Wood Partners has found an immensely successful “pay it forward” strategy by marketing some of its apartment communities at Starbucks’ in-store or drive-thru lines. The campaigns have proven to be uplifting for the employees, prospective residents and the everyday citizens who live and work in their markets.
Goldie Bartlett, Senior Vice President, East Region, Wood Partners, Atlanta, and two of her team members -- Dana Jiles, Property Directory at Alta Brighton Park in Summerville, S.C., and Misti McElwee, Regional Manager, who oversees North Carolina – spoke to units Magazine about the outreach.
How would you describe the strategy?
Bartlett: We partner with Starbucks often and have great success with outreach events at Starbucks locations near our communities. One of our favorite ways to outreach at Starbucks and other local coffee shops is to have a pay-it-forward event, where we purchase coffee drinks for the prospects and distribute information about our community.
It creates feel-good experiences that are memorable for the patrons and at the same time, helps us to get the word out about our new communities. I can only imagine the word-of-mouth exposure that our communities receive when the recipients of a pay it forward coffee drink share the news with friends, family and colleagues.
We had a particularly successful partnership with a Starbucks location in Charlotte, N.C. The local Starbucks named a drink, the vanilla-flavored APV Latte, after our newly opened community, Alta Prosperity Village, and we were able to advertise the drink.
Starbucks provided our team with Starbucks gift cards, and we provided our prospects with a gift card after each tour. We have found Starbucks to be a great partner and that they are willing to work with us in most scenarios. The level and type of partnership vary by location.
How accommodating was Starbucks in this effort?
Jiles: Starbucks was excited to partner with us. They worked with us to schedule the event and accommodated our request to hand out gift cards in the drive-thru and front entry.
McElwee: Very accommodating. They completely understand that our goal benefits them because our residents are their customers. The sooner we lease-up the busier they get. They also love to have pay it forward campaigns, so they were excited about being a part of it.
On what type of day and what hours did you do it?
Jiles: We’ve executed this marketing campaign at a variety of days and times, but we have two favorites:
Friday morning between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. You catch a large crowd that is already in a good mood because it’s Friday and you complete their morning handing out free joe. And you’re fresh on their minds for apartment hunting for the weekend.
Monday morning between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. You catch people who are reluctant about starting their week. They get a free caffeine kick and it brightens their day!
McElwee: We typically try for mornings on any day, really. At a property in Charlotte, N.C., Friday was our Starbucks outreach day. People are just not in the same hurry on Fridays and it is when we see greater prospect traffic increase as well. When people are contemplating their living situations on Fridays and Saturdays. We want to be fresh on their mind.
How often have you done the campaigns?
Jiles: At Alta Brighton Park, we have performed our pay it forward campaign probably a dozen times. Mostly at Starbucks, but we have also extended it to a local Moe’s Southwest Grill several times.
McElwee: We advertised the drink and conducted a pay it forward on most Fridays from January to June in 2018. Now, we do the pay it forward at the Starbucks about once per month. This has not been promoted as much as the past, but Starbucks’ staff still know what it is when we request it. We have done similar programs with Starbucks in other regions, but this was one of the strongest partnerships. The onsite team and Starbucks Management were both hugely invested in the partnership’s success.
What did you hand to the customers?
Jiles: We presented a $5 Starbucks gift card to each customer along with a rack card promoting our community and offering a leasing incentive. The past few campaigns have also included a promotional piece.
McElwee: We have a rack card or mini brochure and we either hand out gift cards as they wait in line or we purchase their drink as they come through the line. We also give people the option to sign up for our e-blasts, but it is not required. The point is more about the pay it forward, and that is an attractive message to present the locals and it makes them want to be a part of our community.
What type of on-the-spot responses did you get from customers?
Jiles: It almost every instance, the initial reaction was: “What? Are you trying to sell me?” and followed by disbelief, shock and excitement that their morning wake-up call is going to be paid for!
McElwee: Surprise and gratitude. Plus, commitments by them to pay it forward. We often would see those same customers in our leasing offices in the next hour or the following day.
Did the campaign lead to any new leases?
Jiles: Outreach marketing is always difficult to gauge when measuring ROI. We know this helps spread knowledge of our asset and presents a positive image for the community. There’s no doubt that this marketing effort has contributed to our success.
McElwee: Our community involvement, outreach and social engagement during events like this have allowed us to reach many people on a community level vs. a sales level. They want to be a part of things that represent the good in the world and they want to reward good business practices.
Were you the first (and only) apartment community to use this strategy locally?
Jiles: In our region, I am unaware of any other community that has executed this type of campaign. Wood Residential Services is known for encouraging innovative marketing techniques, which keeps us ahead of our competition.
McElwee: I have done this at several communities in other markets. We forged a great partnership and then took it to another level of success and awareness.
Did you make any adjustments to your strategy along the way?
Jiles: For the past couple of campaigns, we also gave out a promotional piece – such as a pen or a koozie, etc. That way, customers had something tangible and useful that will remain with them long after the rack card is discarded.
McElwee: Thinking ahead, I’d like to design some pay it forward collateral.
Would you do it again? At other properties, too?
Jiles: Absolutely! This is a win-win experience! You meet those who live in your local community, present a positive image of your asset and encourage people to drop by.
Check out this video of how Alta Prosperity Village spread the word about the promotion. April 28 is worldwide Pay It Forward Day.