If you had a vacancy problem 30 years ago, you knew what to do:
Call up your print directory.
Put some signs out front.
Call the newspaper.
The good news is those tasks were simple. The bad news is it didn't actually work well. It was expensive, inefficient, and not particularly responsive to the unique challenges a community faced throughout the year.
In fact, it only "worked" at all because everyone was working under these limitations, so it was at least fair. But no one would call it efficient or particularly effective. Newspapers loved it, but they were the only real winners back then. Shoppers had to make leasing decisions based on very limited data and spent hours driving around town touring apartments. Communities, meanwhile, had to spend huge amounts of money to reach an undifferentiated mass of people with virtually no valuable information.
Thankfully, things have changed. But the changes aren't without complications of their own. Today, apartment marketing works far better, but it is also much more complicated. Fixing a vacancy problem now requires far more than just calling up a listing service rep or putting an ad in the paper. Consequently, many communities are now looking to hire marketing agencies to help them do their marketing. In this post, we will identify some of the key questions that any community should be asking as they consider hiring a marketing agency.
Is the agency an entire team or a solo operation?
Having an effective marketing strategy in a digital age requires a lot of moving parts to come together.
You need to be visible on search engines. In most metro areas, there are more apartment related searches every month then there are vacant units, so the vast majority of shoppers are shopping on search engines. Will those shoppers find you?
You need a website that helps shoppers make an informed decision about whether to call your leasing office.
You need photo and video content that helps them to make that choice.
Is it possible that there's a single person out there somewhere with all those skills? Sure, it's possible. Digital photography has made that medium more accessible than ever before. There are ways to teach yourself web development. Google offers free resources to learn how to use Google Ads and there are hundreds of books out there on search engine optimization.
So, yes, it is possible to find a one-person shop that can do all of this for you, but you probably won't.
The first thing you'll want to establish is whether the "agency" you're hiring is just one person, or if they have a team of experts that bring their various skills together to serve their clients.
How much of their work is templated versus custom?
Though every agency will be different, generally speaking they all will develop your site in one of two ways: They will hand code a customized design or they will work from a template or a small set of templates. You may also find slight variations as well. For example, RentVision sites are built using a template, but feature custom photos and video for each community as well as limited customization options.
What are the key differences between custom sites and templated sites? There are three main things to consider.
First, customized sites may stand out more but they also will take longer and cost more because of the amount of time required by developers to build the site. In contrast, templated sites will be launched sooner and at less cost.
Second, customized sites will by definition be untested—the site didn’t exist before and so there is no way that a vendor can say they “know” the site will work. In contrast, templated sites are the result of extensive testing and iterations on the template, meaning that, all things being equal, the vendor can be fairly confident that the site is going to perform.
Third, there is an underlying question that needs to be answered before you can make a decision: Do your prospects care about a custom website? After all, the community website is a business tool, not a vanity project. The business use for apartment communities is “marketing and leasing apartments at optimal rent rates.” To do that, you obviously need a website that helps prospects learn about your community and makes them want to lease an apartment. So: What kind of website will help prospects do that? In some areas, it may well be the case that a customized website will help. But most of the time, a templated site will do the trick.
How does the agency do its own marketing?
You can learn a lot about how an agency does their work by looking at how they promote themselves. You want to be evaluating their own marketing strategy by asking these kind of questions:
Does the strategy suggest that they are trustworthy?
Do they know their prospective buyer?
Do they understand the specific techniques required to market themselves, such as blogging, managing Google Ads, and so on?
Does the strategy suggest that they have taken the time to understand their prospects?
Much of marketing in the multifamily industry is about getting the basics right, which tend to be fairly universal, and understanding the unique challenges a specific community faces, in a specific city, at a specific time.
In other words, you need general knowledge as well as the ability to evaluate highly unique situations.
Questions You Should Ask Your Marketing Agency
This one takes a bit of explaining, but it's important to understand. Let's start here: Ultimately apartment communities do not care about leads or even rent rates per se.
Your revenue is based on four things:
So, from your side of things, you need marketing that works as one gear in a machine that also includes those other factors, which produces high rent revenue. The key question is this: Does the agency see their role in the same way? If a marketing agency doesn’t recognize how their work also informs your community’s leasing and revenue strategies, then it is likely that they will struggle to think holistically about the success of your community.
Suppose your leasing staff complains that the leads coming to their office are consistently low quality. Does your marketing agency have a plan to make sure they are not only reaching a large audience, but that they are reaching people who will be a good fit at the community?
Does your agency have a plan to help you in particular situations that your community might face? Suppose you get a bunch of notices during one of the slowest months of the year, and suddenly have to fill a bunch of units at the same time demand is usually very low. Does the agency have a plan for helping you increase demand so that this unexpected surge in vacancy doesn't end up costing you thousands of dollars?
Apartment marketing agencies can help you increase profitability.
If you find a good apartment marketing agency, it's an expense that will pay for itself. When you consider the amount of money that the multifamily industry is still spending on outdated advertising sources like print guides, newspaper classifieds, and the Yellow Pages, it's really staggering to imagine the ways an apartment marketing agency can increase your profitability. You can cut a major marketing expense by eliminating print advertising—and maybe even an ILS or two—while producing improved marketing results.