Chicago—Chicago-based McCaffery Interests develops creative mixed-used projects that blend comfortable lifestyles with convenient locations and amenities. The developer and property manager also invests in finding the ideal residents for its projects, focusing on a sophisticated urban consumer who is technically savvy.
Digital Marketing Manager Peter Lillis recently spoke with Multi-Housing News about how his team focuses its marketing resources to achieve maximum results.
MHN: McCaffery Interests was an early adopter of using blogs to tell residents, prospects, shoppers and neighbors about work on new projects and redevelopment efforts. How has that marketing strategy matured over the years that you’ve utilized it?
Lillis: It’s always been a priority of ours to have a consistent voice and capitalize on the opportunity to reach the people you need to reach. We do blogs and newsletters, and that strategy has become an ongoing content conversation with all of our audiences: residents, prospects, or the community at large. I spend a lot of time making sure we are saying the right things, in the right way, in the right places to reach the people we need to reach. The blogging strategy was the beginning of that, and we’ve extended it well past that now to a comprehensive strategy.
MHN: What is the primary way you communicate with residents?
Lillis: It’s mostly emails, but we have some digital display signage in the buildings as well. Direct email ensures we have direct contact with the residents, rather than relying on them to visit our blogs.
MHN: With your portfolio having such a unique blend of residential and commercial tenants, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about any marketing strategies that crossover between those two areas of the real estate world?
Lillis: The crossover is pretty important to all of our properties, especially those that have been developed by McCaffery Interests. We’ve been focusing a lot of our time on all-in-one-style properties where you can really have a whole lifestyle, such as the Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop, and The Morgan at Loyola Station. Both have shopping centers in addition to the residential aspect. I work with both the retail and residential staff to promote store openings. We get the word out to residents first with email, lobby signage and door drops. Whenever possible we do partnerships with the new retailers. For example, a yoga studio just opened at Roosevelt Collection which offered discounted classes for residents.
We also have twice monthly events, typically in partnership with one of our retailers, who offer some type of giveaway or promotion. Managers will ask residents as they come through the lobby whether they’ve been to the sponsoring business, and we can cross promote that way.
MHN: Talk a little bit about your latest development projects and present any unique marketing challenges that they may bring to the table.
Lillis: The most immediate one is Verde Point, a mixed use center in Arlington, Va. That property is to be delivered this coming summer. The biggest challenge with that is competition. There are a lot of new high end properties coming online in the area near the same time. The unique marketing challenge is making sure that our voice is heard and people are aware that this will be a great property where they may want to live–without actually having a finished property to show. The challenge is being able to sell something that, as of now, is still early in construction. We are trying to find more ways of being active in the community, whether its events, early development of an interested resident list and pre-pre-leasing.
MHN: How are you addressing the challenge of a more crowded space for Class A inventory?
Lillis: It makes leasing a lot more active of a job than it used to be. You need to be direct, engaging and able to bring in the people you target. We are trying to get ahead of that and be as forward with our online offerings and with our general personality in order to stave off that competition in the space. Yardi’s RentCafe application allows us to be as specifically branded as we want and need to be.
MHN: When you look at the rapidly changing world of digital marketing, what were some surprises – things that worked better than expected, and technologies that have faded quickly?
Lillis: QR codes – which still come up occasionally, but I don’t know why. I’ve never been a fan of those as a user, and as a marketer I don’t think people used them much or will use them in the future.
Things that have surprised me positively: We’ve spent a lot of time in the last year on cost-per-click advertising. It’s been around for the last 10 years, but I have found it to be very effective through search and display ads for properties. People click on them, and come to the site from those ads. They see the great websites we have in place and we have closed leases solely online, where someone applied because they saw the ad. They’ve been more successful for us than our ILS ads.
MHN: If you were marooned on a desert island and needed to conduct a lease-up of a new residence there for other residents, what would be two items in your Marketing Genius toolkit that you’d deem essential?
Lillis: Adobe Creative Suite, and a newsletter tool, to be able to communicate directly with prospects.