Strategies property managers are using to fill empty apartments.
“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.”
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 residents, 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.
Because Wood has also found that 30 percent of prospects 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.
Maximize Google Beacon.
By using Bluetooth hardware technology, Google Beacon relays important information through nearby smart devices about prospects 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 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.
Strengthen the bridge between marketing & 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.
Hire more effectively.
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’s 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, the latter of 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,” he 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 because 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.
Focus on the customer experience.
Apartment 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.
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,” Pavesi says.
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,” 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,” he says. NRP has also found the more concise the effort the better, which may mean videos shorter than two minutes.
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.
Use email more creatively.
Email isn’t going away (unfortunately, says Aids of Laramar Group), so her 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 Brown. “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 space—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,”
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 Hallsey of Wood Partners. His company will continue to try to do so 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.
Pavesi agrees that it’s essential to leverage technology to better track all the touchpoints and ads a prospect may interact with so the company can get more strategic with its advertising and marketing.
Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer.