The success of any online marketing strategy depends on two things:
How successfully does the strategy use online tools to give prospects what they need to make a decision?
How successfully does the strategy replicate the best aspects of in-person selling?
If your strategy hits these two points well, you'll be golden.
Visual Content and Online Apartment Marketing
For apartment shoppers, the most important piece of information they need to know before buying is what their apartment is like. How do we know that? Several ways: On average, 87% of apartment website homepage traffic that continues to a second page will go to floorplan content before anything else—amenities, contact page, etc. People want to know what their apartment will be like.
It's not just the traffic data that tells us this either. One of the techniques we use to monitor our own websites to make sure they are serving our clients' prospective residents is through something called heat mapping. Heat maps track various user behaviors on websites, such as how far down the page a person scrolls, where they click, and where they move their mouse. Below you can see heat map data for clicks on one of our client website homepages:
As you can see, the only part of the page that is red—which indicates the highest number of clicks—is the floorplan link. The heat map tracking mouse movement for users is similar:
There's one other reason we're so confident that apartment shoppers care most of all about their apartment. The two primary places where users spend the greatest amount of time on our client websites are on floorplan pages—where they watch video tours that run from 90 seconds to 2.5 minutes—and the application page.
The story this data tells is clear. People care about floorplans. And they care about floorplans because more than anything else they care about their specific apartment.
How do you help people who care most of all about their apartment?
Obviously if people want "information" about their specific apartment, that could mean a lot of things. Some of that information can be relayed through plain text—bedroom count, square footage, rent rate, pet policy.
But ultimately people are buying a living space from you and they care about the look of the space. The reason prospective residents camp out on our client website floorplan pages is because they can view actual video tours of the floorplan, allowing them to tour the unit online without having to visit the community.
Given that, one of the best things you can possibly do to improve your online marketing is to invest in the creation of high-quality, floorplan-specific photo and video content for your website. It is the best way to give prospects a stellar online shopping experience.
What goes into creating effective floorplan-specific video and photo content for an apartment community?
We have written longer answers to those questions in the past, both of which you can read elsewhere on the blog:
Five Quick Tips for Effective Apartment Photography
One of the funny things about apartment photography is that it sounds much simpler than it actually is. At first glance, it seems like something anyone should be able to do well. Hand a leasing agent an iPhone, point them to the unit, and... voila. You have apartment photos.
But there are a number of challenges you'll have to address to get truly professional-quality photography.
One of the unique challenges of shooting living spaces is with lighting. Natural light is often the best method of lighting a space, but what if it is cloudy? Then you'll likely need to use electric lighting. But electric lighting can be uneven and affect the final image in harmful ways.
So how do you control the lighting in the image to make the space look its best? This before/after image, which compares a photo taken by a client's leasing team and a photo taken by one of our media producers, shows how lighting issues can affect a photograph.
Note how the different lighting changes the look and feel of the space. The first image feels kind of dark and maybe even uninviting. The second image, in contrast, is bright and cheerful.
Similarly, because one room will not have the same lighting as another, your photography may need to make adjustments as they move from room to room. This requires skill and good judgment, such that they can make the right decisions about lighting.
Generally speaking, any professional photography should be comfortable making these kind of choices and adjustments. But will your leasing agent? Probably not.
Let's look at another before-after photo comparison to illustrate the importance of composition:
The first image is shot from the middle of the room and seems to be centered on the toilet. The second is shot from a corner and shows off the whole space, with a small vase of flowers on the counter being the closest thing to the center of the image.
Also, in the first image you cannot see the ceiling. This causes the image to feel confined and a bit claustrophobic. In contrast, the second image allows you to see floor-to-ceiling, which makes the room feel more spacious and comfortable.
Good photographers will know how to make the right decisions about where to stand when shooting, where to point their camera, and how to compose an image inside the frame that makes the room look its best.
One part of real estate photography that can be easily forgotten is simply going over the room thoroughly before the unit is photographed. This doesn't just mean basic cleaning—vacuuming, dusting, etc.—but also should cover a more thorough process that is essentially the same as what you would do when prepping the space for an in-person tour. That is, after all, exactly what you're doing.
What kind of camera will you use? What sort of flash? Any kind of special lenses? All of these questions have to be answered in some way. "Using an iPhone," is an answer—it's just a bad answer because the equipment won't be up to the job.
The final question to consider: What kind of software will you use to edit the images and prep them to go online? Do you know what kind of file type to use? How big should the images be? And do you have people who can use the software to make sure all of these things are done correctly?
Key Qualities for Effective Walkthrough Video Tours
Similarly, there are several issues you will need to address to shoot effective walkthrough video tours.
One of the most basic questions to answer is where you will hold the camera as you are shooting. If you hold it too high or too low, the room will feel disproportional. So you need to find the right height for holding the camera.
As with photography, you will need to figure out lighting with video as well. That said, it is an even bigger problem for video. With photography, you can adjust each room, one at a time, before shooting to make sure the lighting is correct. But if you are shooting a walkthrough video, you'll be moving from one room to the next in a single shot. So how do you account for that with your camera? Windows in particular can be a problem. The camera will struggle to adjust the lighting to accommodate a flash of bright natural light from outside as you pan across a window.
Pacing is similar to height. How quickly will you walk the room as you shoot your video? A video that is too fast could make viewers feel disoriented and won't show them what they need in the amount of detail they would prefer. On the other hand, if you go too slow, users will lose interest and turn the video off, potentially costing that community a lead.
A video that is not stable will, again, offer a bad experience to users and fail to provide results for the community. It will feel rushed, be uncomfortable on the eye, and the user will stop watching fairly quickly. So one essential part of shooting helpful video tours is simply figuring out how to keep the camera stable while filming.
A good rule of thumb is that video and photography will have many of the same difficulties, but with video the difficulty will be magnified many times. That is true with lighting. It is also true with editing.
Simply having the computer power to edit a high-res video can be a challenge. But then you need storage space for large video files. You need a plan for displaying the video on the web. You also need to be able to edit the video to clean up any minor issues that arose during filming.
Not only will all of this require expertise with media, it will also require a fair amount of time. The work isn't fast—and the computer is unlikely to save and upload the work quickly.
Online shopping is here, like it or not.
The good news is that this can make your community's online marketing more efficient, which should also free up your leasing staff to work exclusively on high-quality leads.
The bad news is that building an effective online marketing platform requires time, money, and a level of seriousness about visual content that most communities—and even many marketing vendors—do not have. Shooting walkthrough video tours and high-quality photos is definitely an investment. But, if you know how to use the visual content as part of a broader marketing strategy, it is an investment that can more than pay off over time.