January 20, 2017

An FAQ About Content Marketing for Apartments

Posted by Jake Meador


There's a growing interest around the industry in content marketing for apartments. Content marketing is over a hundred years old, but has only begun to explode in the past 5-7 years. According to the Content Marketing Institute, launched in 2010, 25% of marketing budgets are now spent on content marketing and 88% of all brands use content marketing.

What's more, according to one marketing group 57% of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier. One group estimates that by 2020 that figure is going to be closer to 85%.

The multifamily industry has been a little bit slower to pick up on these trends, but is now beginning to catch up. 

This post is intended as a basic introductory level FAQ introducing the what and why of content marketing for apartments. We hope it's helpful.

1) What is content marketing?

Content marketing is using free content to engage visitors, nurture them into leads, and convert them into customers. And what is "free content?" That could be a number of things—blog posts, white papers, videos, infographics, eBooks, checklists, and downloadable templates are a few examples. Some of these pieces of content should be accessible to anyone online—they get on your website and find your blog post or video or infographic.

Other pieces work better as downloadable pieces of content in which you put the content behind a form, a person fills out the form (providing you with their email address), and then downloads the piece. This gives you the person's contact information and allows you to develop a relationship with them over time rather than simply trying to sell to them during a single interaction.

There are plenty examples of content marketing (sometimes also known as inbound marketing) at work, but one of the most interesting comes from the music industry. Songwriter Derek Webb has explained why he gives his music away for free by putting it behind a form that asks downloaders for their email address and ZIP code:

If someone buys my music on iTunes, Amazon, or in a record store (remember those?), let alone streams it on Spotify, it’s all short-term money. That might be the last interaction I have with that particular fan. But if I give that fan the same record for free in exchange for a connection (an e-mail and a zip code), I can make that same money, if not double or triple that amount, over time. And “over time” is key, since the ultimate career success is sustainability. Longevity.

See, the reality is that out of a $10 iTunes album sale, I probably net around a dollar.  So if I give that record away, and as a result am able to get that fan out to a concert (I can use their zip code to specifically promote my shows in their area), I make approximately $10 back, and twice that if they visit the merch table. I can sell them an older/newer album and make approximately $10 back. The point is, if I can find some organic way to creatively engage them in a paid follow-up transaction, I increase my revenue 10 times on any one of these interactions.

This is all an equation of scale. I might be able to outright sell 20,000 albums for $10 each (again, netting around $1 each). Or I can remove any barrier from someone hearing about or discovering my music by giving it away, which will result in an order of magnitude more albums distributed, maybe around 100,000. If I can then convert 20% of those free downloads into paid transactions of any kind over time, I have probably well over doubled or tripled my money. And I can do this repeatedly as I continue to grow, and learn more about and invest in my tribe, to whom I now have a direct connection (rather than having to go through Facebook, Twitter, or Lord forbid, MySpace to access them).
And all of this by giving the music away for free.

The key here is that content is a lousy product in many cases (which is why journalism has struggled so much to adapt to the web) but it is a fantastic marketing tool to promote some other product. So Webb's songs themselves don't make much money for him, but the concerts and merch he can sell to people who find his songs are huge money makers.

2) Why do people use content marketing?

Content marketing radically reimagines the work of marketing and advertising. What we're talking about is not simply taking the ad you put on a billboard or a radio spot and sticking it in an eBook and asking people for their email in exchange for your advertisement.

Ad fatigue is a thing and it is wreaking havoc on your advertising. According to one group, the average response rate to online ads in 2011 was .1%--not one percent, .1 percent. So one person in one thousand would respond to an online ad. In terms of ROI, that's about as bad as it gets. The other numbers on ad fatigue are just as bad—66% of consumers think they are hit with too many online ads and 30% will either boycott a company or complain about it online if they feel the company is advertising to them too much. Don't believe us? Go ask FanDuel and DraftKings how their excessive advertising earlier this fall worked out.

But what if you could flip your advertising from something people dread and try to avoid into something they value and even look forward to receiving? That can actually happen—but to get there you need to fundamentally reimagine your approach to marketing. Rather than simply trying to do something to get people's attention and provoke them to buy, you have to provide them with something that is actually valuable to them. This could, obviously, take a lot of different shapes.

We already talked about how some musicians have decided to give away recorded versions of their music in exchange for a person's email address and ZIP code. A more conventional approach would be to write a white paper or an eBook on a perennial problem people have related to your industry. So, for example, marketing software company Hubspot writes eBooks about common marketing issues--how to do marketing on Pinterest or how to better align sales and marketing. A law firm might use content marketing by creating a guide to some common legal problem. As an apartment marketing firm, we create eBooks and whitepapers about common apartment marketing problems.

This approach to marketing does two things:

  • It helps people by solving real problems they're having.
  • It establishes a relationship of trust with them so that they'll be more likely to do business with you in the future.

Ideally, content marketing allows everyone to win—the people consuming the content win because it helps them solve problems and the people creating the content win because their customers start thinking about their brand differently.

3) What kind of content would I need to do content marketing for apartments?

As an apartment community, you're trying to sell a living space to prospective residents. So eBooks or whitepapers probably don't make a ton of sense. The only time they'll come looking for you is when they need a place to live, so you're not really looking for them to keep hitting your site or reading things you write or anything like that. You're looking for them to sign a lease.

That means the best kind of content you can give them is something they value that moves them down that funnel and closer to signing—so give them walkthrough video tours. Apartment walkthrough video tours have a proven record of success that is unparalleled in the industry. One client of ours leased 66% more units with the exact same staffing hours simply by adding video tours.

If you're still not convinced, check out some of these stats:

  • Web visitors are 64% more likely to buy a product after seeing a video.
  • Real estate listings with videos receive 403% more inquiries than those without.
  • 90% of online shoppers report that they find video helpful in making shopping and buying decisions.

By offering prospective residents the chance to take video tours of their apartment before they even call to set up a tour, you're offering them a unique value as they try to sort through all the possibilities at the beginning of their apartment search. The ability to see instantly whether or not your apartment is something that fits their desires, goals, and needs is incredibly valuable, and so walkthrough video tours translate into higher engagement and more leases.

Significantly, our own data tells us that prospective residents absolutely do use the content hosted on apartment websites. On average, 84% of apartment website visitors look at floorplan content as their first action after arriving on an apartment community website.

4) So how does content marketing work compared to traditional apartment marketing practices?

The good news is that you can do content marketing for apartments alongside more conventional advertising. There's nothing about having your own website to host your walkthrough video tours that is incompatible with also being present on internet listing services or in newspaper classifieds.

In fact, you could look at content marketing as simply being a way to cast a broader net. You pay an ILS or newspaper x dollars to show up in their listings and then don't worry about those while, at the same time, you build up your own marketing presence with a community website and high-quality walkthrough video tours.

Of course, in our experience, the content marketing strategy blows traditional strategies out of the water. In one case, we found that a company with 2500+ units that worked with us saw massive improvements in their marketing performance after launch. One of the big changes is that they began renting units much faster after making the change.

Typically they leased apartments after no more than two in-person showings. Any more than two showings if they see the unit doesn't rent, that tells them there's either a problem with an odor or a maintenance issue that needs to be addressed—that's just sort of the benchmark they hold themselves to. They began doing that after they embraced a robust content marketing strategy.

Additionally, they find that 60% of their new residents do not look at any other property with any other company before signing a lease. Their content is uniquely valuable and informative that people simply don't look elsewhere. That's absolutely huge—such a high level of trust, a high level of efficiency, because prospective residents can find exactly what they are looking for without ever leaving their home by comparing and watching walkthrough video tours in the comfort of their own, current home, before actually scheduling time with a leasing agent.

5) Where do I start?

Effective content marketing for apartments comes down to three factors:

  1. Video and photo content
  2. A website to host the content
  3. Traffic generation to drive people to see the content.

In terms of building your website, you'll want an attractive yet functional design that doesn't overwhelm visitors with unnecessary pages or glitzy design.

Once the site is up, you'll want to create floorplan-specific pages that will host floorplan-specific visual content. So you'll have a page for the studio, a page for the one bed, a page for the two bed, and so on. Each of these pages will feature a walkthrough video tour of each floorplan along with high-quality photos of the unit.

Finally, you'll need to get busy on traffic generation. You'll want to optimize your site's title, h1, and h2 tags for search engine visibility, you'll need to start posting regularly on Craigslist, and you'll also want to start using Google AdWords to drive some paid search traffic to your website.

The difficult part here is that each of these pieces is essential to successful content marketing. You can try to use one piece on its own and you may experience a small level of success, but these three components all feed into each other to create the highly-efficient marketing machine we're describing above.

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