Mobile Devices

What’s in, out and next in the world of smartphone and tablet marketing.

Imagine being able to tap your smartphone to a device to download an apartment marketing brochure. That capability is enabled by “Near Field Communication” (NFC), and it seems everyone in the apartment industry nowadays refers to this technology when asked about the next cutting-edge mobile marketing trend.

“There are rumors that the next iPhone will have that technology,” says Kevin Danielson, senior web content associate at Greystar. “NFC has the potential to be far more successful than QR codes.”

Essentially, Near Field Communication enables smart phones and other devices to communicate via radio waves by coming into proximity of one another. “NFC could allow for contactless transactions, data exchange and simplified setup of other more complex actions,” says Mike Whaling, president and founder of the social media consulting firm 30 Lines.

Whaling says that in addition to downloading brochures, prospects could swipe their phones to “like” the community’s Facebook page. Other possible apartment industry applications include sending property information or even using phones as keys to access apartments, says Sara Scarborough Graham, director of marketing at Dolben.

The benefits to Near Field Communication includes “more effective interaction between devices,” says Danielson. Tasks can be accomplished more easily with less user input, he says. “The biggest problem with NFC right now is that not many devices have it yet, most notably Apple devices,” says Whaling. “Certainly keep an eye on this one. If it starts to become standard on more devices, it may be something to consider for marketing applications.”

Near Field Communication is a form of mobile marketing—itself the next-generation of marketing—which is targeted at users of mobile devices. The reason mobile marketing is important is the sharp increase in the use of smart phones and other mobile electronic devices by the public. According to the latest data from Nielsen, as of February 2012, almost half—49.7 percent—of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smart phones, compared to only 36 percent in 2011. As for tablets such as the iPad, a study in March 2012 by the Online Publishers Association showed that 31 percent (74 million) of Internet users use tablets, compared to 12 percent in 2011.

Mobile marketing concerns in the apartment industry may be limited at present to developing mobile-optimized web sites. That is the correct approach to take at this time, says Whaling. “I think it is important that we focus on being really good at the most ubiquitous mobile technologies first,” he advises.

“The most important thing apartment companies can do today to leverage the trend toward mobile is have a mobile-friendly web site. A responsive web site is best, but even a mobile-optimized web site is a huge help.”

Whaling says that on average, 20 to 30 percent of web site traffic is coming from mobile devices today. “If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, you’re basically telling one in five web site visitors that you’re not catering to them. We have clients who have seen year-over-year traffic to their property web sites increase by over 20 percent after launching responsive designs.”

Indeed, efforts to ensure a mobile-friendly web presence seem to be taking precedence over the creation of apps. Moreover, although many larger apartment companies have developed their own mobile apps, these apps tend to be intended for use by existing residents—for example, to pay rent or submit maintenance orders—rather than for marketing purposes, says Danielson.

“At Dolben, we have chosen to focus primarily on mobile-optimized web sites rather than on developing a custom app,” agrees Graham. “The technology gives our residents a great mobile experience in a cost-effective way.” All Dolben properties have mobile-optimized web sites.

And as for Greystar, Danielson says one of the company’s initiatives is to adopt Responsive Web Design, a web-design technique that enables the company’s web site to adjust to fit the particular height and length of the user’s viewing screen, whether the screen is part of a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

Tablets and QR codes are other popular mobile marketing tools recently adopted by the apartment industry. In fact, tablet use by leasing agents when conducting property tours is on the rise. About 25 percent of Dolben’s properties use iPads in the leasing process, says Graham. “While this is still a pilot program, we are finding that the technology adds a new dimension to our leasing presentations,” says Graham. “And for our communities that are also using a revenue management system, the iPad lets our leasing consultants provide a custom quote in the middle of the tour if a prospective resident is eager to begin the application process.”

The “buzz around QR codes [seems] to have died down a bit,” says Whaling. “In many cases, there is just not enough of an incentive for the consumer to open the app and scan the code. If you are using QR codes, again, make sure the landing page, form and video on the other end of the link are mobile friendly.” However, while Graham acknowledges that many “marketers are saying QR codes are going the way of the dodo bird,” she also points out that QR codes “make it so easy for prospects and residents to connect with us.” Many of the company’s fliers and brochures include a QR code that links to a mobile-optimized web site. Dolben also uses QR codes to help promote its community Facebook pages and YouTube videos. “We find that they are a useful tool overall,” says Graham.

Going forward, HTML5 and other technologies that enable location-based marketing may be the next developments on the horizon in the world of mobile marketing, presenting a “huge opportunity for apartment companies,” says Whaling. Location-based marketing, or “geomarketing,” refers to marketing that is based on the target viewer’s geographical location. Geomarketing takes advantage of the fact that these devices can also track the location of the consumer at any point in time.

Examples of geomarketing include sending the target audience a text message or e-mail with an offer when it comes within a certain range of an apartment property. Another example is sending apartment residents tips via Foursquare about partner businesses when they happen to set foot in those shops. “Being able to direct a prospect to the closest property based on where they’re currently standing provides incredible relevant information to help get that prospect in the door,” says Whaling.

Internet Listing Services have also developed apps that are location-based, says Danielson, and Internet browsers currently carry mobile marketing possibilities for apartment companies. For example, Google, Yahoo, Bing and Apple already offer location-based listing services, points out Danielson. These capabilities automatically identify the browser or smartphone user’s GPS location and provides search results based on that location. In that regard, apartment companies should ensure that their properties’ locations are registered with Google-Plus or Yahoo Maps, for example, to ensure they show up in GPS-based searches, advises Danielson.

Another exciting technology on the horizon that can be used in mobile marketing is Augmented Reality. Using Augmented Reality, a computer-generated image can be overlaid onto the view of reality that is displayed on the computer screen. In toy stores, the view of a toy shot on a video can be combined with a animated cartoon. “At the NMHC technology conference a few years ago, a speaker talked about someday being able to tour a community using AR technology. Fascinating stuff,” says Graham. “I’d love to see what other industries, especially hospitality and automotive, do with Near Field Communication and Augmented Reality.”

“If I had to pick one big technology to watch going forward, I think there is a lot more to be done around geo-location and location-specific marketing,” says Whaling.