It's early June, which means for many people in our industry we are heading into the busiest season of the year. In university towns, leases for college students are ending and the community is needing to fill those vacant units as quickly as they can to avoid losing money. Additionally, many other leases will often end up finishing between May and August. This means that communities are dealing with a higher amount of vacancy than usual. It also means that some of the day-to-day marketing tasks may slip a little bit as leasing requires more and more time.
Of course, there's a problem with this: When marketing is neglected, you often see fewer leads coming in to your office. Fewer leads will typically mean more units staying vacant for longer amounts of time. It ends up being a Catch 22 kind of problem: In order to work all the leads needed to fill all the vacant units, you have to put other tasks, like marketing, on the backburner. When you put marketing tasks on the backburner, you don't get enough leads to fill all the vacant units. So what's a marketer to do?
Apartment Marketing: Tasks vs Systems
The key issue here is what sort of work is involved in your community's normal marketing routine. We still see lots of multifamily communities that have marketing plans that lean heavily on executing daily tasks:
- Posting to Craigslist
- Distributing Fliers
- Posting to Social Media
- Setting Up New Signs
All of these things are different sorts of tasks that can't really be automated. You can schedule social media posts out with a tool like Buffer, of course, but that comes with its own risks. But the other tasks just have to get done however often you want to do them and so they take up lots of time.
Consequently, when you hit a busy season that creates even more tasks for you to do—follow up with those leads, give those leasing tours, adjust rent rates, schedule carpet cleanings and other tasks related to turning a unit—something has to give.
The solution to this problem is to automate aspects of your marketing strategy. If you can automate aspects of your marketing, you can save a lot of time not only during leasing season, but year-round. Moreover, if you can automate the most successful parts of your marketing strategy, you can produce better results in less time.
Two Keys to an Apartment Marketing System
We haven't mentioned two of the most important marketing channels for apartment communities yet: organic search traffic and paid search traffic.
Here's what we know: 90% of people looking for homes use the internet during their search. 42% of home buyers start their search online. Moreover, the younger the person, the more likely they are to use the internet and to begin their search online.
Those statistics are, to be fair, for home buyers rather than apartment shoppers. But it seems probable that the numbers would hold up reasonably well for multifamily. If anything, they may be even more stacked toward online marketing due to the relative youth of our industry. When J Turner Research put together a sample group to research marketing strategies by generation, 81% of their sample was from either Generation X or the Millennial generation.
Given that, it makes a ton of sense to focus your marketing strategy around the internet. And the great news here is that managing things like SEO and AdWords is fundamentally different from managing your print listings, billboards, and so on.
One-Off Tasks vs. Naturally Growing Marketing Systems
With most conventional marketing tasks, the job to be done doesn't vary much from day to day. You post on Craigslist the same way on Wednesday that you did on Monday. You pay the same bill once a month to the listing service. You pass the same businesses with fliers and redesign the same billboard. If you see significant improvements in how a campaign is working, there's usually some circumstantial explanation: It's peak leasing season, something unusual happened, etc. But these platforms don't really grow organically over time—Craigslist has its audience, the ILS has its audience, the local business has its audience, and so on.
Organic and paid search channels are different. In both cases, you might say that you build capital with them over time. Put another way: Do good work up front, maintain the website or search campaign well, and the returns will compound over time.
With organic search this is easy enough to understand: You build a website. You have good content on the site. Over time, people find that content, interact with it, and it becomes more visible in search engines as the algorithms come to see your site as being more and more authoritative.
Paid search is somewhat similar, actually. The longer you run ad campaigns that are well-designed and serve search engine users well, the more trust the algorithms begin to have in your advertisements. Typically, this leads to a rise in a metric Google calls "Quality Score." The idea of quality score is simple: It's a metric Google developed to reward people who create high-quality ads. Quality Score is what Google relies on to make sure that only the best ads appear at the top of the page and that rewards advertisers with lower advertising costs.
Here is a simple example: Google determines what ad goes where based on a metric they created called AdRank. AdRank is calculated by multiplying the maximum bid the advertiser has offered by quality score. So let's say we have two advertisers chasing the same keyword, one has bid $1 and has a quality score of 9. Their AdRank (1*9) is nine. Another advertiser has bid $2 but their quality score is 4. Their AdRank (2*4) is eight. Thus the first advertiser gets the top placement even though they bid half what their closest competitor did.
(If you're wondering, the cost-per-click of the ad is determined by taking the next lowest competitor's AdRank, dividing by 10, and then adding $.01. So in the above example, the cost per click would be $.81. We get that figure by taking 8/10 and then adding one cent: (8*10)+.01=.81)
What does this have to do with marketing during peak leasing season?
Now let's return to our original point: We argued above that the benefit to using organic and paid search as marketing channels is that the returns can grow over time once the initial work has been done. The down side to this, of course, is that the initial work has to get done and it can be rather complex and time-consuming. But when you hit peak leasing season you see the benefits begin to emerge. Because your organic and paid search campaigns have been gradually gaining strength over time, they should be providing a steady stream of leads to your community. Moreover, because you have already done the initial set-up work, you are now just needing to maintain what you're doing.
In other words, you can continue to reap the benefits of strong organic and paid search marketing campaigns without needing to do the day-to-day grunt work associated with most other apartment marketing tasks. This means you can spend more time working leads without seeing the same sort of falloff in marketing because your marketing systems need only be maintained and do not require as much intensive day-to-day work as some of your other marketing tactics.
The big idea here is simple: The more marketing tasks you can automate, the better positioned you are to succeed during busier seasons at your community. In other words, you need to think less in terms of "what marketing tasks do I need to do today?" and more in terms of "what marketing systems can I build to help us work more efficiently?"