Marketing Smart

When it comes to attracting new residents, is it the steak or the sizzle that really sells a multifamily community?
Executive Editor Paul Rosta
Executive Editor Paul Rosta

The easiest job an owner ever had marketing a unit to prospective residents must have been when my wife and I were looking nine years ago. Taking charge of the search, my wife quickly tracked down a place with plenty of appeal. Dubbed The Chocolate Factory, the community offered central heating, a six-minute walk to the train and handsome brick cladding—a memento of the building’s late 19th-century origins.

But the truth is that the owner had me at The Chocolate Factory. Irresistible and shrewdly chosen, the handle was inspired by the property’s long-ago stint as a place of candy-making. I’m sorry to report that Willy Wonka never did make an appearance, but our year-long residence brought other rewards. To name one, the interior courtyard featured trees that topped out at the fourth floor. Early on summer evenings, a flock of parrots would regularly settle into the treetops and raise a ruckus that you could hear for blocks.

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Holly Dutton’s report on marketing strategies in this issue made me think about The Chocolate Factory and how operators compete for residents. It’s been years since I was in the hunt myself, so I tried a little thought experiment. I adopted the mindset of a footloose prospective renter, unable to pick from such dynamic cities as Austin, Nashville and Los Angeles. Conducted from the comfort of my desk, my virtual tour took me from coast to coast in about 45 minutes. Sophisticated operators promoted their product with highly polished slideshows, videos and sample floorplans. If I’d been looking for real, I wouldn’t have hesitated to sign a lease, even without setting foot at a single property.

As Dutton’s report makes clear, however, marketing a community to residents takes more than videos, 3D models or Amazon ads. Along with unprecedented power, social media brings challenges to reputation management and a need for caution. What hasn’t changed is that marketing must be tailored to the customer. One senior professional told Dutton that he likes to use billboards, an old-school yet effective way to catch the eye of Baby Boomers who may be beyond the reach of social media.

The takeaway is that owners and managers should embrace today’s amazing new digital tools but that doesn’t mean you need to send the old tools to the junkyard tomorrow. Vital as marketing campaigns are, the community itself is the ultimate selling point. In other words, don’t get so caught up with the sizzle that you neglect the steak.