New York–It’s a long way off, but by 2042, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority population in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau they will instead be the largest minority. If you are a multifamily owner or manager, you need be thinking about that.
By 2050 Hispanics (currently 15 percent) will make up 30 percent of America’s population, African Americans (currently 14 percent) will make up 15 percent and Asian Americans (currently 5 percent) will be 9 percent of the U.S. The renters of tomorrow look very different but the industry isn’t exactly doing a great job of marketing to them.
“The L.A. Times reaches only 12 percent of the Hispanic community in the great Los Angeles area and the American Marketing Association finds that general advertisements, if they reach minorities, are viewed by them as ‘not for them,’” Rebecca Rosario, owner of Full House Marketing’s North Carolina office, tells MHN. Full House Marketing conducts sessions on leasing and marketing issues and has offices in North Carolina and Michigan. “There is a big gap here. The total minority buying power in the U.S. is $1.3 trillion. We are simply missing the mark,” Rosario adds.
The same applies to the multifamily industry. In many cases, managers and owners aren’t even thinking about reaching out to the minorities. Leah Brewer, owner of Full House Marketing’s Michigan office, developed a session five years ago to help rent to a culturally diverse base of residents. Since then, she has only been invited twice to talk about on this topic.
“It’s strange because there is a huge need in this industry for people to understand these issues,” Brewer tells MHN. “Most people stay away from this topic because they are scared to step over the fair housing regulations. But they have a very shallow knowledge of fair housing. People think you have to blind to the fact that somebody is different than you. I say, don’t be blind, embrace it, celebrate it, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Brewer believes in personalized selling. “A good salesperson customizes their presentation based on the client’s needs and wants as well as the client’s personality, body language and values. Understanding a client’s cultural background helps us understand generalities in their values and ideals that will assist us in compelling them to action. It’s important because we all want to increase occupancies and we need to meet people where they are. We need to appeal to a broader audience,” she explains.
When selling to different cultures, Brewer warns against wrapping it all into one. “You have to be careful. Don’t stereotype, but you do have to generalize because you have to start somewhere,” she says.
Rosario grew up in Tampa, Fla., which has a large Hispanic community, and her children are half Puerto Rican. This, she says gives her a unique understanding of the Hispanic community, which she shares with people as a trainer. “There are a good number of apartment management communities that just don’t know how to get their arms around the Hispanic community. It’s a hit and miss for them. Whether you are trying to reach baby boomers, Nexters or Asians, it’s all the same thing. You have to know your audience. Involve the people from the community you serve. Don’t rely on your own,” explains Rosario.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Be careful of differences in dialect, not all Spanish is the same and there are different meanings.
- When dealing with a third party designing your campaign, make sure your message will properly represent you. For example, Chevrolet went into the Latin American market with a car named Nova (meaning no-go in Spanish). The car flopped. Even the biggest companies make mistakes so keep that in mind.
- Have more than one point of reference for any understanding you have of a culture. Tap into colleges and universities.
- Bear in mind differences in culture. Calling an Asian person Oriental is like treating them like an object. There is power in your message. Be a wordsmith, be careful with your words!
Balancing the thin line between fair housing and acknowledging someone is from a certain culture/country is tough. But Brewer says the way to deal with that is to ask open-ended questions that are based on the generalizations you know of. Ask: where are you from? Don’t ask: what’s your religion and which country do you come from? Open up the conversation, says Brewer.
This is why training becomes an essential tool in achieving the goal of attracting as many residents as possible and not leaving out certain prospects simply because the leasing agent doesn’t know how to get their attention.
Training is a moving target, says Brewer. “It changes over the years. I would say research the cultures of the primary residents first. If 50 percent of your residents are from one culture, onsite staff should know about that. Workshops and seminars help.”
Another way is to talk to your residents, ask them from a friendship standpoint, what they like; what is lacking etc. “Hire into your office someone from the community you are serving, who understands the cultural differences. You want to diversify your office to reflect your residents. You can’t pick and choose but you should ensure your search base includes people from that community,” she says.
Terri Boland, apartment manager of the 600-unit Citation Club Apartments in Farmington Hills, Mich., attended a training session held by Brewer. She says it helped her and her colleagues see the commonalities in what people want but also helped understand the questions from prospective residents they used to think were weird. For example, requests for a unit facing a certain direction. There is a large Japanese and East Indian community in the Farmington Hills area, which the community serves.
Boland says, “We will do ads in newspapers of different languages, contact organizations that are looking for relocation of employees and foster those relationships. Word of mouth has been a tremendous resource for us. When residents move in, especially international residents, they tend to share that with employees and friends. We don’t have to advertise as much.”
Due to Fair Housing laws, Boland cannot disclose the demographics of her community, which she finds is a hindrance sometimes. “When we do a tour, a prospect will ask us this question in the hopes to find his or her associates to connect with, but our hands are tied. This is another area where the referrals really help us.”