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From Listening To Leasing

Midwest Apartment Development
February 2017

In the Midwest, there's more to marketing than New, Class A Urban Chic

As political observers continue to analyze the outcome of the November election, many are pointing to Hillary Clinton’s ineffective communication with Middle America as a key reason she did not win the presidency.

Then-President Obama said during a Dec. 16 press conference that negative perceptions of out-of-touch Democrats worked against them in the election.

“People [in many parts of the country] feel as if they’re not being heard,” Obama said. “Democrats are characterized as coastal liberal, latte-sipping, politically-correct, out-of-touch folks.” The former president added that Democrats “have to be in those communities” where the voters felt like the Democratic party was too coastal, too elitist, too politically correct.

Corporate America took notice of the results, too. Sensing perhaps that a blind eye had been turned to such customers, some marketers are rethinking how their messages could have greater appeal regionally and locally. They are realizing that the ideals and aspirations for those in some markets in some parts of the country differ considerably from those in another, reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Delivering demographic-based marketing messages is a winning campaign for apartment marketers, who succeed when they analyze and speak to their constituents— er, resident base—when seeking renewals or to fill vacancies.

Savvy marketers aren’t making Clinton’s mistake of appeal. They aren't focusing too much on Class A, urban, new developments or quintessential chic.

Midwest-based apartment operators deftly craft precise, prescribed messages that can maximize occupancy in their neighborhoods with inclusive campaigns that satisfy a variety of income or education levels, values and personal interests.

Midwest Values

Kate Good, Senior Vice President, Multifamily Development, Hunington Residential, Houston, and a frequent speaker at local and national apartment events on behalf of the Apartment All Stars, says apartment-marketing campaigns are well-tailored to all classes.

“I have been marketing to middle America my entire career,” Good says. “Class A and B rental depend on the middle class to rent. I think we have been successful at delivering our message. However, as the temperature of opinion changes, we adjust our message and delivery. It is why sales and marketing has to continually evolve."

While chic lifestyle photography often found on Class A urban apartment communities’websites, particularly lease-ups, is appropriate in many situations, Good says when these are applied unrealistically to prospective residents, the appeal generally doesn’t work. Not everyone is seeking this lifestyle or is necessarily comfortable
with it.

Many national marketing programs for retail or consumer goods from corporate America are oriented toward metro elite imagery, WSJ reports, aimed at those with the highest incomes.

Based on the election, “[What we see is that] marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture and more of Des Moines and Scranton,” a Corporate America executive says.

National apartment operations consultant Lisa Trosien, who is based in Chicago, says, “Let’s remember that we’re not like retail, which operates seasonally. We are constantly evaluating our product and our prices. Revenue management helps with that, but the better information comes from paying attention to prospective residents when they come through our doors. What are they asking for and can you deliver it?”

Good explains that apartment marketers are successful when communities are marketed individually, “specifically, selling their own attributes, which give them efficient market placement. 

“While we know that not all residents use the pool during their stay at an apartment community, we still build them because in some cases, where appropriate, they help to sell a lifestyle that their prospective residents can actually have. It is not a dream in these prospective residents’ minds to be there someday.

“Apartments offer realistic lifestyles that are accessible to all who qualify. A Dallas community does not sell a Los Angeles lifestyle. They sell their community and the village that’s around them.”

Personas Pay Off

Mary Herrold, Vice President of Marketing and Innovation, JVM Realty, an Oak Brook, Ill., operator of Class A communities in tertiary Midwestern markets, says methods used to appeal to prospective residents change based on location, as well as income, education and other factors. Personas are formulated by the marketing team based on data that is
available at no cost through studies such as the Census Bureau or that is purchased through firms such as Nielsen.

“From a scientific standpoint, the marketing methods used are the same,” she says. “You still conduct your research, determine what motivates a person to rent and convince them to lease an apartment through the marketing channels they would be exposed to. From an artistic standpoint, it differs from property to property and from market to market, based on the experience those properties and markets can give to their residents. It is never a one size fits all.”

Maureen Vaughn is Vice President of Marketing for The Habitat Company, which manages 23,000 apartment homes over five Midwest states.

“Obviously, some locations will attract different demographics whether it’s a studio within walking distance from a university, or a larger three-bedroom residence near public transportation. However, Habitat’s approach has always been to market the asset based on its unique selling proposition, identify the right media channels and build the biggest audience possible to drive demand and maintain high occupancy,” Vaughn says. Herrold says marketing differences between urban core apartment communities and Midwest apartment communities depends on the people who would choose to and be able to live in that particular community.

“A young, urban-core resident living in a Class A high-rise in New York City is probably going to relate more to a sophisticated message carefully staged with minimal elements about modern contemporary amenities and st yles, whereas a young Midwest resident living in a suburban garden community might prefer a more personal feel with more down-to-earth messaging and images they identify with. You have to message to the right audience,” Herrold says.

Digging for Data

Research firms such as Nielsen sell valuable, wide-ranging demographic data to marketers, including apartment firms. Jennifer Staciokas, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Training at large national apartment operator Pinnacle, says, “Each property is different, but we tend to build out between two and five personas per property. Personas tend to be quite different between A and B class assets i.e. places they shop, cars they tend to drive, etc., because often they are built based on overall household income.”

Stackiokas suggests several free marketing resources such as www.point2homes.com where upon entering a city or metro area it will share information. Other sites to consider are www.city-data.com , www.esri.com, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.

Good says successful apartment marketers—especially leasing professionals—also can kern valuable, free information simply by listening to residents and prospective residents.

“The apartment industry conducts hundreds of thousands of personal interviews every day of the week, eachtime we welcome someone into our leasing office who is considering moving in,” Good says. “We start with a short interview to see what their hot buttons are and how we can best meet them. Smart marketers know to gather realistic data from the people closest to it—our leasing teams.”

Additionally, Good says a community’s service team can provide anecdotal information that helps the community appeal to its customer base.

“For example, when want to know how a resident uses a space in their apartment, such as the dining room, I ask my service team,” Good says. “They can tell me if it is used as a storage space, a mail-dumping station, the place their kids do their homework and ifit’s not being used as a table for familydinners. This helps us to understand our residents’ needs.”

Should an economic downturn occur in the next sixto 18 months, Good saysapartment companies that understand how important it is to build sales and marketing campaigns with a more personalized one-to-one approach will succeed.

“When people connect with people, leasing happens,” she says.