One of the most common problems we come across when talking to clients and prospective clients is that they simply don't have the time to do all the things they need to be doing for marketing success.
Many small-to-midsize communities have a small marketing staff (often one marketing director working at corporate) to oversee the marketing for literally thousands of units.
So if that's you we want to offer you some helpful ideas to streamline your work and make it easier to manage the various marketing tasks you have. Ideally, this post will give you some of the concepts and tools you need to implement a more inbound apartment marketing strategy in your community.
This is why you need inbound apartment marketing.
One of the biggest sources of busyness for many marketing employees in our industry is doing various things that fall under "outreach marketing." This could cover everything from flier drops at a local restaurant to calling local businesses about forming some sort of relationship where your residents get a special deal there to researching outreach marketing strategies online.
The problems with this approach are many, but here are a few of the biggest issues:
- You're working on building relationships and using your time to interact with people who are not your immediate customers--so you're introducing a middle man. That middle man is going to require time, energy, and probably money to maintain the relationship. And all that time spent working on these relationships with middle men is time spent away from more direct marketing to prospective residents--IE the people who actually buy your product and keep your business going.
- Finding middle men that actually help your business and don't just consume far more of your resources than they give back is incredibly difficult--which means you have to spend more time figuring out how to find the right middle men.
- Even the best middle man is going to have very limited reach for your community because only so many of his customers are going to be looking for an apartment and out of that group only so many will notice your flier, follow up and call your community, take a tour, convert into a lease, etc. Basically your potential reach for your advertising is small and highly inefficient.
An inbound-based approach in which you draw people to you through the creation of useful content and good distribution of that content on the web can save you a great deal of time by putting you directly in front of the prospect. You can cut the middle man out completely--which saves you time, money, energy, frustration, and much more.
How do you start doing inbound apartment marketing for your community?
An effective inbound strategy is based on answering a few basic questions:
- Who are your prospective customers?
- How do they shop?
- What makes their buying process easier?
- How do you get in front of them?
The first question is about buyer personas, the second is about buyer behavior, the third is about frustrations with the buying process, and the fourth is about more conventional marketing issues.
How do you create buyer personas?
Developing buyer personas is all about figuring out who typically rents from your community and what the rest of their life looks like. Where do they work? What do they do for fun? What do they value most? What frustrations do they have in their day-to-day life? What are their most common objections to buying your product?
So, for example, one buyer persona might be a certain type of college student from a nearby university. Their needs are probably more utilitarian--they need a bed and a desk, maybe a space to have a few friends over to watch a movie, and not much more. On the other hand, another buyer persona might be an empty nest couple looking to downsize. Their needs are going to be quite different.
The main idea is that you need to know who you're selling to before you can develop a strategy for selling.
How do people shop for apartments?
Though we don't know of a study for multifamily, one study found that over 90% of housing searches begin online. It's possible that it's slightly different between someone buying a home and someone renting an apartment, but anecdotally everyone I've talked to starts on a search engine. (If you know of a good study on this, let me know in the comments!)
What that means is that you need to focus your marketing strategy around search engines rather than outreach marketing or listing services. Outreach marketing is inefficient and listing services no longer have the market cornered on housing information. So don't spend too much time worrying about those outlets. Instead, focus on building up your community's own web presence on Google.
What simplifies the buying process during an apartment search?
The biggest struggle for many prospects is that they are shopping for a specific apartment and cannot find helpful information about specific units on the community websites they visit. Many sites are set up as if the apartment community is the product, but that's not how apartment residents tend to think. They're going to spend far more time in their specific apartment than they will in the clubhouse, fitness room, or pool. Those amenities matter, of course, but they are of secondary importance next to the significance of the floorplan itself.
So how can you help prospects learn about your floorplans? The best way is through creating visual content that allows them to actually see into the floorplan online. Photos are great for this but the best strategy is to use video tours that actually walk prospects through the unit. This way they can see the entire thing online and can decide for themselves whether or not to schedule a leasing tour.
How do you get people to your website where they can see your content?
That brings us to the final piece of the inbound strategy--which is generating traffic to the apartment community website. To do this, you need to build a website that is optimized for search engines and also post regularly on Craigslist. These are going to be the two best free traffic sources. Google Ads is another good strategy to look into, although it has more of a learning curve to it.
This is all a lot of work. How exactly does it save me time?
There's two things to say about that question:
First, the way online marketing works is you put in a fair amount of work up front and then, if you do it the right way, things begin getting easier. So there's a big slog at first and then there's the harvest where you get to enjoy the fruit of your work.
Second, here are three simple takeaways that you can implement more easily:
- Make sure your Google My Business page is set up correctly.
- Label the photos on your gallery page by floorplan. The best approach is to have floorplan-specific landing pages on your site. But failing that at least make sure you have photos of each floorplan on the gallery page and that they are labeled by floorplan.
- Post at the best times of the day on Craigslist. Make sure you have good photos to run with your posts. Don't get green ghosted.
These are all relatively easy tasks that you can knock out in a short amount of time. And they will have you on the road to an inbound-based strategy built around creating an easy buying process for prospective residents. Long term, the ultimate goal needs to be adopting a more all-around inbound process.
The best way to save time as an overworked marketing director is to create structures and systems that do much of your work for you. That's what inbound can be. So yeah, it's a big time investment up front.
But many of the tasks you have to do are one-offs--shoot the videos, upload them to the website, set up the local business listing, etc. When you compare that to the steady work demanded by outreach-based approaches the merits of inbound become even more apparent.