Marketing to Multiple Generations

Today's renter pool comprises a wide range of ages that can pose challenges to developers, owners and operators. Eric Clark of Bainbridge Cos. shares four tips on how communities can appeal to anyone.

Eric Clark

Millennials, Millennials, Millennials. Peruse some industry trades or attend a multifamily conference, and you might get the impression that the renting population consists entirely of this generation.

The focus on Millennials in multifamily is certainly understandable. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015 Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Furthermore, they are set to become the largest living adult generation next year. So, of course, they are at the very heart of the renter pool.

However, the truth is that renters are a diverse group. As Baby Boomers age, they are selling their homes and opting for the ease and convenience of apartment living. And as Generation Z reaches early adulthood, they are emerging as a sizable segment of the renting population. The post-Millennial cohort will account for 33 percent of the global population by 2020, and they already contribute $44 billion annually to the U.S. economy, according to Commscope.

Clearly, multifamily developers—unless they are building communities specifically targeted at seniors or students—are tasked with creating and marketing properties that appeal simultaneously to different generations. How can they go about doing that?

Flexible common spaces

Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z all enjoy common areas at apartment communities, but they want them for different purposes. For example, Baby Boomers love onsite group activities that allow for ample socializing. Think dance lessons, wine tastings, cooking classes and brunches with room for large groups to sit together. Gen Z’ers, on the other hand, prefer the “alone together” concept. Yes, they want to spend time in the community clubhouse, but they want to be in their own nook while on their mobile device.

The result is that developers have to strike that balance of designing a community’s common areas so that they can easily accommodate group activities but still allow individuals to use them and have their own space when a group activity isn’t taking place.

Understand the differing technology needs

Today we all use technology. Suffice to say, though, each generation has a different relationship with mobile devices and technology.

Millennials grew up immersed in the Internet. Gen Z—they haven’t known a world without the Internet, instant access and as such, they are absolutely wedded to their smartphones and mobile devices. Communities need to offer blazing-fast Internet speeds in both common areas and apartment homes. Similarly, younger residents are perfectly happy, and even prefer, to fill out maintenance requests online and then communicate with the service team exclusively via text afterwards. In fact, they often view phone calls related to the requests as unwelcome encroachments on their personal time. They want to control when and how they communicate with their community; be sure your technologies and platforms can meet that demand.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Baby Boomers are generally happy to complete that initial service request online, but afterwards they want to speak with the technicians and leasing staff as the work order proceeds and is completed.

On another technology note, apartment owners and operators looking to appeal to a broad swath of renters should outfit their units with enough smart-home technology—say, Nest thermostats and smart locks—to be attractive to younger renters but they shouldn’t go so overboard that they intimidate the older crowd.

Choose the right location

As the old saying goes, real estate has always been about location, location, location. That’s especially true in today’s multifamily industry.

Overall, renters have become more inclined towards in-town living in recent years, but downtown properties can be tough to build in a way that appeals to a mass audience. Instead, development sites that are located about 10 minutes away from a central business district can offer real advantages. These less expensive and bigger sites can allow developers to build units at a size and with a finish level that attract residents in their mid-30s and older, while still allowing younger renters to be within an easy and inexpensive Uber or Lyft ride of downtown. These locations also provide the walkability and proximity to jobs that renters of all ages are seeking.

Market strategically

Each generation responds to different marketing tactics. But when trying to generate leads for an apartment community, it’s best to heavily consider geography. For instance, in urban markets that skew younger, chat bots and robust text campaigns will prove to be invaluable tools. In southern suburban areas, you’re going to need to focus more on face-to-face hospitality, regardless of the age of prospects.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of marketing methods that some in the industry might be quick to dismiss as “old school.” You might be surprised at how younger Millennials and Gen Z’ers respond to guerrilla marketing. For example, I’ve seen communities enjoy considerable results from having a leasing agent set up shop in a local coffee house, unobtrusively strike up conversations with the patrons and even offer to pay for their coffee.

Today’s renter pool comprises a wide range of ages. The diversity in age can pose some real challenges to developers, owners and operators. But in the end, these are challenges that, with planning and strategic thought, can be readily overcome.

Eric Clark is vice president of Marketing & Strategic Development for the Bainbridge Cos. He oversees the strategic planning and execution of marketing and branding at the corporate and community level in addition to the company’s training and team development initiatives.

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