Though more agencies, tools, and software are available to help fix vacancy problems today than two decades ago (remember newspaper listings?!), multifamily marketing is still a time-consuming and expensive burden for many apartment communities and property management companies.
You feel this burden if you're marketing your apartment communities yourself or have a small team that needs help to achieve your big marketing goals. Hiring a marketing agency for assistance is an easy and wise investment, but selecting the right one is a difficult decision.
In this post, we will identify some key questions multifamily owners and operators should consider when hiring a multifamily marketing partner.
Is the marketing agency familiar with the multifamily industry?
The first qualifier for choosing a marketing agency is whether it's familiar with or specific to multifamily.
Why? Multifamily marketing is complex, and apartments aren't a traditional product that most marketers spend their time in school learning how to market.
The audience is limited to a small group of individuals looking for an apartment unit matching their predetermined bedroom and bathroom count and price point in a specific location that's available within their timeframe to move, so you have to reach those prospects at the right time and convince them your apartments are the best fit for all of their needs, or else your vacant unit will continue to cost you money.
- The seasonality of supply vs. demand of units changes constantly, which changes the scope of marketing needs.
- Apartment units are standard; one across the street has a similar appearance and features that blend in with yours, making it harder to stand out.
- The product itself is a geographical location.
- There are laws specific to who you can market apartments to that don't apply to other products or services.
- The audience is limited to a small group of individuals looking for an apartment unit matching their predetermined bedroom and bathroom count and price point in a specific location that's available within their timeframe to move, so you have to reach those prospects at the right time and convince them your apartments are the best fit for all of their needs, or else your vacant unit will continue to cost you money. (Other than that, marketing apartments is easy!)
There may be many marketing agencies that generically offer the website or pay-per-click advertising services you need, but do they possess the innate knowledge of marketing's role in the holistic picture of property management and driving an apartment community's performance?
Marketing apartments is difficult enough; your situation will improve if you select an agency that knows the multifamily industry, the products, the challenge of getting your communities in front of the right individuals, and the importance of timing in execution.
This last thing is critical. The sole focus of any apartment marketing strategy should be to drive leases when you need them. It is not just about building a brand or getting as many eyeballs on your communities as possible, which many marketing companies—even some focusing on apartments—prioritize their services to deliver.
What problems can a multifamily marketing agency solve?
The second qualifier for hiring an apartment marketing company is the tools they offer and how they solve your communities' problems.
Good multifamily marketing agencies increase your profitability.
Suppose you get a bunch of notices during one of the year's slowest months and suddenly have to fill a bunch of units when demand is usually deficient. Does the marketing agency have the plan, solutions, and knowledge to increase demand so that this unexpected vacancy surge doesn't cost you thousands of dollars? Inversely, do they have a strategy for reducing your marketing expenses when occupancy is strong?
An effective apartment marketing strategy in today's age—one that can address any situation your communities might face—involves many moving parts coming together:
- Your community needs digital advertising to be visible online. Most renters begin looking for their next apartment in search engines, so you need to run the right mix of digital ad campaigns that puts your apartments in front of the right renters at every search stage. Remember, your apartments are only for some, so the goal of your marketing strategy must be to reach that smaller audience of prospective residents looking for apartments like yours.
- Your community needs a website that engages those renters and helps them decide whether to call your leasing office.
- Your website needs high-quality photo and video content that lets prospects see the inside of your units and amenities online, pre-qualifying them as leads.
- Your apartments need assistance with branding and development of marketing collateral to create a memorable, positive impression to prospects.
Prospective residents go through a clear marketing funnel from the beginning of their apartment search to the day they apply, which means the best agencies optimize their solutions from traffic generation (ads) to conversion (website, photo, and video content), driving more qualified leads and leases.
The expense will pay for itself if you find a multifamily marketing agency that understands how to engage prospective renters in those three areas, each essential in closing more leases and stabilizing occupancy. Good multifamily marketing agencies increase your profitability.
Does the agency provide custom or templated apartment websites?
Websites are the primary apartment marketing tool that property management companies rely on vendors to create.
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 work from a template (or a small set of templates).
What are the key differences between custom apartment websites and templated ones? There are three main things to consider:
- Customized apartment websites may stand out more, but they also will take longer and cost more because of the time developers require to build the site. In contrast, templated sites will be launched sooner and at less cost.
- Customized apartment 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 result from extensive testing and iterations on the template, meaning that, all things being equal, the vendor can be reasonably confident that the site will perform.
- Do your prospects care about a custom apartment 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 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 your prospects gather all the information they need to confidently take the next steps in their leasing journey? In some areas, a customized website may help. But most of the time, a templated website will do the trick.
While reviewing marketing agencies for assistance with your community website, here are a few other qualifiers to look for:
- Are the websites mobile-friendly? Most renters today conduct apartment searches from their phones, so your website must work seamlessly on those devices.
- Are the websites accessible to all users? Having built-in accessibility features on your website that meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ensures that all users, regardless of ability, can interact with your community online and avoids any possible litigation.
- Does the website utilize floorplan-specific content? Today's renters demand clarity from apartment websites with specific content and information on a page dedicated to each floorplan. Floorplan-specific content is also a critical website feature for pre-qualifying your community's leads.
- Does the website integrate with your property and revenue management software? Apartment websites must display up-to-date rent prices and availability for it to be your top lead convertor.
Other considerations for hiring a multifamily marketing agency
Do they make frequent changes to improve their marketing services?
Rather than choosing a marketing agency to fix an immediate need, try to find one that's constantly updating its services instead, as that means your marketing plan would continuously improve and sustain future success as well.
Otherwise, you'll be wasting money on static marketing services that won't be valuable to you a year from now, prompting you to repeat the same process.
What is their customer service structure?
Will you be assigned a dedicated person on your account who can help you whenever needed, or are you just directed to put in customer service requests? Knowing this before you select an apartment marketing company enables you to avoid a scenario where you need to make a change now (like make an advertisement for a rent special) but wait to hear back from someone for more than 24 hours. Day-to-day operations change frequently—you need a marketing agency equipped to do the same!
What is the size of the company?
Knowing this also helps you understand more about the marketing company's capacity to serve your needs timely and effectively. It's not that employee count is a dealbreaker—there are pros and cons working with small and large companies—but it impacts you, the client.
What is the onboarding process like?
The last thing anyone wants to deal with after taking all that time to research and select a marketing agency is waiting months for that company's services to kick in. No apartment community can withstand changes in demand and seasonality as it waits for a new website, digital advertisements, or other marketing items to be designed and developed.
Any onboarding process takes some time, but it shouldn't take months and months. The agency you choose to partner with should have an efficient onboarding process that is well-defined by milestones and frequent check-ins so that you can stay updated with the progress being made.
Does the agency offer a free trial for any of its marketing services?
Check out this excellent LinkedIn post from Patrick Antrim about multifamily pilot programs. He highlights some of the challenges (and general fatigue) of choosing and applying outside vendor services to your apartment communities.
Free trials eliminate much of that headache and risk of partnering with an apartment marketing agency. It takes less work to roll out their services to just one or two of your communities, and you can verify if those services are right for you with actual data. Always try to do a free trial if offered.
Ensure the agency has multifamily industry knowledge.
- Multifamily marketing requires supply and demand dynamics expertise, apartment standardization, and precise audience targeting.
Evaluate the agency's ability to address specific apartment community problems.
- An effective strategy involves online visibility, engaging websites, and optimized solutions for generating qualified leads and leases.
Know the agency's philosophy for apartment websites.
- Customized websites offer uniqueness but take longer and cost more, while templated websites are quicker and less expensive, with proven performance. Prioritize mobile-friendliness, accessibility, floorplan-specific content, and integration with property and revenue management software when selecting a website.