Interest vs. Intent Apartment Marketing on Facebook and Google

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No matter what you are doing in life, it's really important to try to play to strengths, whether to your own strengths, the strengths of other people on your team, or the strengths of particular tools and resources that you use to get a job done. So, you wouldn't drive nails into wood with a shoe, and you wouldn't want to hike up a mountain with hammers strapped to your feet (to use an absurd illustration).

And in marketing, the same principle holds true—it's absolutely critical to play to the strengths of the various marketing tools that you are using. Today, we are going to talk about Facebook and Google, and how advertising on those two platforms make sense depending on whether you are trying to do interest-based marketing or intent-based marketing.

Interest and Intent in Marketing

The general idea here is that different marketing platforms work for different needs. If a company's product primarily caters to a specific interest that prospective customers have, then you advertise that in ways that cater to that interest.

For example, if you are a fashion magazine or a sports gear company, you'll want to target people based primarily on an interest they have. So your marketing strategy is built around producing and distributing content that appeals to people who are naturally interested in whatever your company produces.

Other products, however, will need to be marketed based on intent rather than interest. If your company produces lawn mowers, for example, you need to reach people when they need to mow their lawn. No one has a general interest in lawn mowers, but people do frequently intend to do something that involves the sort of equipment a company that produces lawn mowers would sell. Apartments, obviously fit into the latter category.

So what does this mean for our marketing strategy as apartment marketers? Let's talk about it by considering two generally popular online marketing channels—Facebook and Google.

Interest-Based Marketing on Facebook

The Facebook advertising platform has huge strengths—but, to provide something of a spoiler, I'm going to argue that Facebook's advertising strengths aren’t the kind of strengths that play into the needs of multifamily marketers, because the strength of advertising on Facebook is that marketers have interest-based targeting capabilities.

So, if you are a Star Wars fan, or if you really like college football (especially if you have a favorite team!), or if indie music is your scene, advertisers can elect to target you if they think that you would appreciate your product. Maybe they are trying to sell Luke Skywalker action figures from a set created for the original release of A New Hope, or maybe they have created a new line of t-shirts with your team’s logo, or maybe they want to announce the new album of some artist that no one has ever heard of, but if they know something about your interests, then it’s a win for the advertiser to get their ads in front of you, and a win for you to see ads that are relevant and beneficial to you.

And it's in figuring out your interests where Facebook really excels. Every time you Like a company or a product or an interest group, Facebook learns something about you. Every time you share a link to read an article on a website with a specific political leaning, Facebook is making notes within its algorithms of the kinds of content that you like. With the breadth and volume of content that you read, Like, share, and comment on, Facebook can build a very nuanced profile of your interests.

The problem for apartment marketers trying to reach new apartment renters, though, is that it's really tough to classify an interest-group of people who are searching for an apartment right now. Even if you were able to identify people who lived in an apartment currently, that still wouldn’t help you, because that person might be tied up in a lease for a very long time, or they might be looking to move to a different city, or they might be very happy with their current apartment and not wanting to move at all.

And even if you were able to figure out that someone was looking for an apartment right now, it would be difficult to decipher from their expressed interests (through clicking “Like” on things or by filling out their profile questions) whether they might be interested in your apartment. What does their political or religious views really tell apartment marketers about what they are willing to spend, or what kind of location they are looking for?

So, Facebook advertising works, but definitely not for multifamily lead generation. If you sold running shoes or cookware or subscriptions to a political news magazine, you would be crazy not to leverage Facebook's interest-based advertising strengths. Apartment marketing just doesn't work that way, though.

Intent-Based Apartment Marketing on Google

The contrast of interest-based advertising, then, is intent-based advertising, which is the unique strength of Google advertising product called Ads. With Google Ads, marketers identify the keyword phrases they want to target that will trigger their ads to run for a user. So, while no one clicks “Like” on a page about “I’m searching for an apartment right now,” people almost always type something into Google that is the equivalent of saying, “I’m searching for an apartment right now.”

When people get on Google and type something like “apartments in chicago” or “luxury two bedroom apartments for rent” or “mountain brook apartments in evanston il”, they are practically waving their hands in the air saying, “Tell me why I should live in your community!” And, since Google gives marketers the capability of targeting only the people who search for an apartment to rent—as well as the ability to exclude people through negative keywords who are trying to find a house to buy, the maintenance line for our community, or a vacation rental—Google Ads works perfectly to find the people who are searching for an apartment precisely when they are searching for it.

Here’s the difference: Facebook marketing is interest-based, but Ads is intent-based. Both have strengths and weaknesses, but for the multifamily industry, Facebook’s platform simply doesn’t offer many strengths, and Ads continues to gain more features to improve its strengths in precise, intent-based targeting.

Facebook's Intent-Based Apartment Marketing Tool

Still, Facebook does have one important intent-based advertising tool: retargeting ads. Like Google's remarketing ads, Facebook offers advertisers the ability to tag people who have already visited your apartment's community website. The fact that someone has visited your website is a clear sign that they are looking for an apartment right now, because, let's be honest—normal people don't surf apartment websites just for fun.

So, if someone is logged into Facebook while they visit your site, Facebook records that fact, and then the next time they open up Facebook (even if they are on a different computer or mobile device), you can target those people with your ads. This isn't the offensive, shiny penny tool that will get in you in front of brand new people necessarily, but it is definitely a part of defensive apartment marketing to help you avoid losing your warmest leads by remaining top-of-mind with someone who has already checked out what you have to offer, and helping to get them back to your website.


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