By Jessica Fiur, News Editor
Phoenix—Would you consider giving away a year’s rent to a resident? No? Maybe you should rethink that. Mark-Taylor Residential, a real estate firm with units in Phoenix; Las Vegas; Seattle; and Portland, Ore., set up a scavenger hunt last year, with the winner getting a free year of rent, and had hundreds of participants. That’s hundreds of prospective renters checking out the Mark-Taylor communities.
This year, Mark-Taylor is stepping up their scavenger hunt—which they call the “Great Hunt”—and giving it a savvy tech spin. It’s app-based, and finalists then submit a video to the website that showcases their passion for Mark-Taylor and explains how free rent would better their lives. The winner will then win the free rent for a year. The Great Hunt starts on November 11th, and the winner will be picked on December 9th.
MHN speaks with Kim Atkinson, director of marketing, Mark-Taylor, about this year’s Great Hunt and why they decided to give away free rent in the first place.
MHN: How did you come up with the idea for scavenger hunts?
Atkinson: We were looking for different ways to cast a wider net and generate some interest, not just from residents, but from prospective residents as well. We all spent a whole lot of timing figuring out how to get people to visit our properties, and it’s nice to dangle a carrot—like free rent for a year—in order to do that. It’s a big prize, and the whole concept was just to get people to recognize the Mark-Taylor community and to visit one of our properties, because they actually have to visit one of the properties to participate.
MHN: This year the scavenger hunt is more technology-based. How does this work?
Atkinson: We found a company called Scavenger. I’d actually found them last year when trying to research the format for the Great Hunt in 2010. For the first year, I wanted to keep it very simple and low-tech. The format last year was based on hiding items on our website, then you would find the item on the website that would tell you which property to go to, and they would go to that property to find that item—like a beach ball—and there would be a cash prize attached. I found the group, but I just wasn’t ready to do that. A year later [Scavenger] had a lot of success and a lot of case studies, different brands like Chevrolet and other companies, and those companies want people to come to their places of business just like we do, so it seemed like a good fit.
Anybody with a cellphone can participate, whether you download the app to your iPhone or your Android, or you could play via text on a regular cellphone or even a Blackberry. Anybody who is willing to give it a try and check it out can participate. It’s open to residents and non-residents alike, and the technology just takes it a step further and invites people to explore different areas of our communities.
MHN: How did the residents find out about the app? How far in advance did you market this?
Atkinson: Mark-Taylor is one of the only companies in our industry to do entire company-wide leasing campaigns. So the Great Hunt is promoted across all of our marketing channels, across every property in four markets, so you’ll see it on all of our ILS listings and you’ll see it on our website; we have signage throughout each property. We have banner ads on apartmentguide.com. It’s a very layered and integrated campaign with touch points for every part of the consumer experience. So even when you call a property and are put on hold, the message is about the Great Hunt. You really can’t miss it.
We’ve been promoting this campaign since October 1st. So we had a long promotional phase. We have more than 4,000 fans on our Facebook page, so we’ve been hyping it several weeks, and put the registration live here a couple of days ago, and we’re getting all kinds of interest. Through the registration, I’m discovering how people are finding out about this, and it’s a pretty good mix. We do have a little radio sponsorship in the Phoenix markets, so some people are hearing about it on the radio. Some are residents who have seen the signage; some are getting it from our Facebook page. It’s why we do these campaigns across all channels, because different people get information in different ways.
MHN: Say a non-resident wins. Is there a specific apartment he would get? For example, would he be able to pick the penthouse? And could current residents “trade up” if they won?
Atkinson: The way we’ve structured it is that it’s a $10,000 prize toward rent, and it can be applied to any unit that’s available in any Mark-Taylor community, in all four Mark-Taylor states. It’s a big credit to their apartment, basically. The $10,000 would cover a majority of what we have, but if you want the penthouse, you’re probably going to have some that you’ll be responsible for.
MHN: I’m assuming you had a great turnout last year, because who wouldn’t want to live free for a year? How many people did you get?
Atkinson: We stretched out the campaign for several months last year, so each community had their day where that item would be hidden and people would head out to the property to find it. Then we had a finale event in January. I would say at least 200 people showed up for the finale event. As far as the participation throughout the event, I would say anywhere from 15 to 30 people, at least, chiming in on Facebook, or a handful on each property to find that item.
MHN: Are you expecting the same turnout this year?
Atkinson: I am watching it! I am watching it with all of you. I think that with the registration just going live on Tuesday evening we had 50 people register by the time I came into the office in the morning, and a day later we were up to 100 participants, and I think that’s pretty good. We’re not going to cut off registration because it’s all played through this cellphone technology so there’s really no limit, and we have 48 communities in four states. The timeframe this is all taking place is over the course of a week and a half, so we just have our folks on standby ready to welcome people who are coming out.
The challenges are fairly simple, but they do require you to be at the property to complete the challenge. The GPS technology on the smartphone is helping us track that the participant is indeed at the property. They have to click on their phone to tell Google Maps where they are in order to get points. They’ll be tweeting about it and Facebooking about it, so there’s a huge viral marketing piece to this as well. As they complete these challenges they’re going to be telling their friends about it, which is a huge upside for us.
MHN: It’s a landlord’s market right now, and vacancy rates are usually pretty low. Why choose now to give away a year’s rent?
Atkinson: In truth, the summertime is usually the busiest time for moving activity, and we just finished our “Summer of Love” campaign, which includes pool parties and sponsored events in all of our cities, and that follows the “while all the fish are biting” strategy. Be out there while people are looking. Well, once we come off of that high from the summer, traffic can slow down during the fall months. We want to keep our name very prevalent and be very active in folks’ minds during the couple of months leading up to the holidays, because we know December is a really tough month, but January is a great month. We want to be top-of-mind during the fall months, so when it comes time to really move and pull the trigger, they’ve heard about us, they’ve heard about the Great Hunt, they understand that we’re here and we’re ready to take them in.
MHN: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Atkinson: Just that using this technology is something that’s never been done before in our industry, so we’re excited at the initial interest. To see the number of registrations happen so quickly is a really positive sign. Mark-Taylor is not afraid to be cutting-edge and try different things. So we’ll be watching to see how it all turns out, and it’s exciting to be a part of it!