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Willowick Residential will work in partnership with the firm’s rapidly growing multifamily portfolio of 63 projects across 38 U.S. cities.
Hines announced the launch of Willowick Residential, a multifamily property management firm. Willowick Residential will work in partnership with the firm’s rapidly growing multifamily portfolio of 63 projects across 38 U.S. cities, including luxury towers, urban mid-rises and traditional garden-style apartments.
Named after founder Gerald D. Hines’ first multifamily residential building in Houston’s River Oaks area, Willowick Residential builds on the firm’s legacy of excellence and attention to detail. In the early days of his firm, Hines managed The Willowick himself, believing that an owner had greater insight and desire to manage a building properly.
“Rooted in the expertise of our regional offices, our growing and successful multifamily division has expanded for-rent apartment development activity throughout the United States,” said Jeff Hines, president and CEO of Hines in a news release. “Willowick Residential seeks to deliver a superior level of resident service, above-industry retention rates, cost-effective building management and superior engineering and maintenance of the physical asset.”
Launched earlier this year, Willowick Residential is currently managing nine properties and counting throughout the United States. The venture’s competencies include acquisition services, advisory services, engineering and maintenance, team member recruiting and development, lease-up and transition services, marketing and communications, reputation management, market analysis and research, vendor compliance and information technology.
Hines has managed properties since its inception in 1957. With 35 team members so far with decades of experience, the venture’s competencies include unparalleled service, asset management, energy efficiency and the reduction of real estate investment risk. The Willowick Residential property teams are highly experienced, thoughtfully trained, and will bring Hines’ standards and experience to all properties to deliver superior service, cost-effective building management and above-industry retention.
Touring and leasing processes have largely transformed to digital platforms to ensure social distancing, and onsite teams are learning on the fly which tech features best enhance personalization.
Finding a new home is a personal experience. A new apartment may be where residents will bring home their first child, or perhaps it represents a fresh start. And the leasing associate normally can help set the stage for that experience.
But during the global pandemic it has become much more difficult for leasing teams to cultivate a personal connection with prospective residents, as apartment operators scramble to uncover the most innovative solutions to do so. Touring and leasing processes have largely transformed to digital platforms to ensure social distancing, and onsite teams are learning on the fly which tech features best enhance personalization.
In the effort to most effectively simulate an in-person experience while prospective residents virtually tour or self-tour amid COVID-19, apartment operators have gotten creative. Following are some ways they have been revolutionizing the leasing experience and perhaps creating a blueprint for future economic recovery in multifamily housing.
Leveraging the Capabilities of Social Media Tools
Cortland, an Atlanta-based apartment operator, has been using FaceTime and Google Duo to simulate live tour experiences. While the company is testing other platforms to offer more stable images during tour, prospective residents have responded better than expected. Associates have been diligently flipping the cellphone camera back and forth, from the face-to-face with prospective residents to viewing the community, maintaining the personal connection while being able to read visual cues.
Early in the pandemic, Cortland associates also used iPhones to create video tours of some of its most popular floor plans. After including captions and music as part of an internal edit, the team added more than 600 video tours to the Cortland website over a three-week span. It’s been a popular option for prospective residents who want to see floor plans and the community layout but don’t want to schedule a live tour. It was also Cortland’s best option, with 160 communities but no way to deploy professional film crews during the pandemic.
“We’ve asked prospects which of our media elements they have used and to rate those on a scale of 1 to 5,” says Brian Ericson, Cortland Vice President of Marketing Insights and Technology. “The reaction to the in-house videos has been very positive. They are averaging a rating of about 4.2 or 4.3. But the more compelling stat is how often they’re being used. The first month they were live, our 600 videos received more than 60,000 views.”
Enhancing Virtual Leasing, Virtual Move-ins
Already adept at leveraging technology for operations purposes, LMC, a Charlotte, N.C.-based apartment developer and operator, was able to make a smooth transition into virtual leasing.
“We utilized existing media from our digital platforms, such as Matterport videos, interactive sight maps and self-guided tours, to enhance our virtual-leasing process,” says Lee Bradford, Vice President of Operations and Training for LMC. “We leveraged our platforms for online applications, payment and lease execution. We added the ability to self-schedule virtual and self-guided tours and to chat with a leasing associate on community websites. We utilized our relationship with CheckPoint ID, locker systems, mobile facilities app and our access control systems, including remote locks and cameras, to facilitate virtual move-ins.”
LMC also employs virtual-meeting platforms for leasing associates to maintain customer service levels and cater to the needs of both current and future residents. The company’s resident portal has become a hub for communication between residents and associates, as well as an opportunity for residents to build their own virtual relationships. Through the portal and social media platforms, LMC has hosted virtual movie nights, trivia, scavenger hunts, talent shows and more.
While virtual resident events, self-guided tours and virtual leasing have become very popular among residents, LMC has received its largest number of compliments for its virtual move-in process. “Our new residents moving in appreciate the efficiency of the social-distancing process, and we intend to keep our virtual move-in as an option even after communities have reopened,” says Bradford.
“Our prospective residents have embraced anything that gives them immediate and personalized information, such as live chat, two-way texting and the sight maps powered by Engrain on our websites,” Bradford says. “They enjoy getting a sense of the community through our embedded 360-degree Matterport videos.” He adds that LMC has also done more online chatting with residents to get their feedback on living in the community.
For self-guided and remote tours, community teams are more often utilizing interactive maps. This helps prospective residents become familiar with the community before they’re onsite and to navigate it when they arrive. Until recently, location-awareness features — such as Google’s “blue dot,” which provides real-time location and movement — were not available as part of the tour experience.
Cortland has been piloting Engrain’s location-awareness feature and aims to incorporate the “blue dot” as part of the self-guided tour. “One of the biggest things missing from most of the solutions currently available is the lack of a location service,” says Cortland Marketing Technology Specialist Brianna Bocker. “That blue dot represents the first location service that provides wayfinding on a map and can be used on a self-guided tour route. Adding location awareness lets prospects know exactly where they are [on] the property and allows them to move around much more efficiently.”
A top theme in Cortland’s prospective-resident feedback has been the idea of having a sight map while virtually leasing. Now, teams are often using interactive maps when leasing from afar with prospective residents, both in webinar-style interactions and when they are on the phone and walking them through the website.
“Visually, it helps the prospect know where they’ll be located within the community and their proximity to amenities, green spaces, major roads and more,” Bocker says.
Screen-sharing 3-D Images, Maps, Floor Plans
Many apartment operators use 3-D technology to help reach prospective residents. These images, along with interactive maps and floor plan visuals, have experienced a dramatic uptick in screen shares.
Through this process, Cortland realized it had been showcasing only two to three floor plans per apartment community on community websites, when each community has about nine or 10. The increased engagement with digital platforms has prodded the company to add Matterport videos to all floor plans with high availability of apartments to give prospective residents increased visibility into the various layouts.
The removal of traditional site visits has also shifted LMC’s focus to connecting with potential residents through any digital manner possible. The company has combined web conferencing with 3-D videos and sight maps.
“We’ve often compared leasing to dating,” Bradford says. “The most successful relationships start with getting to know the other person and identifying shared interests. Now we are ‘online-dating,’ and prospects have already completed their online research.”
The pandemic has transformed many everyday processes from in-person to virtual. It’s no different in the apartment world. The silver lining is that some of the technology utilized by necessity could become part of the regular multifamily housing framework in the years to come.
Paul Willis is a Content Manager with LinnellTaylor Marketing.
Rental housing operators can prepare to address the media during a crisis before it hits.
When a crisis strikes, companies often digress into a mad scramble of confusion about what to do, who to call and how to respond, especially to the media. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
According to the Ready for Your Close-up? Crisis and Disaster Media Management session at Apartmentalize,rental housing operators can prepare to address the media during a crisis before it hits. And it all starts with a plan.
“It’s important to have a plan in place in advance of any problems,” said Holyce Hornischer, vice president of marketing for CWS Apartment Homes.
The plan should outline roles, responsibilities and protocols to follow during a crisis and should be designed to minimize the impact on the brand and stakeholders, according to Hornischer. Part of the plan should be to identify a communications leader, a process for responding to the media and a means of monitoring traditional and social media.
But the plan is just a starting point. After the crisis occurs, it can be very difficult to stick to the plan without some basic guiding principles that will drive the organization during the crisis.
“When tragedies like this happens, it’s chaotic and disorganized,” Hornischer said about Hurricane Harvey and its impact on CWS. “Missions and values matter most and have the most opportunity to shine. Our very first step is to make sure we were acting in accordance to those.”
Acting in accordance with their mission and values meant that CWS offered displaced residents preferred pricing on vacant homes in the market and a relocation credit with no security deposit or administration fees. The company also froze all leasing for two weeks in the market to ensure displaced residents received the first opportunity to lease a vacant home.
Even after doing all of the right things, CWS received negative media attention based on false information because a member of a local media outlet left a message on a community phone line that was submerged in floodwaters. The local media outlet falsely reported that CWS evicted all residents from the community, when it actually released them from their lease obligations proactively so they could more easily search for a new home. CWS followed up by trying to help the displaced residents find new homes in the market.
Although CWS would have corrected the inaccurate information if it had received the message, the situation is a good reminder that in times of crises, rental housing operators often have a chance to control the narrative if they communicate effectively.
“When dealing with the media, when delivering a message, it’s incredibly important to shape the future of the story,” said Chad Cooley, Director of Strategic Business Solutions for Bozzuto Management Company. “You have an opportunity to control the narrative, and in the absence of your voice, a narrative will be created for you. It’s important to remember the three Cs to be clear, be concise and be consistent throughout. You have to remain focused, empathetic and deliver a message that is compassionate.”
That message also has to be accurate and true, which means you have to keep a fact sheet and check your facts before sharing with the media. Saying you don’t know but you’ll find out is better than speculating.
By telling the truth, sticking to your plan, communicating with empathy and adjusting as needed, rental housing operators can effectively manage the media in a crisis and mitigate brand damage when bad things happen.
“Have a plan in place but understand that things aren’t going to go according to that plan,” Hornischer said. “So adapt quickly. Communication is key. The more you communicate, the better the situation will be.”
Peter Jakel is Vice President of Strategy for LinnellTaylor Marketing.
A main concern in residential real estate right now is not only how apartment community management groups will attract new residents during the current pandemic, but also how they can retain their current ones. Below are some insights on how to effectively market apartments during COVID-19, along with best practices for maintaining current renters.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed apartment managers to prioritize the use of technology as a tool to draw prospective residents. It’s also helped them focus on how to best serve existing residents from afar. In both efforts, companies need to shift their marketing initiatives to create the safest and most effective way to communicate with residents, prospective residents and team members. For example, a large number of management groups (if not all) now appear to offer personalized, one-on-one virtual tours through Zoom and FaceTime, and also post videos of their apartment communities and apartment homes on their websites and on YouTube.
But technology can bring unforeseen challenges. Since the pandemic escalated so quickly, companies without all the technological processes in place had to ensure they wouldn’t fall behind. Each apartment community needed step-by-step instructions on each process; the onsite team had to rapidly learn and get comfortable with new operations like virtual tours; to ensure that prospective renters were able to see their preferred apartments and the community as a whole; and, last but not least, to answer all of their questions.
Marketing to current and prospective residents has become important than ever. And with marketing, of course, comes communication.
In these unprecedented times, residents can feel anxious about the unknown, and it is our responsibility to answer their questions in a clear and concise manner. So you should always be available, answer questions promptly and continue to reach out to prospective residents in a timely manner. Since conditions have been changing rapidly, it’s important to update residents regularly about such policies as the closure of community amenities, changes in office hours and additional sanitization around the buildings. Make sure employees are in the know and delivering an appropriate and clear message across all of your communities. And ensure that your marketing materials reflect any new policies.
Retaining Current Residents
At first, the industry’s focus during the pandemic was on how to continue to lease; now it has shifted to how we can continue to engage with residents and create a strong sense of community. I have seen some great examples of apartment community managers going above and beyond to ensure that their residents are being acknowledged and feeling safe at home. It can be as simple as making masks available to residents, writing inspiring messages in chalk or encouraging them to join in socially distant community sing-alongs from their balconies.
One great tool for communicating with residents in recent years has been social media. But right now it’s actually one of the only ways to get your message across. Personalized Facebook groups for each community, for instance, not only ensure regular communication with residents, but also provide that close-knit community feel. In a sense, Facebook groups have turned into a modern resident newsletter. The platform can be used to share with residents such activities as tours of local museums and cooking classes; provide additional resources specific to your company ; create a space where residents can share opinions and discuss issues with one another; and much more.
The Future of Apartment Marketing
Now fast-forward to when we get back to more normal times. Will traditional marketing return as well?
Since we’ve seen success with the use of technology in apartment community management, most of these marketing tools are probably here to stay. Even before the pandemic, the leasing process was already shifting to virtual reality. In the long run, virtual tours and videos should help streamline the leasing process. Now, when prospective residents come in for in-person appointments, we will have a better understanding of their expectations and what they’re searching for.
Companies that may not have this technology readily available can certainly go back to the basics, focusing on how to make an impact with simple gestures to engage prospective residents. Who needs technology if you can create a similar experience by walking them through photos and floor plans over the phone? Engaging with them from the start of the relationship is what matters most.
Either way, it seems more important than ever for us to realize that we play an essential role in creating community for our residents, and that our teams must continue to provide the ongoing support people need to feel safe in their homes.
Jillian Fikkert is the Director of Property Marketing at Morgan Properties.
The economic fallout from COVID-19 is beginning to hamper rents and occupancy. Here are some strategies to reach new residents.
Hire more specialists.
Because marketing has become more complicated and specialized, RKW Residential is hiring more staff with specific expertise in certain marketing disciplines, such as digital marketing or branding and content, social media, and so on. “We don’t believe in having one generalist handle all facets of a complex role,” says Joya Pavesi, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for RKW Residential..
In addition, marketing roles continue to evolve, creating a need for specialized roles, so RKW is on the lookout for those with these new specialized skills. The company also plans to make greater use of social media and visual content to share its story with prospects. This approach will include more videos. “Even with voice search on the rise, visual content will continue to be a strong focus for us in 2020,” says Pavesi.
The NRP Group, which also has found great value in using videos and virtual tours, plans to improve its offerings by hiring its own videographer rather than using outside companies, says Boatwright. “Having our own person on staff lets us tell our story better—why our properties are the best place to live and play—and better reveals our culture,” says NRP Executive Vice President Phillip Boatwright. NRP has also found the more concise the effort the better, which may mean videos under two minutes long.
ZRS Management agrees. It is now asking its internet leasing partners to use material ZRS develops in-house. This allows the ad’s messaging to convey the company’s story better than using a generic, one-size-fits-all strategy.
Focus on the customer experience.
Apartment community firms are devoting greater attention to how well they deliver services and products to the end users—the residents.
To improve convenience and quality, RKW Residential is training its leadership to follow the example of companies such as the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center that excel in delivering the ultimate in customer experiences. “This is a huge initiative, and we’re sending staff through the Ritz Carlton Leadership Institute for the best training,” Pavesi says.
As part of meeting customer expectations and experiences, The NRP Group is moving from “pushing” mainstream amenities, such as a swimming pool and game room, to focusing on services that residents most want. It is organizing more focus groups, having residents fill out more surveys on its website and even polling visitors to leasing offices, says Boatwright.
Then NRP delivers what residents desire, such as a regular 5K run, walking group or book club. “It’s harder for a resident to move when they don’t want to leave their book club, for example,” Boatwright says.
During consumer voice searches, Laramar Group has been able to answer customer questions using technology available through different devices and enhancing their experience, says Aids. “This makes it easier for our customers, which is more important than ever,” she says.
Use email more creatively.
Email isn’t going away, so Faith Aids, Vice President of Marketing and Branding for the Laramar Group company is trying to be sure email use evolves as technology does. For example, she says, Google now offers AMP for email, which is an interactive technology that allows the user to act within an email rather than click in and out or “lose their place,” as people have traditionally done. “Doing so will save time and better meet customers’ expectations,” she adds.
Choose A/B marketing/ad approach.
Using split or bucket testing is gaining traction, as companies such as ZRS Management find they can remove the guesswork and best gauge success by comparing two different approaches and seeing which performs better on Facebook, Instagram, Google and other platforms, says Jeremy Brown, Vice President of Marketing at ZRS. “After we have results, we’ll compare the more successful to another strategy and keep working that way until we find the best approach that leads to more conversions and closed transactions,” he says. One benefit of this approach: Results can be known in a matter of days.
Get everything right to begin with.
Because digital marketing is delivered fast, it’s easier to make mistakes. ZRS is working to reduce marketing errors. Its new corporate department focuses on Quality Analysis (QA) and Quality Control (QC) for all its properties, rather than having its regional and property managers be responsible for the marketing on their specific properties, says Brown. “The corporate staff checks the accuracy of all online advertising and marketing pieces, such as making sure a specific floor plan shows a fireplace that’s in the unit and verifying that prices for leases are up-to-date and accurate. “Having everything correct the first time will lead to greater customer satisfaction,” he says.
Leverage products 24/7.
Because customers consider convenience a prime benefit and driver in picking a property, many companies are testing making their apartment homes—both model units and amenity spaces—available at times when a prospect is free to come tour, even if the leasing office isn’t open. The companies are testing technology that can send a code to a prospect’s mobile device to let the person access the building and unit and engage in a self-guided tour. “The concept is still new, but we’ll embrace this more this year to see how well it performs,” Pavesi says.
RKW expects that millennials who work long or late hours may use this type of feature more than retired boomers, who have looser schedules. Another reason is that prospects want to see a property multiple times before signing a lease and the ease of this allows them to do without an agent in tow, she says.
ZRS is also encouraging its ILS partners to include self-scheduling options in a similar way that Open Table allows diners to make online reservations at any time, says Brown. “We anticipate a subsequent reduction in the number of phone calls, emails and texts, which allows leasing agents to focus more time and attention on prospects in the office,” he says.
Continue to focus on lead attribution.
To market to the largest possible audience, finding out where prospects come from remains the most important task, several marketing experts say. Yet no company has been able to crack the code and offer a definitive answer on lead attribution, says Steve Hallsey, Managing Director of Wood Partners. His company will continue to try to do so this year with its varied marketing approaches. “For example, we wonder if we put more pins on a Google map if we will do a better job of securing an answer,” he says.
KW Residential agrees that it’s essential to leverage technology to better track all the touchpoints and advertisements a prospect may interact with so the company can get more strategic with its advertising and marketing, says Pavesi.
The millennial approach to marketing rental housing cannot be copied and pasted onto Generation Z.
“We see so many developers talking just about millennials,” said Jamie Sabat, Director of Trends and Consumer Forecasting at Streetsense. “But millennials are more in the age bracket where they’re having children and starting to move into the suburbs.”
Therefore, Streetsense suggests that companies take a new approach when reaching this generation—and they are starting to adjust. Student housing operators have modified their amenities to reflect the more academic-minded, fiscally conservative students, according to Jay Pearlman, Senior Vice President of Advisory Services at The Scion Group.
“[Gen Z] is typically a lot more risk-averse when it comes to finances and is less likely to spend the money on the luxury properties, to borrow money and to exit school with a lot of debt,” Pearlman told Bisnow.
“Therefore, they will trade off larger floor plans or luxury amenities in exchange for a more affordable residential experience.”
CNBC reports that there are more than 60 million people in the Gen Z age range, carrying a buying power of over $140 billion, according to an estimate by advertising agency Barkley.
In traditional rental housing, Sabat says a similar approach has been taken: Trading basketball courts and saunas for coworking spaces.
Young adults and employers alike have embraced remote work, making branded coworking spaces even more enticing for renters, while also creating an additional source of revenue for developers as operators rent spaces.
Inside one company’s move from the physical leasing office to a remote environment.
This is the fifth in a recurring series of articles looking at how apartment owners, managers and developers have mobilized to protect themselves and their residents from the spread of the novel (meaning new) coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S.
Morgan Group put together a COVID-19 taskforce when it realized the novel coronavirus would soon become an issue in the U.S. As the days have passed, the calls have grown more necessary.
“We have calls every day,” says Joe Melton, Vice President of Marketing and Management Support Services at Morgan Group. “What has been really helpful about these calls is that we’ve been updating our contingency plan in real-time.”
When the National Apartment Association (NAA) caught up with Melton, Morgan was in its third week of meetings. The only constant was that everything was changing. “Some of it is just reiterating the same things that are coming down from our sources, which are local health officials and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Melton says.
Onsite, Morgan limited hours and services early on. “Our amenities are temporarily closed, and we are currently performing essential work orders,” Melton says.
Like many firms, Morgan was still weighing how it would handle late rent and evictions while balancing its financial obligations. “One of our key values is people first,” Melton says. “We want to be good citizens and to try to be a company that responds respectfully to the environment.”
Fortunately, Melton says the company was in a good position because of high occupancy. “There’s never a good time to have something like this happen, but we’re really fortunate that we have a manageable lease expiration environment,” Melton says. “We have lots of tools and smart people to manage the system in real-time.”
As a marketer, Melton is focusing on utilizing technology in place of in-person communication. “We are getting ready to have true virtual leasing offices where our front door becomes a remote, from-home situation,” Melton says.
Morgan employs a tool that allows for “real-time, transparent conversations” with prospects. “That is one step we’re taking to move the physical leasing office to a remote place and still be able to do normal day-to-day leasing business,” Melton says.
Melton says the leasing and communication lessons the industry is learning during the pandemic may prove to be a guiding force in the future. Morgan has already adopted some of these technologies.
“Four or five years ago, we engaged in virtual videos,” Melton says. “If someone was touring our property and they had a decision-maker or a partner in a different country, they could send a link to them. We found that numerous people all over the world have clicked on our virtual tour links.”
Melton thinks COVID-19 will ultimately supercharge the virtual leasing movement. “It will create an opportunity for us to learn the true efficiencies and fresh ways to utilize these tools,” he says.
Despite advances in technology, the human component remains key to getting out a company's message.
"If a staff member doesn't pick up phone calls, respond to emails and texts, or is not hospitable when someone is in front of them, [whatever] amount of dollars spent on marketing will have absolutely no impact," says Wood Partners' Managing Director Steve Hallsey.
The NRP Group, based in Cleveland, which manages 20,000 market-rate and affordable units in 14 states, is also focusing on marketing that targets hiring the right people, says Executive Vice President Phillip Boatwright. NRP's approach is to zero in on its recruiting efforts at colleges and universities that have property management courses and majors, such as Ball State and Cleveland State, which is offering a new degree program. "Last year we hired 420 new people, a record, and this year we'll increase the number to at least 500," Boatwright says. "We need a lot of people who can go right from internships and management training programs they've been in during school to jobs when they graduate. And because it's very competitive to get them, we know we have to start as soon as we can."
Another part of The NRP Group's marketing approach this year is rewarding staff who can offer customers a great experience. The company uses a point system that translates into dollars that can be exchanged for merchandise through an online catalog, which has worked well, says Boatwright.
Effective hiring also means knowing who's best suited for a company's leasing positions. Wood Partners has found that highly gregarious, self-confident and experienced recruits best meet its needs since the company must lease 100 percent of its properties each year to be able to turn them around and sell them, Hallsey says. So the company is willing to pay a higher starting salary and better commission to its marketers than a lot of the competition, he adds.
Because marketing has become more complicated and specialized, RKW Residential is hiring more staff with specific expertise in certain marketing disciplines, such as digital marketing or branding and content, social media, and so on. "We don't believe in having one generalist handle all facets of a complex role," says Joya Pavesi, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for RKW Residential.
In addition, marketing roles continue to evolve, creating a need for specialized roles, so RKW is on the lookout for those with these new specialized skills. The company also plans to make greater use of social media and visual content to share its story with prospective residents. This approach will include more videos. "Even with voice search on the rise, visual content will continue to be a strong focus for us," Pavesi says.
The NRP Group, which also has found great value in using videos and virtual tours, plans to improve its offerings by hiring its own videographer rather than using outside companies, says Boatwright. "Having our own person on staff lets us tell our story better—why our properties are the best place to live and play—and better reveals our culture," he says. NRP has also found the more concise the effort the better, which may mean videos under two minutes long.
ZRS Management agrees. It is now asking its internet leasing partners to use material ZRS develops in-house. This allows the ad's messaging to convey the company's story better than using a generic, one-size-fits-all strategy.
Four strategies property managers are using as leasing pickups.
Many companies are rolling out marketing and advertising campaigns using a wide variety of strategic approaches. Here are four that impressed us for their creativity and potential to reach and retain existing residents.
1. Predictive marketing
"We are living in the age of data overload," says Faith Aids, Vice President of Marketing and Branding for the Laramar Group, based in both Chicago and Denver. "Prospects are engaging with our community brands over numerous channels. The way they consume content is all over the place, and they do their homework before making a buying decision."
Laramar manages 17,000-plus units in 11 states. Because the company has access to more data than ever, it is taking greater advantage of "predictive marketing," which focuses on data interactions to find patterns and anticipate results, Aids says. "We're testing out systems that take data analytics beyond what Google Analytics offers to serve up more curated content on our website and spot trends earlier."
2. Refine marketing reports
Wood Partners, based in Atlanta and one of the largest merchant builders nationally, aims to better determine the future success of its marketing plans, says Managing Director Steve Hallsey. "We want to attain a more accurate indication of how each dollar spent drives velocity and leasing. Too often the solution is to throw more money into marketing when there is a leasing issue [rather] than understand what currently is working and what's not."
Digital marketing produces 50 percent of Wood's leases, yet the company plans to spend 70 percent of its funds and devote 70 percent of its time on digital to target potential renters, it is using proven internet listing services (ILS), strategic search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns, cost-effective pay-per-click (PPC) strategies, intense focus on ratings and reviews, and smart search engine marketing (SEM) tactics.
Since Wood has also found that 30 percent of prospective residents come from organic marketing, it employs signs, banners and flags that can be seen when driving or walking by a property. The company plans to do a better job of developing more visible, enticing designs, possibly by varying size, design or color, Hallsey says. The final 20 percent of prospects—including those renewing—come from the company's Ground Floor Project, which brings artists, musicians and influencers to a property to create special engagement. But Wood wants to go beyond a wine-and-cheese event to create memories and word-of-mouth marketing.
3. Maximize Google Beacon
By using Bluetooth hardware technology, Google Beacon relays through nearby smart devices important information about prospective residents coming to its sites. ZRS Management, a management company based in Orlando, Fla., is installing Beacon at or near the front door of many of the company's leasing offices. The devices ping each mobile device in order to track the success of the company's various advertising and marketing efforts, says Jeremy Brown, Vice President of Marketing. "Results allow us to determine the impact of ads in bringing apartment shoppers to our doors, since many prospects walk through before filling out contact forms," he says.
For example, ZRS might evaluate whether including washer and dryer keywords attract more prospective residents or whether a prospective resident prefers a property located near a company's headquarters. "Google ads are more expensive than other digital ad options, so we use them for properties where they are most applicable," Brown says.
4. Continue to strengthen the bridge between marketing and sales efforts.
RKW Residential, based in Charlotte, N.C., manages 20,000 units in six states. "We are very mindful that our job as the marketing team doesn't end once we've reached a certain click-through percentage or total number of leads generated," says Joya Pavesi, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy. "We work very closely with our operational team to ensure that we have strong efforts and training focused on what happens after a prospect transitions from the marketing funnel into the sales funnel."
At RKW, an in-house digital marketing analyst tracks benchmarks for a core set of key performance indicators (KPIs), such as the amount of time it takes for follow-up to occur or frequency of follow-up. "We are constantly analyzing what's most effective to get prospects to come in for a tour and eventually rent. We also want to know where there are opportunities for us to improve and identify ways we can be effective," says Pavesi.
Members of hip Gen Z—currently in their teen years and early 20s—don't like to waste time reading long emails, watching lengthy videos or wading through real estate listings. In fact, they're said to have an attention span of about eight seconds.
Yet it's worth learning how to appeal to this burgeoning cohort, who currently number 84.7 million—almost a quarter of the U.S. population—and whose collective buying power has reached an impressive $44 billion, according to Mediakix.
Because Gen Zers watch an average of 68 videos per day, one surefire way to reach them is through online video marketing, says GeoMarketing. And the social media platform with videos that they're watching is the new TikTok app, named to suggest a ticking clock. It combines fast-paced visual and audio content, including lip-synching and comedy routines. "The best analogy is the 'stories' feature of Instagram, which has more effects that enhance the video content," says Thomas Kutzman, co-founder and co-CEO of the digital home-buying platform Prevu.
Launched in 2012 by Chinese Internet entrepreneur Zhang Yiming and his company Bytedance in Beijing, TikTok first appeared in this country in 2017 as Musical.ly. Since then it has become the most downloaded app of all—outpacing Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, Kutzman says.
As it grows and evolves, TikTok is being adopted by professionals who fine-tune content, says Kutzman, including brands like the NFL and comedian Kevin Hart. In fact, property managers and their marketing teams are now starting to test the platform for reaching prospective student housing residents. They'll post paid advertisement videos via TikTok's new self-serve ad manager, says Melissa Cornine, Media and Research Manager at Austin-based marketing firm Catalyst. Her firm sometimes includes footage of current residents in the ads so the content can appear more "native" to the platform, she says.
While Kutzman also sees TikTok's possibilities for this real estate niche, he thinks the platform may ultimately appeal to a broader audience of investment and rental property prospective residents as older users adopt it. "Any marketing venue and social media platform that helps managers connect with potential consumers is useful," he says. Following are 10 key questions and answers to better understand TikTok.
Who's the target audience?
Roughly 25.8 percent of its U.S. users between 18 and 24 years old, Cornine says, citing figures from MarketingCharts. Over time, the age range could trend older, as it did with Facebook and other social media platforms, says entrepreneur and TikTok consultant Gary Vaynerchuk. "Think about when Facebook turned into 'your mom's' app." Kutzman agrees: "As people become more comfortable with technology, they learn about it from their younger [family] members and start to use it."
What's its biggest appeal?
TikTok stands out because of its interactive content, says Cornine. "It invites content consumers to join in the fun and create their own videos rather than take a back seat." And, says Kutzman, it can be applied to leasing properties: "A manager or resident can walk through their unit and show off the property with fun music playing that helps hook the viewer. You can add text, stickers, captions, hashtags such as #apartmentnearcampus, and pan in and fade out." Another scenario: "A student sees housing, an apartment, a pool and a party going on with music in the background and tells his parents, 'Hey, Mom, I want to move in there,'" says Kutzman. As Instagram made it easier for people to create and distribute their own photos, adds Vaynerchuk, so TikTok is doing the same with videos.
Is there a maximum length for a video?
Cornine recommends 15 seconds.
What are the best uses for it?
Being able to be interactive with your target audience in fun ways, possibly through contests and challenges, Cornine says. Kutzman thinks another use is for a brand to tell a story and create a persona through the videos and music posted.
Using a platform that the growing Gen Z audience favors, and seeing videos of users you normally don't follow—what's called "discoverability," Kutzman says. "The platform's 'for you' page shows relevant, suggested content based on what a user tends to look at, in addition to what the user chooses to follow."
It's still considered experimental, and there isn't enough data yet to show its effectiveness as a paid ad platform, says Cornine. In addition, it may not reach the right audience since you can target only by state and age. "People from California might see a video about an apartment in Alabama, for example," says Barrie Nichols, Vice President, Marketing and Leasing, at Michaels Management, based in Camden, N.J.
Does content need to be changed frequently?
It depends on the strategy of what's promoted, how an ad performs and your budget, Cornine says.
How much does it cost to use on average?
It depends whether the content is organic and developed by renters or is done by professionals. Cornine says her company is testing TikTok for property management clients with a starting budget of $1,000 per month. Right now, its cost is lower than other social media platforms, but as it builds a following, the cost will go up, says Kutzman.
Will it replace other marketing platforms?
"Most people use multiple forms," Kutzman says. But some observers expect some shifting to TikTok from Snapchat and Instagram as it gains a stronger audience. "We're still in the learning phase," Cornine says.
Fad or lasting application?
Too soon to tell. "We've seen the rise and fall of Snapchat and shift in demographics on Facebook," says Cornine. "TikTok could phase out in a few years, but due to the fun and interactive nature of the platform, many think it will last." Her advice for those who decide to use it professionally: Monitor the user base and take advantage of the platform as long as it reaches the right users. Signs that TikTok is fading might include no new users signing up, or current users spending less time on it (right now they average five visits a day), she says. On the other hand, if a broader age range adopts the platform, then all bets are off.