Multifamily Marketing Revamped
The REMM Group’s Windell Mollenido discusses the pandemic’s transforming effect on how rental properties are marketed today.
Multifamily marketing is all about creativity, but the whole concept of ingenuity has been redefined since the pandemic hit, shifting almost entirely into the realm of the digital sphere. In-person tours were replaced with virtual tours and virtual workout webinars took the place of gyms.
While COVID-19 forced the industry to change fast and roll out new technology, maintaining a sense of community remained crucial, according to Windell Mollenido, director of marketing at The REMM Group. “The human experience is always the star of the movie and technology plays a supporting role,” Mollenido said.
With more than 18 years of digital marketing experience, Mollenido dives into what COVID-19 meant for multifamily marketing and reveals the most challenging decision he’s had to make since the onset of the health crisis.
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How would you describe the past 12 months when it comes to the multifamily industry?
Mollenido: When the COVID-19 crisis began we were all suddenly aware that we provide essential services and that our on-site teams were essential workers. The pressure to adapt to a constantly changing critical situation meant all hands were on deck. We had to rapidly deploy new procedures and policies, knowing the purpose was to save lives. There were very few “average days.” It was a situation that called on all of us to be our best.
The pandemic has expedited the use of more technology. Before the pandemic, our team was already using virtual meetings and virtual tours, and we were fortunate to have all these systems in place to meet new demand needs caused by business closures.
On an intra-organizational level, virtual meetings have helped our teams be more efficient and increased team collaboration. We have also experienced the effectiveness of having 10-minute Zoom meetings versus longer in-person meetings. Our clients have also provided positive feedback for the convenience of our virtual meetings. Our on-site teams save time with virtual leasing tools and have increased their lead-to-lease conversion ratios.
How has the health crisis impacted The REMM Group’s multifamily portfolio and operations?
Mollenido: COVID-19 had a significant impact on all our operations, but we were fortunate to have strong leadership and a talented team to move quickly on developing a COVID-19 response and rolling out robust COVID-19 policies and procedures. Our leadership’s fast response gave our on-site teams the tools and direction they need to operate and manage their communities in these unprecedented times.
Mollenido: Community tours saw the biggest changes in our marketing processes. Our teams had to follow social distancing, mask wearing and sanitation protocols while providing a positive experience during prospect tours. During the peaks of COVID-19, our teams became very effective at using virtual tours to replace in-person tour experiences.
Our training division developed specialized messaging and strategies to help our teams become effective at virtual leasing, as they are with in-person tours. We showed our teams techniques on lighting, slow video panning, selfie tips and more to create memorable virtual tour experiences. At the same time, we continued providing flexible touring options within Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for those prospects who need to see their future apartment home in person.
What was the most important decision you had to make since the onset of the pandemic as the marketing director of your organization?
Mollenido: As a marketing director, there are countless decisions to be made especially when we encounter new challenges to leasing apartments. Where should we allocate most of our marketing budget during a pandemic? Should we decrease or increase our marketing budget? Will our leasing team feel safe and can they provide a positive leasing experience with masks, gloves, social distancing and plexiglass between them and the prospect?
I think the biggest decision I faced as a marketing director this past year was moving forward with the in-person tours while following all CDC guidelines, even though we saw many competitors only provide virtual tours. We gauged our team’s comfort level, assessed each county differently based on their COVID-19 rules, and provided the support needed to keep our doors open when our local COVID-19 rules allowed us to be open.
What’s the best marketing strategy for property owners to ensure they have high occupancy levels in the current economic environment?
Mollenido: Hire a professional property management team that has a passion for this industry and are willing to go beyond and create value for the owner, the customer and each other. With so many unpredictable factors facing our industry, such as COVID-19, political and cultural shifts, state and local laws changing and eviction moratoriums being extended, owners need experts to help them navigate through all the challenges, avoid exposures and find opportunities to increase revenue.
What role does technology play in your marketing strategy?
Mollenido: Technology plays a very important supporting role in our marketing strategy. Our team utilizes website enhancements, ILS marketing sources, SEO/SEM, chatbots, virtual leasing, 3D floor plans, smart home devices, mobile devices for both office and maintenance teams and more.
However, nothing will ever replace the human value of on-site teams that genuinely care about their residents.
Associates who go beyond create value for their community, from dropping off a baby shower gift to a resident expecting a new family member, to the maintenance tech checking in with residents to make sure the new boiler is providing enough hot water, or the resident relations associate creating a virtual movie night with hand delivered bags of popcorn, soda and candy for all the residents. The human experience is always the star of the movie and technology plays a supporting role.
Mollenido: We never stopped marketing our amenities. The amenities still exist; Even though they are closed due to the pandemic, we are optimistic that they will open back up again. In the meantime, our teams have found other ways to provide the lost amenity value like providing free virtual workout webinars for our residents, enhancing outdoor amenities by hiring local musicians to play live music, and more.
What do you think are the most important things marketing professionals should have in their toolboxes right now to be successful?
Mollenido: I think marketing professionals should have a strong understanding of technology, data analytics and emotional intelligence. Technology changes fast, therefore a marketing professional must have enough knowledge of existing technology in our industry to navigate through the changes and recommend innovative tools to help improve sales and minimize expenses.
Collecting metrics to produce data is not enough. You also need to know how to analyze that data, remove outliers, read between the lines and write up an analysis that your stakeholders can use to take the appropriate action.
In today’s digital world, all types of metrics are being recorded, data is being collected, KPIs are being set, but too many organizations are analyzing it incorrectly. Data is only useful if the analysts can derive the correct story from that data.
What are some of the permanent marketing changes you expect to see in the multifamily industry beyond the pandemic?
Mollenido: We will continuously use and enhance our virtual tours. COVID-19 is starting to become more manageable and businesses are opening up. However, more renters are looking outside their current city/county to find an apartment, especially urban renters moving to rural areas.
What’s the most important lesson you learned in the past year?
Mollenido: We can move faster when implementing new technology and procedures. We do not have to completely dismiss our traditionally meticulous implementation process, but we can modify and speed it up to test new programs quickly.
One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that it forced our industry to change fast and roll out new technology. At our last team meeting on Zoom, our on-site teams were all on camera, using online polls, sharing their screen and engaging with each other. Our teams are collaborating on Google Workspace, Smartsheets and ShareFile, cutting down on emails, errors and redundancy. The challenges of 2020 have made our teams stronger, more efficient and even more connected than ever before.