Apartment Marketing Done Differently

Apartment Marketing Done Differently

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I am in downtown Tulsa this week attending and presenting at SMTulsa. This being their sixth year running as a regional social media conference aimed at Social Media Managers, Community Managers and Digital Marketing Directors. They have a pretty cool lineup of speakers this year, that includes Curtis Midkiff  the Sr. Advisor on the Social Business team, at Southwest Airlines. Mark Horvath is a keynote, now known to many as @hardlynormal, he set out to film the stories of America’s homeless and share them with as many people as possible on his website, InvisiblePeople.tv. Since then, he has become an internationally recognized activist and ambassador for the millions of individuals and families who reside in shelters, motels, tents along the streets and under highway bridges across the country. Mark has been featured by the L.A. Times, CNN, CBS, Mashable.com and NPR. A great line up of speakers for sure.

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My presentation is about Transitioning an Expense to Revenue. Our MCLife Branding Project at MC Companies is nearing the (24) Month mark, and we couldn’t be more happy as to where we are. We have successfully Expanded our Digital Footprint, and for the last two consecutive quarters have created enough leasing leads to sustain acceptable occupancy at our 8,000 Unit Apartment Portfolio. We operate in seven regions in the SouthWest, across three states. Here is the Big News, We have lowered our Marketing and Advertising Costs by 96% to just under $75 per Unit per Year, down from $153 per Unit per Year in 2013. That represents over a $600,000 savings portfolio wide.

So, we are pretty excited about this, and assuming that we keep our powder dry through the end of Q2-2016, to make sure we continue to track correctly. But,…….. assuming we do, and our forecast costs, all in for the year appear to be at or under $75 per Unit per Year, we are very confident that in 2016/2017 we will sell the following;

  • OnLine Advertising for (35) Eat / Shop / Play Businesses at $500 per mo = $17,500 per mo, and $210,000 per year
  • Boutique ILS, Selling (300) Tours a month =  $30,000 per mo, and $360,000 per year

Even if it takes us six quarters, Q3-2016/Q4-2016 and all of 2017 to get there with advertising sales, with that revenue we would have driven our MC Companies marketing costs to ZERO, over a (48) Month Period start to finish, 2014 through 2017, with savings in excess of $750,000 to $900,000 annually. At one time this was a laughable topic around my peers, however this picture is getting clearer and clearer to become a reality, and I find it pretty exciting, as that is a really big number.

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Apartment Community Web Sites across the land are broken. Most are stagnate with few updates in years. They have a low or no Google PageRank. Prospects cannot find a lost web site. The “content management” solution has failed. Apartment managers do not really know what to do. Having a community blog attached is a fragmented approach at best. Then there is Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Instagram and LinkedIn. Who manages and creates the content, the property manager, leasing, someone from corporate? This mess needs fixed.

Renting Apartments is secondary to operating the asset for most Property Managers. Renting Apartments is the primary focus for the Lead to Lease Hubs. Processing and Harvesting Leasing Leads and Scheduling Appointments for Apartment Tours is the singular focus of the Lead to lease Hubs. We have built map based MCLife Regional Websites that enhance the users leasing experience, specifically designed to replace the typical static apartment community web site. The MCLife apartment marketing and leasing websites incorporate hyper local articles about all things Eat/Shop/Play in the neighborhoods we operate MCLife Apartment Communities. We have a fully automated web based lead collection and tracking system woven into the fabric of the site as a seamless part of the user experience, effectively capturing leasing leads.

Unit Availability by “Region” and “Neighborhood” is incorporated in real time with daily updates of apartment unit availability. We continue to fill the space with great photography, local reviews and all things hyper local. Each page has a clear Call to Action leading prospects into the sales funnel, capturing about 2,500 eMail Addresses and Cell Numbers automatically each month. We are currently publishing three monthly eBlast Offerings per Region, each with unique content and we are seeing excellent click through rates and Opt In. The articles and reviews coincide with local neighborhood businesses that are in alignment with the MCLife Brand and core targeted demographic.

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The MCLIfe 555 Partnership Marketing Program sets the stage to fuel a solid advertising vertical for MC Media. With (30) Businesses around each MC Apartment Community, we have over (1,200) Eat/Shop/Play related businesses on our websites. These rich relationships provide excellent cross marketing opportunities. For instance, helping promote the local burger joint is an opportunity to give away something as a promotion from the burger joint on our MCLife Facebook page at no cost us. We are seeing these types of Partnership Marketing opportunities unfold now. The next logical step is to integrate advertising revenue opportunities with these Eat/Shop/Play Partnerships we have created.

Apartment Operations poses an interesting growth opportunity that may be mostly misunderstood. If operations are doing even an average job at operating the property, the enterprise cannot expand like other businesses. There are a finite number of units to rent each year. As Leasing Traffic starts to exceed Rental Inventory, most apartment operators back down Paid Advertising to create a balance to hold occupancy levels at or around 93%-95%. They adjust rental rates in accordance with what the perceived competitor is doing, referred to as Comp Shops.

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We believe that this is a flawed process. As Paid Advertising subsides and Organic Website Traffic increases to yield more Leasing Traffic than Inventory, Rental Rates Rise with the tide. This is different due to the convergence of paid-owned-shared-earned (POSE) media, which is completely disrupting how marketers … market. Paid Media is brand content enabled through payment (includes paid search, sponsored content, promotions, advertising, etc.); Owned Media is brand content published on a brand’s channel (includes websites, social media channels, blogs, apps); Shared Media is consumer content enabled by a third party (includes organic search, forums, user-generated content, “likes” and retweets or comments, etc.); and Earned Media is consumer content enabled by a third party (media coverage, etc.).

As MC-Media continues to leverage paid and owned media in order to scale, with the goal of amplification—spreading messages to connect with customers and leveraging POSE to drive effectiveness, achieve authenticity, cultivate ideas, and cut through the noise, MCLife will become prominent in geographical apartment search.

Branded Media means that we become The Advertiser. It works, and is an extremely effective edge for LOWERING Apartment Marketing Costs. The dirty little secret is, that Apartment Marketing Costs continue to decrease over time as you build your Content Arsenal. As our Digital Footprint expands year over year with creative, useful content, our SEO benefit expands accordingly. The average apartment operator’s number of units to rent is static year over year and doesn’t expand unless there is a Lease Up.

Apartment Operators Do Not Understand the Value of Media

As long as Apartment Marketers continue to primarily spend their marketing budgets on ILS Ads, they aren’t very serious about ANY type of Media Marketing. Some have done Paid Search, but that is the extent of their Media Marketing. Paid Search has mostly been ineffective. The irony is that if they were to pursue Paid Media, Owned Media, Shared Media or Earned Media they would realize that their biggest competitor isn’t the apartment community across the street; it is their ILS Partners. By and large the ILS’s OWN the search market and they will outspend most apartment marketers. However, with diligence, the savvy Apartment Marketer can level things up with Local Content and Partnership Marketing, which fuels a well oiled Local Search Campaign.

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Partnership Marketing is an excellent strategy to bridge the gap between starting our Branded Media Campaign and garnishing enough website traffic to self sustain enough Leasing Leads to keep our Apartment Communities full. Hitching Our Wagon to Someone Else’s Wagon when appropriately aligned, is very effective. Partnership Marketing will help us get noticed, and when we get noticed by the National Media, only good things happen. MC-Media will serve as a media partner for a local festival and a restaurant association’s, as well as a sponsor of local events. As these relationships mature, late in 2016 and early in 2017, MC Media will start to sell various advertising models. At a 20% penetration, of the (950-1,100) MCLife Eat/Shop/Play Partnerships, selling ads, social media marketing and cross marketing opportunities, create approximately $1,500,000 of annualized advertising sales for MC Media, just by leveraging the existing contacts and relationships we have created.

Selling Apartment Tours

As our Lead to Lease Hubs mature, and get better and better at farming Leasing Leads with increased yields in the form of Apartment Tours, and our Website Traffic continues to swell, we start to have more Leasing Traffic than Available Units. The next natural service for MC Media is to start to Sell Tours. We believe that we could sell Apartment Tours at $95 each. Assuming the client apartment operator had confidence we could supply them with enough Leasing Tours, we can actually Lower their Marketing and Advertising Expenses.

A typical (300) unit apartment community;

  • Need to Lease (150) apartments every year
  • At a 35% Tours to Rentals Conversion, which is typical, is (428) Tours
  • (428) Tours at $95 each, is $40,660
  • Typical Marketing and Advertising costs for (300) unit apartment community is $60,000
  • The client lowers their Marketing and Advertising Expenses by 30%



Eric Brown
Written by Eric Brown

Eric’s background is rooted in the rental and real estate industries. He founded metro Detroit’s Urbane Apartments in 2002, after serving as senior vice president for a major Midwest apartment developer. He established a proven track record of effectively repositioning existing rental properties in a way that added value for investors while enhancing the resident experience. He also established Urbane Media, a social media marketing and PR laboratory, where innovative marketing ideas are tested. Eric has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine and Business Week Magazine, the New York Times and Harvard Business Review . You can connect with Eric at  UrbaneLife on Twitter. Eric also writes regular articles for the following publications:

Multi Housing

News Social Media Examiner

Search Engine Guide

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