Appealing to Tech-Savvy Renters

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor 

These days, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a mobile device seemingly glued to his or her fingers. Having leapfrogged fixed Internet usage, mobile usage will surely continue gobbling share from all other forms of access. Little wonder that mobile advertising spending is projected to more than double between 2015 and 2019, as reported in a study this year by eMarketer.

The multifamily industry is responding and, in the process, growing increasingly conversant with terms and concepts like geofencing, snackable content, social sign-ins, mobile responsiveness and stopping the thumb. The opportunities for marketers of apartment communities appear to be endless. The big challenge ahead, one industry expert divulged, will be to leverage all those exciting capabilities without becoming too “big brothery.”

As renters grow more and more dependent on mobile devices with each passing day, it has become their first screen of choice, said Mike Whaling, president of the Columbus, Oh.-based digital marketing agency 30 Lines. Sure, they have options ranging from phone and iPad to desktop computer and TV, but “everything is secondary to what’s in my hand,” he said. Topping the list of the most important trends impacting multifamily mobile marketing, Whaling added, are developments in video, visuals and “location, location, location—but the prospect’s location, not yours.”

With social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope all jumping on video, expectations are changing. “People want video, and the social networks are responding by giving them more video,” he reported. “The apartment communities can offer the traditional video tour, a meet-the-staff video, neighborhood profiles and testimonials. Periscope is a good example of a provider that can allow you to do a virtual tour in real time that can include a live question-and-answer session as part of that tour.”

As for visuals, with mobile devices becoming the first screen of choice, less and less time is being spent interacting with a brand’s written content. That should spur companies to ensure they’re communicating visually. More information can be communicated visually than in a paragraph of text. “Images are more important than ever on websites when viewed from a mobile device,” said Esther Bonardi, industry principal with Yardi in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“In addition to your text content, the more relevant images you can add to display your content visually, the better. Consumers don’t want to spend a lot of time reading on a small screen. It’s important to both show and tell.” Moreover, content on a mobile device should be as “snackable” as possible, Bonardi noted. Snackable content is the kind easily consumed on the go. “Visual content like photos and video fits the bill,” she added.

Earlier, the most important messages had to be “above the fold.” If prospects are in a social media stream, they typically are flipping through the stream searching for something of interest to them, Whaling said. “You should really be thinking about creating visual content that stops the prospect’s thumb, and stops him or her from scrolling,” he advised. “How important is that? It’s important because you don’t have very much time, and a visual is the best way to communicate your message in a short period.”

As for “location, location, location,” there is much multifamily properties can do to geo-target their advertising on Google, Twitter, Facebook and even on banner ads placed on other websites and inside mobile apps. If a company’s goal is to run ads aimed solely at people in Columbus listening to Pandora, they can do that, based on the location of the device, Whaling said.

Holli Beckman, vice president of marketing and leasing operations with W.C. Smith in Washington, D.C., is also sold on the benefits of hyper-targeted ads. “We can deliver ads customized to a ridiculously specific audience,” she said. “That allows us to stretch our advertising dollar and get a better ROAS. The benefit to the consumer is seeing ads that are more relevant to them.” Keep in mind that pay-per-click advertising can be especially important to your mobile strategy, Bonardi said. Very few search results can be displayed on a mobile screen, and the top results are typically paid ads.

Best practices
In the multifamily industry, best practices always boil down to grasping the basics of your consumer’s behavior, Beckman said. It’s been shown 65 percent of all emails are now opened on a mobile device, which means all aspects of your email marketing campaign must be optimized for the best user experience on mobile. That includes shorter subject lines and earlier calls to action. “I’ve seen tons of emails that look fantastic on my phone,” Beckman said. “Then I click…and it takes me to a non-responsive website. Total fail! You’ve already won big if your consumer has actually opened that email. You need to capitalize on that open with a clear message and easy-to-execute call to action.”

Mobile-responsive websites and responsive email are not optional at this point, Whaling noted. Property management companies must make sure their content is optimized for location. It also means claiming all their local listings on Yelp, Google My Business, Yahoo Local and These sites are indicators of your property and its specific locale, he said. Make sure all your content indicates your location, so search engines can easily take searchers in your vicinity to your website.

“[Ensure] people can click one button to call you, or click one button to get directions to your property,” he added. “I have a phone in my hand; I want to get to you. Can I click one button and call you or get directions? All of this is about creating the right context to communicate the most relevant message to the prospect.” Similarly, companies should react to increased mobility by asking for less information. When the prospect is on her phone, typing with her thumbs, don’t expect her to fill out a seven-page application. Ask her to fill out a guest card.
Beckman says she is a “huge fan” of using social sign-in to let customers fill out contact inquiry forms. “Have you ever tried to fill out any form on mobile?” she asked.

“It’s excruciating. If your customers have the option to just click a social sign-in and auto-populate the data, of course they are going to use it. In the end, it’s all about being the easiest company to do business with.” As part of your mobile marketing effort, also remember that everyone has a high-definition camera in his or her pocket. Among them are your onsite teams and happiest residents. Make it easy for staff and residents to capture and share visuals, Whaling suggested.

The next big thing
What’s ahead for multifamily mobile marketing? “We’re going to get a lot smarter about how we move people through responsive websites,” Whaling said.
Multifamily industry companies are creating beautiful websites. The next step, Whaling believes, is to make those sites easier and more user friendly for the apartment shopper. Multifamily will likely learn how from other industries.

Also worth watching will be the emergence of beacons, which are physical devices enabling place-based marketing when individuals visit a property. “With beacons, I will have the opportunity to do extremely geographically targeted messaging,” Whaling said. “I think this will be particularly important in marketing to your current customers.”

While the ability to push offers to customers entering a digital geofence may continue to be regarded as too intrusive by some, “geofencing for resident messaging would likely be well received by apartment renters,” Bonardi said. “It’s too early to really say whether or not geofencing will be the next big thing for the apartment industry, but it has possibilities if used correctly.”
Beckman feels a fundamental shift will be to first design and strategize for mobile devices, then adapt that for desktop. After all, 80 percent of smart phone users have their phone with them all but two hours of the day. She added, “With any of this new technology, it’s about harnessing the power of the data, without coming off as totally creeptastic and big brothery.”