Many communities in our industry struggle with vacancy. Even now, during a comparative boom in the industry, we still talk to communities with occupancy numbers in the high 70s and low 80s--which is obviously catastrophic for that community and their management company. Even communities with occupancy in the mid-to-high 80s or low 90s are under-performing against the national average, which means they are leaving money on the table.
A Loose Bundle of Marketing Tactics Doesn't Work
One reason that many of these communities struggle is that they don't have a comprehensive apartment marketing plan. Rather, they simply have a loose bundle of apartment marketing tactics that work separately and with varying degrees of success.
Here's what we mean by that: Let's say Sunny Ridge Apartments has occupancy in the low 80s and is trying to figure out what's gone wrong. What do they do?
First, the management company will likely talk to their property manager or marketing director to try and figure out what's wrong. Is the staff trained? Is the rent too high? Are people just not able to find them? What's the issue? After what could be a long and frustrating conversation, they're off to the next silo to address the next possible issue.
So now they go to their leasing staff and try to improve their training, helping them learn how to close deals more effectively, work the phones better, and so on.
Next, they decide to call the ILS's that they're in and see if there is a way to increase their visibility on those sites. The likely answer is that there is a way of doing that, but it'll cost a fair amount more--and Sunny Ridge isn't super keen to spend more on marketing when they are already struggling financialy due to the poor occupancy numbers.
Finally, they're going to see if there is anything else they can do on the web. Maybe they talk to a web guy or the marketing director about their website. They may try to figure out ways of optimizing their Craigslist posting. They may even begin experimenting with paid search advertising.
Separate Tactics With No Central Strategy Creates More Work
The trouble here is that all of these different groups are working separately. So you have a bunch of disjointed marketing tactics that aren't feeding into each other or reinforcing each other. You also have a bunch of different people all doing separate tasks.
At the very least, you're spreading the work so thin that simply maintaining all the different pieces is as much work as actually trying to lease apartments and run a successful apartment community. But in the worst case scenario, you may actually be competing with yourself. If you pump more money into that ILS while having a bad website, it's possible that the ILS will start outranking your website on Google--so now you have money going toward an ILS (which may or may not be effective) and other money going toward a website that is competing with that ILS listing for top placement on branded keywords.
How to Centralize Your Apartment Marketing
The goal is to develop a centralized apartment marketing plan that focuses everything you're doing around your community website.
- The website provides an online hub for all your community's leasing work.
- The content on your website helps to generate and qualify leads for your leasing staff.
- You can use Craigslist, AdWords, and sound SEO tactics to drive people to the site.
Let's talk about each part of this strategy in a bit more detail.
The first important piece is the community website. There are several reasons it's important to have a stand-alone community website.
- It is important to have a space online that is all your own, that you don't share with competitors.
- It is a great way to increase your control over your presence on search engines.
- It is essential for creating and maintaining a successful AdWords campaign.
Solid apartment community websites will include:
- Floorplan-Specific Content
- Floorplan Landing Pages
- Calls to Action
The goal of the community website is to provide prospects with an easy place to find all the information they need about your community—so that's floorplan information as well as amenity listings and contact information.
This point, of course, is implied in the discussion above. If you have a community website but your photos are low-quality and you don't have any video, then you don't actually have much. Hardly anyone will find your site and the people who do will bounce almost immediately.
The most important piece regarding content is that you have floorplan-specific content. A lot of apartment websites are built around the community, which betrays an owner-centered view of how the website ought to work. To your prospects, the main product you're offering isn't the community; it's their apartment. So you should organize your website around floorplans rather than around the community. This means creating pages for each specific floorplan and filling those pages with photos and video of the specific floorplan being showcased on that page.
Obviously this represents a significant departure from the way many apartment websites function, but based on our experience with floorplan-focused websites the shift is well worth it. This is especially true of marketing these days where self-serve information is routinely easy to access and, as a result, has come to be expected by many consumers.
In the past, marketing strategies would often hype up a product without giving much in the way of actual information about what the product actually does. Marketing guru Jay Baer says that most consumers are tired of this advertising and respond negatively to it. It is far better, he says, to provide customers with self-serve information that they can use to educate themselves about the product and make a decision about whether or not to make a purchase.
If you make information about your community easily accessible on your website, prospects can educate themselves about your community before deciding whether or not to call and schedule a tour.
Traffic is the gasoline that fuels your marketing vehicle. If you have a cool website and great content, but no plan to promote it, then it won't really matter that much in the end because no one is going to see the site. So in addition to a website strategy and a content strategy, you need a traffic strategy. Based on our experience, these three things are the most reliable sources of traffic for apartment communities:
- Google AdWords
- Google Organic Search
- Local Search
So when we say you need a traffic strategy, what we're realling saying is that you need an AdWords strategy, an organic search strategy, and a Craigslist strategy.
On AdWords, you need to do these things:
- Set up defensive campaigns to protect your branded search terms.
- Write copy that specifies what benefits you offer and gives searchers a concrete reason to click (such as watching a video tour).
- Manage your bid strategy to keep your budget under control and get the most possible from your ad spend.
On organic search, you need to do these things:
- Write accurate, descriptive title tags for each page.
- Create engaging, relevant content that people actually want to see.
- Set up your site correctly so that it is easy to use and loads promptly.
With local search, you need to do these things:
- Make sure all your local listing information is accurate (community name, address, phone number, website, etc.)
- List hours for your leasing office.
- Choose the correct category for your business.
- Respond to online reviews when appropriate.
- Upload photos to run with your listing.
With Craigslist, you need to do these things:
- Follow a posting schedule.
- Vary your marketing copy so as to avoid triggering Craigslist's anti-spam measures.
- Post by floorplan rather than making generic posts for your whole community.
- Upload floorplan photos to run with your post for each specific floorplan.
If you are doing these steps, you are doing the right things to drive traffic to your community website.
Is this just another way of creating the same kind of silo problem?
After reading all that you might be wondering if this actually solves the problem we discussed in the opening paragraphs. Does breaking your website work out into website, content, and traffic categories create a new sort of silo problem? The answer is that, sure, it could, but it does not have to. There are ways of avoiding that issue.
In the first place, you could work with a single marketing vendor who will manage all three aspects for you, giving you a single contact person for all these various aspects of your marketing. (And yes, Rentping does that.)
Second, if you're a smaller community, there are resources that can help you with some of these things. You can build a reasonably good, attractive website in WordPress with a little bit of help from a tech-savvy friend or freelancer who helps you with a couple specific tasks. You can shoot photos and video with a smartphone—they won't be professional quality, but assuming they hit a baseline quality level, something is better than nothing. Traffic, meanwhile, is something your marketing team should already be thinking about and working on. So you can do this stuff in-house.
Third, even in the worst-case scenario where you do have to contract out web design and videography work, this still isn't the same thing as the silo problem we described above. Ultimately, the silo problem is not simply about having separate and discrete teams working on your marketing.
The larger problem is that your marketing is happening across multiple platforms that have different and often competing goals. Each of your listing services is competing with each other. On an individual service, your community is competing with all the other local communities that are also clients with that listing service. If you add additonal stand-alone marketing teams—a Craigslist team, for example, or an AdWords team—and they are not talking to each other, then you have more competition and cannibalization happening.
What the website-content-traffic framework does for you is it focuses separate lines of work around a single marketing platform: your community's website. You still need to coordinate separate tasks, of course, but there's not necessarily any easy way around that problem. But by focusing all of your marketing energies on building a single platform, you are making your marketing more structured and coherent, which is a significant victory for your community.
The good news with this comprehensive marketing strategy is that it's incredibly agile, it's easy to track using analytics and call tracking, and it's the strategy best adapted to the current technological environment. The bad news is that it can be a lot of work to impelement such a comprehensive, ambitious marketing strategy. If you have additional questions and would like to talk to an expert, you can request a free consultation. As always, thanks for reading!