“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” –Yogi Berra
I have no idea what effective apartment marketing will look like in five years. I know that’s kind of a strange thing to say as someone who’s been in digital marketing for 15 years and specifically in the multifamily space for more than six years now, but it’s true.
If there’s one thing you can count on in the multifamily industry, it’s that things are always changing. Residents move in and they move out. Market conditions shift constantly. New competitors pop up in your area and start offering aggressive concessions. Seasons change. Technologies change. Even the wants and needs of our prospective residents change—sometimes very quickly.
We all realize that things are changing faster today than ever before. This reality forces us to plan ahead and look to the future, but it also makes it very difficult to predict what the apartment marketing landscape will look like even a few years from now. It’s like Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Traditionally, multifamily marketing has been very stable and slow-moving. This was driven by the logistical difficulties inherent in a world of paper and ink. These models have been updated to some degree by the digital revolution, but a lot of companies still view apartment marketing as a “set it and forget it” arrangement. Your traffic needs may change from month to month, or even week to week, while your marketing approach hums along without really noticing.
Let me ask you a tough question: Is your apartment marketing strategy built to adapt and evolve in a world and industry that is constantly changing?
Whether it’s for budget reasons, not knowing where to start, or just not having enough time to keep everything in alignment, most companies struggle to stay ahead of all these changes. It’s especially challenging for smaller companies that don’t have a robust in-house marketing team.
Here are three simple principles that will help you create a dynamic marketing strategy that will have you positioned for success, no matter what the future holds.
1. Create an emergency plan before you’re experiencing an emergency.
Imagine that you have a community whose occupancy has already dropped 5% in the last month and this morning you received an additional handful of notices. What do you do now?
Unfortunately, for many communities, the plan at this point could be described in just one word: panic! Occupancy is dropping and so is revenue. Your boss just called and asked what your plan is to get things back to where they need to be, especially now that the ownership group is starting to ask questions. It’s time to start throwing money at the problem, hoping that somehow something will work!
That doesn’t sound like a very good strategy, does it? Coming up with an emergency plan while you’re already experiencing an emergency is painful, expensive, and usually ineffective.
Rather than waiting for a traffic generation emergency to hit, spend some time now proactively creating an emergency plan before the next one.
Good planning always starts with good questions.
- How will we identify a traffic generation emergency as early as possible? What metrics and analytics should we be watching closely?
- How will we know when our supply of available apartments becomes greater than the demand we’re generating? What happens when these are “upside down?”
- How will we decide what specials, concessions, and/or pricing changes we should make, if any? When will we make them? When will we turn them off?
- What marketing tools and ad sources do we have that are static (i.e. hard to change)? Which ones are dynamic and adaptable?
- How will we know when the problem has been solved? What can we change or cut back once the emergency has passed?
- How will we explore and document lessons learned? How will we incorporate them into our plan for next time?
The answers to these questions will serve as the foundation for your emergency plan, which may vary greatly from one community to the next. The key takeaway here is that having a plan ahead of time will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
2. Develop a dynamic marketing strategy that gives you flexibility and control.
Even the best emergency plan won’t do you much good if your marketing strategy is made up of components that don’t adapt or evolve based on your traffic needs. You need a dynamic digital marketing strategy that goes beyond signing on for six months at the most expensive level of your favorite listing service.
Rather than relying on third-party websites that drastically limit the amount of control you have, the key to building an effective strategy is to focus on developing and optimizing your own web presence. Why? So you can leverage Google to get the traffic you need when you need it.
When you optimize your community websites for Google you’ll be able to attract more organic (free) traffic. This traffic should account for at least half to two-thirds of all visits to your websites, providing a relatively steady and reliable source of visitors. While the world of search engine optimization is always evolving, the changes are typically slower and somewhat predictable. That’s great news for long-term stability, but not so much for a community whose occupancy is slipping.
That’s where Google Ads come in. Paid search advertising, also called SEM or PPC, gives you the ability to dynamically control the amount of traffic being generated so you will have more leads when you need them most.
Do you need more traffic? Bump up your Google Ads budget and you’ll be able to generate more traffic almost immediately. And what if you have more traffic than you need? Adjust your budget back down and save that money for the next time you need it. Rather than locking you into long-term contracts, most agencies will let you adjust your budget on a monthly basis. Some companies even offer dynamic ad spend budgets based on real-time changes in your traffic and leasing needs.
3. Provide the shopping experience your prospective residents expect.
Are you old enough to remember going to the shopping mall with your friends as a teenager? Think of how that compares to what Amazon is able to provide, even on a mobile device. Amazon is the go-to retailer online because of their focus on providing convenience and transparency to their digital shoppers.
How can you take a page out of Amazon’s playbook? By providing an easy, mobile-friendly, radically transparent shopping experience for your prospective residents. They expect to be able to find the answers to their most important questions right from their mobile device, without having to talk to anyone, long before they come in for a tour.
The details of how this works in practice will continue to change and evolve going forward. Taking steps today to make sure that your websites are built to keep up with these changes will ensure that your web presence doesn’t become outdated and ineffective.
What will effective apartment marketing look like in five years? Your guess is as good as mine, but if you follow these guidelines you’ll have a strategic, dynamic, and transparent marketing strategy built to handle anything that comes your way.
This article was originally published in the Houston Apartment Association's March edition of Adobe.