Brand Building: Dancing Outside of the Box Like No One's Watching
Is building an online brand in the residential industry as important as it is in consumer industries? That depends - on whether you want to thrive. At the 14th Annual Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference (AIM 2019), which took place at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach on May 5-8, 2019, LeaseLabs, the market tech division of RealPage, sponsored a panel of property companies and marketers comprising
- Sheri Killingsworth, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Lincoln Property Company (LPC)
- Brock MacLean, SVP Business Development LeaseLabs, RealPage
- Kitty Callaghan, Vice President, Marketing, Wasatch Premier Communities
- Steven Ozbun, SVP LeaseLabs, RealPage
Together, the panel demonstrated how fusing brand stories with modern marketing channels, crowdsourcing content and influencers can foster connections to communities - and leads - in an increasingly competitive market.
Lincoln Property Company, an international CRE company which started in Texas, began using content marketing a decade ago for its apartment communities. Blogging now includes Instagram and influencers to fostering community connections and brand building, according to Lincoln’s Killingsworth. Residents enthusiastically respond to photo contests with topics like Spring Clean and LPC Staycation, especially when “We give them free stuff (like gift awards from Target and airline vouchers).” Lincoln has added influencers to drive community events at its various properties (like “Fashion4Marq” in Minneapolis) and even had an influencer living rent-free to promote the property and its neighborhood.
While everyone agreed that branding and web presence are key to bringing in leads, the challenge, according to LeaseLabs’ MacLean, is lead attribution. “Today’s prospects search across many channels,” he noted, particularly with Google Search now drilling down into neighborhoods. But without knowing which marketing efforts are bringing in leads, it’s hard to know how to allocate marketing funds. MacLean demonstrated how LeaseLabs’ GoDirect product dives into online data to discover which strategies are working and which aren’t.
Yet, another way to know lead provenance is to own them. According to Callaghan, Wasatch Premier Communities uses the brand message “Wasatch Is Your Home” to unify the 65 Class “A” through Class “B” apartment communities with about 16,000 units it operates in five western states. Behind the homespun message, however, are some savvy marketing strategies. For Wasatch, she said, “Social media is better than ad spend.” She demonstrated how, since 2014, Wasatch has cut marketing spend in half by developing its own direct online marketing, using a strategy that is “baked in SEO.” The strategy resulted in an increase of inbound leads, from 5,612 (2014) to 18,102 (2018); and a current cost-per-inbound-lead of $14.66.
In closing, LeaseLabs’ Orzun reinforced the absolute necessity for online branding, noting that the top four brands in the world - Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft - are digital. Ironically, perhaps for property owners, residents are not only searching online, they are looking to conduct more of their actions digitally - like opening their doors with facial recognition. It’s up to the property owners and operators to meet this very real need.
Takeaways from the panelists:
- MacLean: “Linear marketing is over - today’s leads come from multiple channels.”
- Killingsworth: “Offer a trend alert for ownership groups to create lead-driving content.”
- Callaghan: “Spend money you have wisely, do a lot of A/B testing.”
- Ozbun: “Have a tagline that will grow with you.”
Conclusion: The web is now the front door of your property. How welcoming can you make it?