Apartment marketers always appreciate a “secret weapon” when it comes to winning renters over through digital marketing. It’s critical today, as more prospects with busy lives rely on those channels while looking in exceedingly competitive markets.
Improving the way to use a portfolio’s most popular channels and discovering surprisingly effective new marketing strategies can bring the traffic that is needed to maintain occupancy goals – “a marketer just needs to figure out how,” says Shane Gillman, vice president of marketing for Gates Hudson.
Founded in 1980 and currently operating with over 700 employees, Gates Hudson has a diverse, local portfolio that includes more than 17,000 multifamily apartment homes, 2.6 million square feet of office and retail space, and more than 34,000 condominium and community association units in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C and West Virginia.
Given the nature of third-party management, Gillman at times has taken over properties with marketing services firms in place. He’s not always stayed with them, opting instead to rely on a proven partner he’s used for 10 years.
Gillman says his secret weapons is Dyverse, a lesser-known company that lately has guided him through the pandemic’s frantic periods and steered him through new marketing channels such as geotargeting through the Waze traffic app, Google My Business listings, and forays in experimenting with emerging platforms such as TikTok.
Don’t Settle for Branded Clicks
Equally important, Gillman also has learned to avoid some common strategies that simply did not bear out, such as branded clicks.
“The previous digital partner for one property was simply buying ‘branded clicks,’” Gillman says. “That’s fine, but it doesn’t work very well unless prospects are searching by your specific community’s name, which they do only if they already know about you.
“We have found that we mostly should be spending money on clicks from people who haven’t found their new apartment community yet. With a paid-search campaign that uses most of its budget on branded keyword terms, you are missing out on those undecided searchers who are actively looking for an apartment in your community’s area. At the end of the day, with branded clicks, we were not driving enough qualified traffic to our website and as a result, we were wasting valuable time, money and resources.”
Once the property moved away from relying so heavily on branded clicks, it saw applications increase by 2.5 times – and more impressively, this was achieved during the end of the traditional leasing season.
In addition to paid search, Gillman also was using strategic rem-arketing, geotargeting display and social media advertising solutions. Gillman was also pleased with his geotargeting campaigns aimed at winning renters.
“We even experimented using the [GPS-based] Waze app and ran campaigns for this converted office building, once occupied by the Internal Revenue Service,” he says. “This was and is the first office conversion in the area and we knew that a solid digital strategy was needed to fill the building.”
Winning Renters By Trying TikTok, Instagram and Google My Business
Gillman says his preferred marketing partner, Dyverse, also played a pivotal role when Gates Hudson was adjusting during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, our teams were scrambling to pivot to address so many changes in how we operated, such as health and safety and signage issues,” he says. “We didn’t have the bandwidth to fully study the marketing trends that were beginning to take shape. They did, pointing out that we needed to temporarily shift more of our advertising budget to display and video campaigns, while search interest for apartments recovered.”
Additionally, Gates Hudson used a broader geographic radius for display and video campaigns in an effort to reach winning renters who were fleeing urban markets. Gillman says the company then filled some of its suburban communities in record time.
Gillman recently hired Dyverse to handle his Google My Business account(s) and is discussing ways to implement newer advertising networks such as TikTok and Snapchat across his portfolio.
“That’s been exciting,” Gillman says. “These social media apps will grow as viable channels because its users can shop for brands within the platform. Our goal is to find a way for users to easily view community availability by unit level. It’s a great channel for the customer base we’re looking to attract (Gen Z and Millennials), who make up about 40 percent of our renter base.”
Budget Optimization Bonus
Gillman’s other secret is strategic budget optimization. He’s using planning and optimization tools that help his account managers automate the process of providing media mix and budget suggestions based on data such as occupancy levels.
“This results in potentially huge savings on monthly advertising costs during times when the community does not need as much lead volume,” Gillman says. “It can also help to recommend an increase in spend(ing) when more lease velocity is needed soon. At any time, we can produce a budget vs. actual report to make sure the advertising budget is used as efficiently as possible.”
These reports also come in handy when speaking to investors, he says.
“The reporting platform provides all of the data marketers need, and organizes it, so it’s easier to digest,” Gillman says. “It can produce reports based on a community, region or portfolio. Reports can be generated or scheduled on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. This information makes it much easier for us to create presentations for our owners because you can give them just the information they are interested in; not all owners want to see all of the information.”