We expect to see consolidation and partnerships to combat the fractured marketplace. It will be interesting to see how the ILSs stack up against the Zillows, Trulias and Move.coms of the world.❞

—Greg Benson, Senior Director of Marketing, Greystar


❝Knowing that two-thirds of today’s renters use smartphones when apartment searching, we are excited about enhancing the use of mobile marketing in our campaign efforts. In order for content to flow seamlessly on a PC, mobile device and tablet, we’re exploring shifting technology efforts towards responsive web design. Some of the fundamental features include the ability to chat, apply, lease, pay rent, submit maintenance requests and move in, all online. Immediate access to service and leasing tools via a customer’s preferred device is essential to today’s renter! While we are not intending to retire our ILS paid listings just yet, we plan to enhance our search engine optimization efforts to improve property website visibility. With the right investment and focused marketing efforts, we realize it is possible to achieve first-page ranking in a web search. We’re interested in tailored pay-per-click programs that are designed to boost relevant traffic and have the ability to implement the latest ad creation strategies, allowing us to bypass expensive ILS ads. The goal is to direct more traffic to our websites!❞

—The Marketing Department, WinnResidential


❝From a lead-generation standpoint, one of the areas we feel is key to our marketing plan is the use of call centers. We plan on continuing to partner and expand with [our provider] where we can. A main driver for this decision is based upon their record of answering 100 percent of calls/email 24/7, and their lead-to-appointment conversion percentage, which is between 40 and 43 percent; compare that to the industry average of about 15 percent. That alone is a huge delta in appointments captured for a community, which is so important to obtaining signed leases. The second advantage of partnering with our call center is that we get actionable analytics and trended data. They are tracking each individual lead source—whether it be ILS, newspaper or print guide, or a website—with a unique 800 number. So, when a prospect calls that number, they keep a record of which source that person came from. This information is very important for us to be able to gauge how much we spend on individual media sources, and track if that media is working—you can get a cost per lead, a cost per lease and a conversion to lease, and more, from that data. That’s huge for my team to make sure we are providing our internal clients with the highest quality lead source at the lowest possible cost. Having this type of call center data helps us to develop a media plan based on specific marketing sources that “really” work versus ones that we have a gut feeling are working. Another area of focus for us, in 2014, will be further exploration of online reputation management. I think as an industry, we have a great opportunity to do a better job of responding to feedback and comments that are coming to us from prospects and residents. Being able to track and respond to this information can be the difference between having a great apartment community and one that’s just so-so. At Bell, our goal is to be great.❞

—Kevin Thompson, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Bell Partners

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