Disruptive Technologies

Apartment marketing makes use of new consumer-driven capabilities.

Of the 39,000-plus visits to Cortland Partners’ Web site in the early part of this year, 39 percent of the visitors viewed the web site from a tablet and 43 percent from a cell phone. As Melanie French, executive vice president of operations, notes, only a small fraction of the traffic originated from desktops.

These are just some of the types of information Cortland Partners was able to obtain—courtesy of Google Analytics. As Google Analytics’ functionalities demonstrate, Internet companies themselves are constantly enhancing their offerings, and these enhancements may very well prove to be useful for apartment marketers.

Given the plethora of offerings on the Internet—and the important fact that more and more renters are searching on the Internet for apartments—the keys to apartment marketing today have extended beyond traditional practices to “selling” apartment communities on the Web.

“In previous years, marketing apartments homes was very old school, involving advertising in newspapers and catalogues via classified and display ads. Marketing today has become about lead generation and driving traffic to the community. To do this, you have to be very adept in online lead generation,” French says.

Search engine optimization, responsive design and online reputation management are all buzzwords in this new world. For French, one of the most useful new technologies for apartment marketing comes in the form of Google’s AdWords. If an apartment company programs certain search words into Google’s AdWords program—for example “apartment,” “luxury,” “Atlanta”-—an ad linking to the company’s Web site will appear in the results for the prospective renter who typed in matching search words. Also, under various Internet advertising programs, users who have typed search words that align with the company’s will pull up the company’s ad again the next time they go onto the Web or Web site.

Essentially, these Internet programs constitute new methods of lead generation, French points out. Under AdWords, how high the company’s ads appear on the Google search page will depend on how much the company is willing to bid to pay for the ad, and also on the relevance of the Web site. The program can become expensive, though, French says, as a company “pays based on your hits.”

Nevertheless, “Google AdWords works very well for us. It helps us significantly in our marketing campaign,” French says. Recently, after Cortland Partners renewed its strategies on a variety of Internet platforms from Google to Twitter to Apartment Ratings, Facebook and Four Square, its Web site  experienced an increase in unique visitors from 20,238 in November 2013 to about 39,000 in April 2014.

“We are seeing disruptive technologies in the apartment marketing space,” agrees CJ Edmonds, vice president of sales at G5, a company which helps multifamily firms optimize their online presence. “How apartment prospects are finding you and leasing will continue to change in the next few years.”

Edmonds points out that, in today’s world, prospects may know all about the apartment community as a result of their Internet searches even before they set foot on a property for a tour, if at all. That phenomenon has been referred to as the “Zero Moment of Truth”: Prospects “can find so much information about the apartment community that they have the information even before you have the chance to influence them” when meeting with them.

It becomes very important, then, for apartment companies to optimize their Internet presence, whether it is reputation management or Web site presence or Web advertising. Edmonds advises: “Be found and be great.”

One of the new technologies that apartment companies should pay attention to is the Google+ Local program, Edmonds suggests. Google+ Local provides a directory with associated reviews “of every business in the world.” Apartment companies would be well-advised to control their presentation by supplying the content for their profiles on Google+ Local. “If you do not provide the content, Google will do it for you,” Edmonds says.

Responsive design-—a function of skilled code-writing—is another critical technology today, as it enables a company’s Web site to be optimized across all devices, whether they are desktop computers, iPhones, Androids or iPads, adds Edmonds.

In the area of resident reviews and ratings, a new possibility lies in limiting comments to current residents of a community. One of the prime complaints of apartment companies is the anonymous nature of ratings and reviews sites, says Scott Asher, vice president of marketing and operations, at RentPath, which owns the Web sites Apartment Guide, Rent.com, Rentals.com, RentalHouses.com and other Internet Listing Services. Anonymous reviews could unfortunately allow for “gaming of the system.” By contrast, when ratings and reviews are available only to residents of the community, a greater degree of “authenticity” is possible, Asher says.

Apartment companies today can be automatically notified when written reviews of their communities appear on the Internet. According to French, Cortland Partners operates a reputation dashboard that allows it to view in real time reviews appearing, for example, on Yelp, Apartment Ratings, or Google. Many residents will not write reviews unless they are really unhappy, French notes. “So you have to really manage these reviews” and respond to any customer complaints. Managing resident reviews “is really critical. [The reviews] can make or break a community,” French says.

Positive reviews by residents, on the other hand, can be used as marketing tools. For example, a resident of Cortland Partners posted on her Facebook page about her being “resident of the month.” Based on its reputation dashboard, Cortland Partners was able to pick up on that review and really show the review to its marketing advantage.

Another new technological capability in apartment marketing is demonstrated by the “full-service” capabilities of some Web sites today: Residents not only can search for apartments, but also apply for an apartment, sign the lease, pay their rent and post maintenance requests via the Web sites. Customers “do not want to go to different places” to accomplish different functions, Asher says. “If you have found the place you like, you would rather go online, apply right there. And as a renter, you would pay your rent from the app.”

Many of these new marketing technologies are merely providing what the apartment customers demand, or are convenient to them, Asher says. “It’s all about the consumer. We give the consumer what they look for.” As such, mobile apps—whether for Android, iPad, iPhone or Kindle Fire—are a particular area of focus for RentPath. Look for apartment marketing technologies to become, in the words of Asher, even more “Easy, Seamless, Integrated” in future for the consumer. “We have to anticipate what the Millennials want and need.”