4 Trends Driving Apartment Marketing in 2017 and What to Do to Stay Ahead
Your Top Takeaways:
- Before you do anything, upgrade your photos, videos and other visual content
- Create opportunities to get prospects into your owned marketing earlier in their search process
- Use online appointment scheduling and live chat to make it easy for prospects to do business with you
- Build word-of-mouth referrals by putting your social media message in the hands of your best customers and biggest cheerleaders
Man, it’s that time of year again.
Can you believe it’s here already? (But that also means it’s football season and baseball playoffs … so we have that going for us. Go Tribe!)
That means reviewing all of your existing advertising contracts, but it’s also a time to take stock of where you’re at and what you should be thinking about next.
Now is the perfect time to take a step back, really look at how renters are shopping for apartments in a 2016-2017 marketplace, and make sure your marketing aligns with those behaviors — the how and where of those prospects’ searches.
As we look at where consumer trends are going, we definitely see some key trends that stand out and should be guiding your apartment marketing decisions in the year ahead. Here are some of the top trends we’re seeing today:
Upgrade Your Visual Content
The single most visible trend on the Web is the move to much more visual content. And this applies for apartment shoppers, too — they want to see where they’re going to be living. Not just the sign out front; the actual apartment they’ll be living in.
So you need great photos, high-quality videos, and 3D floor plans.
Better, More Interesting Photos
Often, when a client approaches us about creating a new website for one of their communities, one of our first requests before we kickoff the project is that they pause until they invest more in photos. Seriously.
High-quality, well-composed photos with great lighting can make all the difference between beautiful and blah.
What to photograph:
- Inside the apartments (as many of your floor plans as possible)
- Showcase the community amenities and common space
- Around the property grounds
- Profile the on-site team
- Feature your residents’ favorite neighborhood hot spots
If you don’t already have a photographer you love, we like using photographers in the Google Street View network. Not only are these professionals typically quite affordable for the quality of work, but they also can help you add your property photos to Google Maps, including Street View virtual tours and photo galleries on your Google My Business page.
Earlier this year, a Facebook exec stated that she thinks your newsfeed will probably be “all video” in just five years. If you scroll through your feed today, it’s not hard to see that things are definitely trending that direction. (Who else loves watching all the Tasty recipes come together in ludicrous speed? Now I’m hungry…)
What to shoot:
- Video tours of your floor plans and amenity spaces – We have one client who is on track to have a video tour of all 15,000+ units in their portfolio in the next year. They’re already over 75% toward that goal. They take the videos at every turn, and these will allow them to give every prospect a look at their future apartment online. Need some help? Take a look at a service like HouseLens.
- Team profiles
- Resident testimonials
- Aerial drone videos of the grounds
- Profiles of local business partners and preferred employers
Videos for Apartment Marketing
We’re also seeing an emphasis on live video, particularly on Facebook and Twitter (through their Periscope app). Because Facebook wants to see more video shared in its feed, they’re giving priority to live videos, meaning more people are likely to see those posts over text updates or links out to other sites.
There are unlimited ways you can use live video in your business, but one we really like is to deliver live apartment tours. We have several clients scheduling live video tours at a regular time each week, giving prospects a specific time when they know they can tune in … perfect for those prospects who can’t make it in during normal office hours. Here are some details on marketing apartments through live video we shared with the NAA.
One more visual tool on your list should be virtual tours.
Again, go back to the trend: people want to see the place where they’re going to live. So if you can’t get a video tour of every floor plan, then virtual tours may be your next best bet.
Take a look at a service like Matterport. They have an extensive set of tools that give you the ability to create impressive tours of your apartments. You get full stats on how people are using your tours, and you can even add context to your tours by placing rich pins (called Mattertags) that make it easy for you to showcase the highlights of your community.
Want to see it in action? Take a look at how JC Hart is using virtual tours on their property websites.
Matterport sells its own proprietary 3D camera, but the cost is pretty reasonable, especially if you’re able to spread it out across multiple properties in your portfolio.
Don’t want to make the investment in Matterport yet? At least invest in 3-D floor plan images. There are some great, affordable options out there — one service we recommend to our clients is 3DPlans.com.
Again, before you do anything else in your marketing, make the investment in the visual imagery that prospects will want to see, regardless of where they find you.
Get Prospects into Your Owned Marketing Earlier in Their Search
Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a head start on your comps and be the first property to respond and engage each prospect?
Look for ways to get your prospects out of the marketplace of overwhelming choices (the ILSs) and in to your owned marketing much earlier in their search.
Without question, the most productive way to do that is still through smart email marketing. (And by getting smarter about when and how you ask for your prospect’s email address.)
From the start of the search process all the way through to after the new resident has signed their lease and moved in, there are numerous opportunities to stay in front of prospects with email.
Focus on two main areas: 1) Building your list of contacts, and 2) Using emails to move the prospect closer to choosing you. You want connect the prospect to your story and all of your marketing (social media, reviews and testimonials, blog, etc.) that they might otherwise not know about.
What to budget:
- Start with a flexible, affordable email service provider (ESP) like MailChimp (Plans start at $10/month)
- Use a tool to add all of your ILS leads to your prospect email list (before you’ve even responded to their very first inquiry)
If you’re doing any kind of social media or content marketing like a blog, you should also be trying to grow your email list from those channels, too.
Every blog should have the option to subscribe and receive future posts by email … don’t think for a minute that your readers are going to actively seek out your site every time you share a new post!
Now that we have a plan to grow our list of interested prospects, we want to send emails to those folks to stay in front of them at every step of their search.
Even though effective follow-up is critical to leasing success, we know that it’s hard to keep up with, considering everything else that’s happening every day in the typical leasing office. That’s why you want to use a capable email system like MailChimp to complement the follow-up that your on-site team or call center is already doing. (Following up with every prospect at least six or more times helped Park Chelsea Apartments in D.C. increase their closing ratio by 42%!)
Not sure what to send? We’ve got your back! Here are 99 email marketing ideas to send to prospects and customers at every stage of the renter journey.
Another reason email is so important: All the most popular sites are making it easier than ever to advertise to your existing email list.
Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and even Snapchat all provide tools to help you show your ads to the people on your list, who you already know have shown interest in your community. So building a good email list also helps you to reach the right audience with your online advertising.
Now that you have your prospects on your list and you’re sending them smarter emails and more targeted advertising, where do you steer them from there?
Like I mentioned, you want your emails to move the prospect closer to choosing you. You do this by connecting the prospect to your story and the parts of your marketing (social media, reviews and testimonials, blog, etc.) that they might otherwise not discover on their own. You should also make it clear you understand what a big decision moving is, and look for ways to be a resource to them through their search. Be helpful!
But often, this content doesn’t live on the homepage of your website, or it’s just not that easy to find. And you don’t want people to get confused or lost after they’d clicked through, excited to read more on your site.
That’s why you want to create landing pages that provide deeper information to help your prospects to come to a decision about your property sooner.
(Note: I can’t believe I still have to mention this, but yes, you absolutely should be able to create new pages on your website. If you can’t add new pages, your site is severely hampering your opportunities to improve your SEO, PPC, and the rest of your online marketing efforts. If you don’t have that capability through your current website provider, this should be one of the first items to discuss with your provider. And if they give you trouble or excuses, let’s talk.)
The more you can do to understand what your prospects’ search process looks like, the more you can tailor your content to match that process. Keep pushing yourself to make it as easy as possible for them to see that you understand them, and that you’re the best choice for them to call home.
Make It Easy for Prospects to Do Business with You
Whether you’re advertising, or contacting prospects through email campaigns (or probably doing all of the above), you’re trying to get the prospect to contact you and take the next step toward signing a lease.
And when we look at the data, we unquestionably see that people want to see what they’re getting into before they commit. (Even with full online leasing, less than 10% of the applications received across our clients’ market-rate properties are submitted sight unseen.)
It makes sense.
Rent is often the largest check your customer is going to write each month – they’re going to do their homework, check the reviews, and come take a tour of the apartment and the community to be sure they’re making the best decision.
So here’s your opportunity to align your marketing to your customer’s shopping behavior. Make it easy for them to ask questions, tell you more about what they want, and schedule a time to see the apartment that piqued their interest. How?
Start with these:
Appointment Scheduling: This one should be a no-brainer. When every dentist and salon offers a way to schedule an appointment online, shouldn’t your prospect be able to select their appointment to see an apartment from their phone? Plus, we see that online tour scheduling gives you the opportunity to get these leads directly into your email system, sending them confirmations and reminders that make it far more likely for them to show up for their appointment. (In some cases, we’ve seen show rates for tour appointments double! Consider your leasing team’s closing rate … how valuable would a 2X increase in tours be to your business?)
Live Chat and Messaging Apps: Sometimes there’s one small thing holding up a prospect. Do you accept large dogs? Is garage parking available? What’s the security deposit? They’re simple questions … but they’re enough to create a pause that will keep the prospect from starting an application. But they’re also easy questions to address in the moment through live chat or instant messaging. There are a number of great live chat tools that can easily integrate with any website — check out tools like Olark, Intercom, or Drift … ideally, you want a platform that is easy for you to manage, works well on mobile devices, and provides some insights into your visitors’ behaviors.
One thing to keep an eye on here is the rise of app stores for popular consumer chat tools. As Facebook Messenger and iMessage gain new capabilities and integration points, does it make more sense to deliver your live chat service through the messaging platform they already use everyday? It certainly could make it easier to connect with your customers … I’d love to see more companies test this route. (Want to give it a try? Click m.me/30lines to start a chat with us right now!)
CRM and Lead Management: A good lead management tool will help you understand which leads are the most interested and deserve your immediate attention, and it will also help you understand which of your marketing efforts and ad sources are working. Look for tools that really help you understand the behavior of your prospects … what sites are they coming from? What pages are they reading on your site? What emails are they clicking on? Dig into this as much as you can; just as you track each of your leasing professionals’ closing rate, you should also be tracking the closing rate of your website and other digital marketing channels as more and more of the search process moves online.
Social media as a thing is no longer a trend; it’s now just a term for how the Internet works and how we connect with each other. But there are some major trends and shifts that you need to keep in mind. Some of the social media tactics that worked even 2-3 years ago will get you exactly zero results if you’re still doing them today.
People Over Brands
We know that prospects are much more likely to trust the opinions of their friends and even strangers far more than they trust the messages directly from marketers. This manifests itself in social media, as Facebook is much more likely to show you posts from people you know than from brands you follow.
Without the right strategy, that can be a tough pill to swallow, especially if you’ve spent the last half decade building your social audience and getting people to like your page (that now gets little to no organic reach).
But if we see where the trend is going, then we can plan ahead and do something about it.
And in this case, that means creating more and easier ways for our best customers to create content about our brands and talk about us in their personal circles. And lucky for you, there are a number of great tools to help facilitate that process .
Invest in User-Generated Content
How do we get our customers talking about us on social media? Ask them to. Promote it. Create the shareable moments and the photo opportunities for them.
Community Rewards: Community Rewards is basically a simple game for your residents that rewards them for generating content and becoming an advocate for your brand. Need to increase awareness for your social profiles? Want residents to share photos of the next resident event? Trying to get more feedback on the types of services your residents want to see more of? Create incentives for whatever you want, then reward residents as they become more engaged advocates for your community.
Bylined: Now that pretty much everyone has a camera (and HD video camera, for that matter) in their pocket at all times, why not leverage that? (See: our first trend about visual content.) And Bylined is the perfect way to do it. This service allows you to create photo assignments for whatever you want, review the photos as they’re submitted, and choose the best ones to use in your own marketing. All the licensing is taken care of, and you get to set the price for every photo. Want to highlight your residents’ favorite things about their apartment, or the places they love in the neighborhood? Just ask, and let your residents show you what they like. Sure beats the same tired old stock photos, right?
Snapchat Geo-filters: Snapchat is one of the hottest social networks out there right now, but it can be tough to crack the code as a marketer … and it’s almost impossible for an off-site agency or even a corporate office to do Snapchat effectively on behalf of an apartment community. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
You’ve probably seen the designs people can layer on top of their photos — these are called filters, and you can create custom filters that people can use at your location. (And they’re affordable, too. We ran one for a client event that cost only $27 to run for the entire day, and it was viewed by over 8,800 people!) These are perfect for resident parties, move-in weekend at student housing communities, and any other time when you think people will be taking pictures around the community. They’re doing the sharing for you; all you have to do is create a cool filter that they will want to use on their photos.
The bottom line for social media is that these networks are constantly making tweaks to keep people coming back. Often, that’s going to make it harder for you as the marketer to break through the noise. But if we can put our story in the hands of our best customers and biggest advocates, they’ll gladly help us articulate all the reasons that prospects will want to live at our communities. And when our customers do it themselves, in their own words, images and videos, this is hands down the best marketing you can get.
Whew, let’s take a moment to catch our breath. (And congratulations on making it this far!)
Bringing It All Together
As you think about the latest shopping trends and what that means for your marketing, don’t think you have to chase every new idea.
Work with your marketing and leasing teams, help them understand what consumer behavior looks like in 2017, and choose the new investments and experiments that you think will work best for your team and your customers. How you integrate the “new” into your existing processes will determine your success in all of this.
To recap, before you do anything, you want to upgrade your visuals — photos, videos, floor plans, all of it. Once you have that in place, look for the best opportunities to get your prospects into your owned marketing (corporate website, email list, property website and landing pages) as early in their search as possible. Put yourself in position to help the customer first, and make it clear it’s easy to do business with you. Don’t forget about social media, but don’t take it all on yourself; create more photo opportunities and ways to put your social media message in your customers’ hands.
There’s probably a lot more we could mention, but these are the things we see coming up over and over again in our work. Whatever tools you’re working with, the goal is to create marketing messages that are relatable, humanized, confident, and compelling. Stand out by understanding your customer and creating marketing that aligns with how they shop today … rather than how you’ve always done things in the past.
Good luck, you got this. And 2017 is going to be a great year. Reach out anytime if you need any help to make it even better!