It’s hard to envision now, but marketing a multifamily property used to be as simple as placing a sign in the ground, or a circular in a supermarket rack. Not so much anymore, of course. Not in the information/internet age. Not given the fact that Millennials and those in Generation Z are digital natives, savvy about what they want and how they plan to go about getting it.
That said, it is important to keep in mind several old-school steps, not only to appeal to those of a certain age (and who, hard as it might be to picture, might spurn the internet) but also because personal touches still matter. It’s a way for a property manager to set him- or herself apart from an ever-expanding pack, of placing oneself above the fray.
All of this speaks to branding, which is as essential in multifamily real estate as it is in any other business. And a brand, according to Lucidpress, can be defined as: “… the sum total of all the impressions a customer has, based on every interaction they have had with you, your company and your products. Each one of these interactions tells a story to your customers.”
In other words, an apartment complex exists not only in the eye of the beholder, but in the heart and mind. It has a brick-and-mortar reality with tenants and potential tenants, naturally, but also a reality formed through other means, not the least of which are a property manager’s marketing efforts. A 2017 post on the website Multifamilyexecutive.com asserted that renting is now more of an emotional experience than a transactional one, as used to be the case—that renters are more wedded to the idea of a lease than home ownership.
That stands to reason, as Millennials in particular have been slow to the home-buying arena, largely because they have been saddled with burdensome student debt. As of 2015 just 37 percent of them owned a house, eight percent fewer than Baby Boomers and those in Generation X at a similar age—and only recently has that begun to change.
Renting, then, remains a viable option. And it is incumbent upon property managers to put their best feet forward, via means that might be broken down according to virtual, social and physical considerations.
A strong web presence is a no-brainer, considering nearly three in 10 Americans are online “almost constantly,” according to a Pew Research Center study. A property’s website should be easy to find and easy to navigate, as visitors want to find what they’re looking for within a click or two. A post on the site Buildium.com advised that content be search-engine optimized (SEO) and cross-posted on major sites like Zillow and Trulia.
Moreover, a company’s site should be mobile-friendly and feature virtual tours, not to mention professional photos—but not too many. (Drone photos are increasingly coming into vogue, as they offer a different perspective of a given property than shots taken at ground level.) A chatbot is also a must, as 60 percent of the interaction with those interfaces occurs after leasing offices are closed.
Finally, the importance of online reviews cannot be overstated. Fully 93 percent of potential tenants consulted those reviews, and 57 percent listed negative reviews as a deciding factor in whether they did so or not.
The reach of social media should come as no surprise. The only dispute is the enormity of that reach. While an estimated 2.4 billion people use Facebook at present, some research suggests that 3 billion will access one platform or another by 2021, which sounds conservative.
Instagram hit 1 billion monthly users in June 2018, according to the latter site, and that platform’s mobile ad revenue was estimated to be $7 billion for that entire year. And indeed, social media ads are having a greater and greater impact by the year; one Akron property saw its year-over-year occupancy rate increase from 88 percent to 97.9 percent after incorporating Google ads into its marketing strategy.
Facebook newsfeed ads have in particular been mentioned as a cost-effective method for drawing attention to one’s property, as such ads can target a local area, even a specific zip code.
Twitter, meanwhile, can be used as a means to connect with local businesses or residents; Pinterest is another method of accomplishing the latter, especially on move-in day. It’s always important to keep in mind that your current tenants can be your best marketers—or your worst, depending upon their feelings.
Curb appeal still matters. How does the place look? What is the neighborhood like? Potential tenants can only learn so much online. Should they show up, they can also learn a great deal from residents, and, well, see above.
Moreover, it has been found that there is still a place in marketing for the direct-mail appeal. One example is that of oversized postcards, which stand out from a stack of mail, and can be targeted to specific zip codes. They are particularly effective when sent at regular intervals, to keep the property top of mind.
One other throwback trend is that of billboards. They still stand out, especially with those who might not be inclined toward social media. And finally, it is important for a property to have an answering service, as it has been found that potential tenants are inclined neither to leave a message on an answering machine nor to call back.
The bottom line is, it is important to integrate your marketing approach—to remain on the cutting edge while understanding various tried-and-true methods can still be effective.
About the author
Michael Zaransky is the founder and managing principal of MZ Capital Partners, which has been recognized by INC Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America by placement on the magazine’s Top 500 list. Michael, a licensed Illinois real estate broker since 1979, also has a wide range of banking and financial experience. Michael is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO-Gold), the National Apartment Association, the National Multifamily Housing Council, and the Urban Land Institute.