You are here

How to Expand Market Reach Through Geofencing Technology


Learn how geofencing can help apartment-community teams better market their properties.

Geofencing is gaining momentum as a marketing strategy among apartment marketers who wish to promote their communities nontraditionally.

Heather Sizemore, CAPS, vice president of operations at University Student Living and a 15-year industry veteran, shared observations from her experience with geofencing and the opportunities apartment-community owners and managers might consider.

Q: What are some common uses for geofencing in the apartment industry?

A: Mostly it’s a passive form of marketing. Geofencing enables marketers to pinpoint the center of a target area where they believe there’s a large majority of potential resident prospects — such as within a small radius or distance from that point in a city — through a location-based service. Marketers can then send info to the smartphone of those in the area that would be delivered via an app.

As apartment marketers, we’re in the business of getting people’s attention in order to drive traffic to our communities. So maybe a prospective renter is listening to Pandora or checking their ESPN app for sports scores on their smartphones. If so, we can let them know we’re nearby and that we have a special offer for them or are holding a special event that they might interest them. I consider it a technology-based form of a billboard. When you think about how much information today is stored on a person’s smartphone, such as the location where they took a photo, it’s important that our industry makes the most of this information through our marketing efforts where we can.

Q: What makes geofencing more effective than some traditional forms of marketing?

A: The difference between geofencing and a traditional billboard is that the technology behind geofencing helps us to track our audience through hard data. Geofencing enables us to track the prospect’s entire progression — from the time the ad appeared on their phone to where they clicked next to get to our website. It lets us know on what app they were using when they found us. We can determine how long they were on the page, or if they filled out an application and if they completed the lease.

When prospective residents visit our communities, we always ask, “How’d you hear about us?” So many times they will respond, “We drove by.” Well, they might have driven by because they saw the billboard, but they don’t say it was because of the billboard. So how do we know? Geofencing helps us dig deeper when tracking our sources. And it gives us more accurate information so we can better determine a cost per lead or a cost per lease.

Q: Describe how any of your geotargeting campaigns worked out. Did they meet your expectations?

A: We didn’t have any expectations back in May when we started our campaign, using four properties. We budgeted a cap amount of 1,000 impressions per month at each property and ultimately had 1,199,658 impresssions. Not bad. This directly brought 6,562 visitors to our websites. I can't really say how the conversion ratio translates, but my opinion is that the exposure creating brand/property awareness has had a positive impact that is difficult to quantify.

Q: How else is technology affecting your marketing or communications efforts?

A: The difficult thing with technology, and especially technology in student housing, is that it changes so rapidly and you have to be able and willing to adapt quickly and really identify something. Not everything that comes across the board is going to be effective or certainly useful to a particular demographic, especially for our student residents.

For us, social media continues to be popular, but Facebook has fallen out of favor for the most part. Instagram is fairly popular still, but even for Instagram, the students are beginning to move away from it and are going to SnapChat. So it becomes a matter of us staying on top of what is the accepted newest technology for a particular demographic.

For our company, it’s [also] a matter of having a staff person who is ingrained and completely focused on technology and social media as a full-time job — whether it is done in-house or through a vendor or a third-party service. Social media is now a full-time part of any business. It also is taking up a significant portion of a property’s marketing budget. We used to spend thousands of dollars on print ads and different ILS listings in print or books, and now we’re spending thousands of dollars to make sure that our websites are completely up to date and that we’ve got responsive design and that we’re paying for correct keyword searches and click campaigns. It’s been a definite shift in the dollars that we're spending from one avenue to another.

Q: How else is your company investing in technology?

A: We are investing in generating the right data to support our efforts. It is worth paying a vendor or an employee who knows the technology and knows what they’re doing to get us the right answers. Analyzing traffic is not something that you should just be assigning to a part-time leasing consultant, telling them, “Hey, figure out what our pay per clicks should be or what ads we should be running on geofencing.”

The amount and type of data that is available through digital marketing needs to be used and analyzed by someone who knows how to read it. Our company is making changes and setting strategy for marketing performance based on these results. If we don’t, we’re wasting time and money.

Q: Is there anything else that you wanted to share about geofencing or the evolution of technology?

A: The biggest change will come from the improvement of geofencing technology — meaning really being able to zero in on a more finite area [where] those ads are available. Geofencing is performing well now, but it’s only going to continue to improve, [especially] with the amount of data that is stored in the phones of every individual person based on the apps they use, the purchases they make, etc.

We all live and breathe through our smartphones, and all of that information and data that’s stored there is going to continue to be taken for other industries — like the advertising industry — and applied in the apartment sector. Geofencing was the first real step in that direction — to use technologies that have been around, quite frankly, for a long time.