COVID-19 has created a myriad of problems for multifamily operators, including soaring vacancy rates as renters impacted by the pandemic move out of cities to explore remote work or more attainable markets. The best strategy against vacancy is a bullet-proof marketing strategy, but what consumers expect from marketing and the purchase experience has changed greatly over the past decade.
Not only are consumers making more purchases online, they’re looking for purchases that aren’t digitally native to mimic the experience they have on tech-integrated shopping sites. It might be easy for a brick-and-mortar store to adapt digital technologies on their website, but how can multifamily operators make the transition?
On last week’s episode of Common Knowledge, we sat down with marketing experts from across the multifamily ecosystem for a discussion on how owners and managers can shift their marketing strategies to attract today’s renter: Eric Edelman, VP of Platform at Common, Jordan Silton, Senior Director of Product and SEO at apartments.com, and Roger Sanchez, Managing Partner at Uncomn Projects.
Consistency in brand and experience
Multifamily property managers have long avoided consumer facing branding, instead preferring to market homes on an individual level, creating new websites, social media accounts, and marketing material for each building. As consumers move their apartment search online though, creating a brand has proven essential for marketing and consumer trust.
What makes a great, consumer-focused real estate brand goes well beyond a large social media following or high-end amenities. Instead of thinking of their brand as just their building, developers and operators need to think about every touch point that a renter has as they discover, tour, and live in their properties. How easy is it for them to book a tour? What do they know about the building and unit before they move in? What’s their day to day experience like?
According to Roger Sanchez, creating consistency in experience and consumer expectation lends itself to a recognized brand even if a portfolio consists of multiple unit types and diverse target renters. Consider the quality of resident events, touch points like your website and email, and on the resident side, the customer service experience. Much like with hotel brands, once these experiences are uniform across your properties, aspects like interior design and amenities will be additional perks instead of defining elements.
Collaboration between marketing and leasing
In traditional multifamily real estate, marketing and leasing have been silo-ed. Marketing would generate leads through a website and then hand them off to leasing. However, according to Eric Edelman, the relationship between marketing and leasing has become more fluid as much of the leasing process itself becomes digital. For example, who should host virtual tours? Is that someone on the ground or in a call center? While it makes sense for an on the ground leasing agent to host a FaceTime tour, Matterport tours hosted by someone in a centralized location allow for on-site leasing agents to tour more people in person.
Additionally, the increase in digital tools like AI chatbots require collaboration between marketing and leasing earlier on in the funnel, as the chatbot acts as a digital leasing agent that comes in contact with a lead before they book a tour. Eric notes that property managers should begin challenging their assumptions of the individual roles of the marketing and leasing teams, and look for ways the two can work together to better convert and educate leads.
Taking notes from D2C
Direct to consumer companies and marketing tactics now exist across virtually every spending category, from shoes to mattresses and air conditioners. However, most property managers have not adapted their marketing to what consumers expect out of a purchase, despite the fact that rent is most renters’ largest monthly expense. Property managers need to start seeing their units as products, integrating tactics like using data to create a more personalized sales experience and crafting consistent messaging across their marketing channels.
Eric Edelman notes that D2C brands focus not just on the experience of the transaction, but the experience before and after the transaction. Common has adopted this approach by becoming a trusted source of information for renters about the renting process, neighborhoods, and cities through SEO, social media, and email marketing. By creating trust and authority with renters before they make their next rental decision, Common stays top of mind when the time is right.
Jordan Silton also notes an increase in tech-focused services over lead generators like bus ads and walk-ins. While they won’t be made totally irrelevant, they’ll be less prevalent as more companies adopt digital technology like virtual tours and text message systems. The end of COVID restrictions will make these digital tools less necessary, but people will come to expect the same ease and pace they experience with any other online product outside of their apartment search.
What’s in store for the future of real estate marketing? Jordan Silton is looking to hospitality and the ease of booking a hotel room as a model that might be reflected in multifamily over the next few years. Renters may soon be able to get information about a unit from a listing and sign a lease all through one digital experience.
Roger Sanchez believes that consumer’s expectations for customer service will only continue to grow as consumers begin to become familiar with property managers as brands. This will apply to all parts of the leasing and renting experience, from their first request for information to submitting a maintenance request.
Eric Edelman sees flexibility at the forefront of multifamily. The idea of the 12 month lease is falling by the wayside, and many renters are looking for short term monthly or even nightly lease lengths. This may also coincide with the introduction of more unit types that are better suited to short term rentals.
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