Dallas–It is estimated that, worldwide, possession and use of mobile phones is almost four times higher than the ownership of personal computers; about 20 percent of all U.S. households are mobile only; and Gen-Y consistently lists the phone as the most important device they own.
With data like this readily available, the multifamily industry doesn’t need seminars on cellphone strategies to know that mobile usage is one of the hottest trends to watch out for. But a session such as the one held at the NMHC Technology Conference, aptly titled “Mobile Strategies,” helps the industry keep track of what their peers are doing, and to get ideas from the pioneers.
RAM Partners LLC rolled out their mobile site in the second quarter of this year. “We are very new to mobile strategies but we wanted to create a mobile website,” Brenda Lindner, senior vice president of operations at RAM Partners, says. “In the process, we learned that industry experts are the way to go. Critical things to consider are consistency and branding. Don’t go too outside the box from what the corporate site looks like on a computer.”
The company has decided not to go with an application for now, because of the various platforms that exist. “It turned out to be too expensive,” Lindner says.
Gables Residential had been dipping their toes in the mobile world during the last year and a half. “We are now in the process of refreshing our site to make it more mobile friendly,” says Lynette Hegeman, vice president of marketing at Gables. “The most important piece of this is to assess what you are trying to accomplish. Make it part of everything you are doing.”
Hegemen says mobile web users look for the following in order of preference: It has to be free; they have to get something in return; the intrusion should me minimum; they should be able to opt in and out; there should be informed content/units; it should be effortless and relevant.
Waterton Residential wanted something different, so the company hired industry experts for the functionality but went outside the industry for design. “But the site looks just like everybody else’s, so that did not work out,” says Gregory Lozinak, executive vice president and COO of Waterton.
All three companies’ sites are attracting more current residents as compared to prospective tenants, though ultimately that seems to be the goal. According to Lozinak, of their total mobile traffic, 39 percent is prospects and 61 percent is current residents. The functionality of the mobile site and the website is the same, with RAM’s mobile site offering current residents the option to pay rent on the go.
What’s the deal with text messaging?
While text messaging is big and a preferred way to communicate for most young people, it has limited applications in the multifamily industry. “We haven’t found great success with texting from a marketing perspective, but we will continue to throw it out there and monitor it,” Lindner says.
Hegeman agrees. “We tested texting with several residents. The problem is that people have to opt into receiving text messages, and for people to be aware of that, you have to advertise. We did not get the response we were hoping for. I think it has a place in our industry, mostly in resident communications. But make sure to get permission from residents before sending them messages.”
Text messaging is an interactive experience, says Lozinak. “So you have to make sure that if you send a text, there is someone to respond to the replies or queries you might get. It’s still unclear as to how to get that interaction going. It works in case of communicating with residents, but from a marketing standpoint, what can you send them through text messages?”
Next in the world of mobile
Everyone agrees that QR barcodes are really changing things up. “You can load them with whatever you want,” Hegeman says. “They are easy and inexpensive. You can link them to Facebook, floor plans, videos and coupons. It could also just be an incentive, or a resident referral. We are very excited about it. The technology transcends across platforms, and no matter the smartphone, it will work. That’s what differentiates it from the applications side of things.” According to a survey done by Gables’ vendor, 71 percent of consumers are willing to use mobile barcodes.
The Mobile Marketing Ecosystem