For the Love of Marketing at Waterton Residential
Virginia Love currently serves as the Vice President of Leasing and Marketing for Waterton Residential. It's a Chicago-based company, but she is located in Atlanta. Love started in the industry 23 years ago as a part-time leasing consultant and instantly fell in love with working on site.
In her current position, she is responsible for all national-level advertising or, as she puts it, "anything and everything that is customer-interfacings." Also part of her job is to identify products and technologies that Waterton should be using. We sat down with her recently to discuss marketing and leasing initiatives that she has been a part of and where she thinks the industry is headed in the months and years to come. What follows is our chat:
NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: For those unfamiliar with Waterton, could you give a brief overview of the company?
VIRGINIA LOVE: Certainly. Waterton Residential, founded in 1998, is a subsidiary of Waterton Associates LLC and is a proven leader in the multifamily industry. Our portfolio of communities is located throughout the country with regional offices in Southern California, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Virginia. We're pretty spread out, which makes things interesting. What's nice about our group is this started as a very entrepreneurial company, and we keep that entrepreneurial spirit running through the company now. To this day, the focus is very much about new ideas and fresh ways of doing things.
NAA: Can you give an example of a successful marketing initiative that you have captained or been a part of in the last six months to a year?
VL: One recent project is partnering with our survey company, SatisFacts, and their Verified Resident Program. It utilizes the largest apartment rating site to do additional surveying and direct those answers to additional questions back to the rating site and improve your ratings and review scores. For instance, it's not about asking whether your dishwasher was fixed. There are additional questions in the survey after you get your dishwasher fixed, and those are the answers that affect your score on ApartmentRatings.com. Since it says that it is from a "Verified Resident," there is a sense of gravitas. This is not some guy who drove by the property one time and didn't like what he saw. It's not someone who lived at a property 20 years ago when it was different management. That has allowed our associates to tell prospective residents, "These are people who actually live here. These are the ones you want to hear from." We've now rolled this program out to nearly 100 percent of our portfolio. ... Every person on the site level has to understand how information online can take business away from you. We worked with the teams explaining the process, what negative content does to their success online, offered them a lot of tools and training. In marketing, it's all about systems and processes
NAA: What have been the results?
VL: In the last 90 days since we rolled out the program for the full portfolio, our "recommend" score on ApartmentRatings.com has improved to over 60 percent and our overall posts are up over 3,000 percent. That shows that this matters to our customers. We know that it is engaging our present customers enough to where they are going to make these posts. We also have the ability to respond and thank them for whatever feedback -- good or bad -- they give us. It also shows people who are looking for an apartment that not only are we putting ourselves out there, we're walking the walk and talking the talk in responding and improving our online reputation. The results have been remarkable.
NAA: Has there been a marketing initiative in the past year that hasn't been as successful as you would have liked?
VL: For the past six months to a year, I can't think of one specifically. But that has been because we have been very particular about what we're going to roll out this year. The year 2013 has been the year of perfecting what we have. When we have done something that hasn't worked or hasn't been very successful, it's usually because we missed the mark with the audience or we didn't have complete buy-in or robust implementation with the site teams. We didn't realize things like, "Oh, they needed training or a marketing tool about this program." It is really important when you have a portfolio of our size and you are so spread out and diverse not to think in terms of "one-size-fits-all." What might matter to someone in a high-rise in downtown Chicago may not matter to someone in a garden-style property in Deerfield Beach, Fla. You have to see the big picture. You have to know your audience and listen to your audience. We're a big survey group, so we're always verifying e-mail addresses so we can communicate with the residents so we can deliver what they are expecting.
NAA: What is Waterton's marketing balance between print and online and mobile and social media?
VL: We are very digital-heavy and have very limited print. Where we do have print is in some of our smaller markets. I am not one of those people who thinks that print is dead. You just have to know your audience and be able to track. We're probably 95 percent digital at this point. We have a huge, strong focus on mobile and on video, because Google loves video. And, again, everything we do leads back to having the e-mail addresses of our customers and of our prospects so we can communicate with them through a message center or get them signed up on social media. We're always looking for avenues that keep our customers engaged. Since we added video to our site, it has increased [customers'] time on the site by over 400 percent. We've also made a strong investment in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), making sure that we can be found on those search engines and driving that traffic back to the individual property sites.
NAA: What do you see as "The Next Big Thing" in apartment marketing and leasing?
VL: I have asked every marketing professional in every industry that I know that very same question! I think it's interesting that just a few years ago, we didn't really care or know about Facebook, and now that's old hat. Personally, I think if you look around in our industry and outside of our industry, it's things that are engaging. Mobile is huge. Content is huge. There are so many marketing conferences now on creating unique content, which is all about getting your customer engaged. It's fascinating. We are having to come up with new ways to be heard and seen, basically!
By Teddy Durgin. Abstract News © Copyright 2013 INFORMATION, INC.