Making It Happen

Cheers to not just reading, sharing, and believing, but actually Making It Happen.

Those of us in the marketing field are constantly being pushed to be creative, think of new ideas, come up with something unlike anything else. While I love creativity, brainstorming, throwing out ideas and thinking big, what I love even more is acting, doing, and creating results.

make it happenThis year I’m challenging myself to put into play some inspirations that I feel are game changers. What puts one in front of all others? Getting it done, making it happen.

– Game Changers –

1. Striving Every Day To Be The Best Company To Work For: I’ve read several articles lately on Property Management Insider which have really inspired me. This is one particular. By really listening to your associates and what they need to be effective in making prospects and residents happy, you not only empower your associates, but make your prospects and residents happy. Review those policies that seem to be weighing you down and change them. It’s that easy.

2. Getting Back To The Basics: Mike made a reference recently about thinking inside the box. At our last marketing meeting we touched on this exact subject. Many marketers feel their role is to constantly think outside the box; big ideas, be different, and all that jazz. How about be the best? It doesn’t take grand ideas or even grand gestures (unless there’s a grand problem). It takes consideration, a smile, commitment and follow-through. You don’t need jacuzzi tubs and massage rooms, you need genuine associates who take the time to listen, care, and follow through with the daily needs of your prospects and residents.

3. Wowing Prospects: Another inspiring article I read discussed Making Apartment Tours Memorable. Apartment tours , in my opinion, are like shopping in a retail store. Sure you smile at the sales person, let them tell you about their Buy 2 sweaters, Get 1 half-off special, and maybe even ask if they have your size in the back, but you don’t really be-friend them. You’re not really comfortable with them, and you’re just waiting for them to persuade you to buy something. Rather than walk the prospect through the vacant apartment, walk your new friend through your unfurnished model home. Rather than show them the tan carpet and the white walls, show them the surprise take-home chocolate bar in the refrigerator and take note of the delicious aroma from the homemade cookie candle. Wow them with an amazing new apartment home, don’t sell them on a vacant unit.

4. Responding to Reviews: This is something we have taken up over the recent months. Last year we opened the floor for reviews on our website, thinking we might get away from the ApartmentRatings.com anonymous, anything goes comments. We were wrong. We’ve since made some changes and now require legitimacy. Name, e-mail, value. In my opinion, the point of a review is to get feedback or resolution. If we’re talking to anonymous who used a fake email and will never see our response for lack of caring, there is no value. We want to be able to use the feedback to find out where we need improvement and find resolutions. We’ve begun responding and working with our reviewers to make changes. And that, I believe, will make all the difference.

Cheers to not just reading, sharing, and believing, but actually Making It Happen.

In Or Out

Are they In or are they Out?

in or out
I wrote a post on my regular blog, RealLifeSTL.com recently about fashion trends for 2013. We used it to create a game for our podcast called In or Out (kind of playing off the old game show Street Smarts). Basically, we drove around to a couple of different places in St. Louis asking people to give us their opinions on whether certain fashion trends are ‘In’ or ‘Out’ in 2013 as compared to what we read on fashion websites.

It got me thinking about marketing trends and how there are differing opinions on what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’. Some trends are split straight down the middle while others are about 99% obsolete but still used (or worn) by some for lack of knowledge, money or just stuck in their ways.

I know my opinions aren’t the same as everyone, not even everyone within my company, so I’d like to play the In or Out game, this time to get opinions from people, and not just other management companies in St. Louis but people in the multi-family and marketing industries across the U.S., on what marketing trends you believe are ‘in’ and ‘out’.

I’ll start:

In

  • Engagement through Facebook
  • Promoting Ratings & Reviews on your own website
  • Getting involved with local community events/organizations (ex. blood drives, chambers, non-profits)

Out

  • Car/door flyering
  • ILS print advertising
  • Faxing/e-mailing hot sheets or coupons to local businesses

I’d love to hear opinions of others on marketing trends that are In Or Out?

You can check out the RealLifeSTL Podcast here.

Taking It To The Streets

The latest advertising technique hitting St. Louis…dancing in the streets.

 

Besides blurriness, what you see there is the latest advertising technique hitting the streets of the St. Louis metro area.

In this photo, a “kid”(which I’m using to refer to anyone younger than my ripe old age of 29) is dressed in a pizza costume holding a Pizza World sign, earphones in ears, dancing around wildly on the side of the street.

The first time I saw this happening was several months ago. I drove by a man in a statue of liberty costume animatedly dancing on the side of the road outside of a strip mall. At the time I thought Liberty Tax was crazy, and there was no way they were going to get any traffic from that nonsense.

Then I saw a kid standing outside of Little Caesar’s. Hot N’ Ready read the sign that he was holding while he also rocked out to whatever he was listening to on his headphones, and I thought, these people are crazy, but I honked and waved because – why not?

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing for furniture and was headed to Weekends Only. Across the street is a somewhat run-down looking building with a not-so-catchy sign out front for Home Decor Liquidators. For a long time I wasn’t sure it was even open and didn’t care to drive into the lot to check. But as I was driving to Weekends Only, there was a guy standing by the street in front of their building dancing around with their sign in hand. Because I now knew that they were in fact open, I ended up checking them out as well.

Then just a week or two ago I saw 2 kids standing on opposite sides of the street with these huge, awkwardly shaped signs for T-Mobile. No costumes and instead of dancing with the signs they were flipping them around in all types of crazy ways, but that was enough to get my attention to find out what they were doing and what was on their sign.

Today when I saw this kid with the Pizza World sign, I actually turned around! Albeit not to get a piece of pizza, but because I wanted to get a picture to share this craze that I’ve been seeing everywhere. Although I was starving and if I hadn’t known I already had free pizza waiting for me back at my office, I very well might have grabbed a slice of pizza and soda for $3 and probably taken a picture with the kid also. Hello social media!

So does it actually bring them business? I don’t know the answer to that. But here I am, recalling the names of 5 businesses that have caught my attention with this type of advertising after seeing them out on the street just one time. And that’s more than I can say for a majority of the commercials I see on t.v., hear on the radio or that pop up when I’m browsing the internet.

Has anybody else noticed an increase in this advertising trend or is St. Louis just crazy?

My Apartment Leasing Experience

If this had been your experience, would you have rented?

My current lease ends at the end of September, so I spent the last month doing the usual research: searching Craigslist, calling apartment management companies to inquire about their current availability and driving through the area where I want to live looking for For Rent signs.

The main issue with my search is that my criteria were very narrow: I was looking for a 2nd floor in a specific area with a small price range to work with. Because of this, there weren’t too many options, ultimately leading me to Red Brick Management, the management company that owns/manages a large chunk of the real estate in my neighborhood.

Being that I work in the apartment management industry and have rented more than a few apartments in my day, I have certain expectations about how I think the leasing process should run.

1. Friendly and Welcoming:

It’s not that they weren’t, it’s just the first time I can remember not being walked through an apartment with a member from the office, which I find to be somewhat unfriendly and impersonal. Given the choice, I’d prefer to be given a tour, not just an address and a set of keys.

2. Professional and courteous:

Instead of a tour through their available apartments, I got a set of keys, signed a waiver stating I would not damage anything in the apartment, that I would be responsible for locking the door behind me and that I would be back before they close. Shouldn’t I be getting the paycheck…I mean didn’t I do all the work?

3. Timely

I will say they were timely with my application process. In fact, they were very timely, running my application and approving me before I ever even submitted my income verification. On the other hand, on my “tour”, there were 3 or 4 maintenance repairs not yet completed with little post-it notes next to them that read: “This will be completed.” Since I already paid all my move-in fees, all I can do is hope that the maintenance will be as timely as the application process.

4. Smooth and Easy

From the first phone call or e-mail to the lease signing, the process should be 100% easy for the prospect. I think it is easy to fall short on this, as there are many steps to the leasing process and prospects have lives outside of leasing and have to fit within “normal office hours” when getting things done (unless the whole process can be done online). Red Brick is open on Saturday, which is convenient. They also allow credit card payments for application fees and deposits and their application is very simple, only taking a couple minutes. Overall, the application process went pretty smoothly and was very easy for me.

Now I’m not through the whole leasing process yet, and they did mention to me that they only allow lease signings a couple days a week (neither of which is Saturday), and that is not convenient.

I think the takeaway here is ultimately quality customer service. In my case, there weren’t a lot of options, but we all know that’s not usually the case. How the prospects feel treated and how easy we make the process for them is usually what makes or breaks a lease.

If this had been your experience, would you have rented?

A Little Bit of Play Keeps The Madness Away

Whether it be personal bonding, a special event, or special recognition, taking a little time out for play during a tough month, week or even day, is a necessity.

Sure, most of the time it’s about the residents and the hopefully-soon-to-be residents, but sometimes it needs to be about us (you know, us…the ones who work hard daily to keep the residents happy and the property running smoothly).

Sometimes it’s important to focus on the team. Whether it be personal bonding, a special event, or special recognition, taking a little time out for play during a tough month, week or even day, is a necessity. Over the past couple of months, I’ve heard stories or witnessed events or pictures of events that describe what I’m referring to:

  • Recently, one of our properties accomplished a great task, and instead of just a pat on the back, congratulatory e-mail or extra bonus, they got a unique gift: Dunk the Owners Day. The owners and President of Mills Properties designated a day, came out dressed in goofy swimwear and each took their turn being dunked by the team members . It was a unique, special, once-in-a-lifetime day for the whole team, and just what they needed after months of hard work.
  • Another story I heard doesn’t have to do with taking the time out to recognize an accomplishment, rather, just taking the time out. One of our office teams designated the newly popular song Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen as dance party time.  Every time the song comes on in the office, they stop what they are doing and have a quick dance party. A quick couple of minutes to let loose, smile and re-energize. Great for bonding and taking some time out to focus on the team.
  • Still another example is a property who extravagantly celebrates their teams’ birthdays (extravagant for what you would typically see in a business office at least). There are balloons, confetti, flowers, gifts, and pictures. Pictures that go up on the property’s Facebook page that then give the associate extra recognition from other property’s team members and residents. And we all love getting a little acknowledgement on our birthday so it becomes an extra special birthday for them. It almost makes you want to come to work on your birthday.

I love their ideas and creativity and I think these types of events and celebrations are a necessity in every business. I was recently given the task of assisting with budgets. My responsibility is the Marketing/Advertising section. You know – the Outreach Marketing, Newspaper & Internet Advertising, Resident Events/Promotions lines. I haven’t examined the entire budget line by line, but I haven’t noticed a line item for Employee Events/Recognition anywhere yet. Maybe it’s because it’s called something else. Or maybe because it’s not there…but I think it should be.

Not all of the events cost something (like the sporadic dance parties), but sometimes they do, and I don’t think it should be the responsibility of the team members to provide special employee recognition/”play time” every now and then. I think if there were a budget for it, we would see more of it, and in my opinion, it would lead to more team bonding, more motivation, more employee satisfaction, less turnover and a more smoothly run property.

Do you agree?

All Aboard The Spirit Train

Where we work is where they live…and sometimes we forget that.

I recently heard a story from a friend who is also in the property management business about an apartment community that was promoting an early renewal contest. The community sent out flyers telling residents that if they signed renewal papers early, they would be entered into a raffle. So a resident excitedly entered the leasing office early with his paperwork and, as my friend stated, “that’s 12 more months of rent right there” and their office associate begrudgingly took the paperwork, almost as if not interested in dealing with this obviously-satisfied-enough-to-renew-for-another-12-months resident, that there was not even a smile on his face and didn’t even mention the contest until the resident asked about his raffle ticket.

I understand that sometimes we as property management communities forget that our every day job is the same place that our residents want to look forward to coming home to after a hard day of school or work. I can even think back to times when I was really tired and busy and would lose sight of the fact that where I work is where people live, their home, the place they chose to live (and renew) among the hundreds of others, but even then I can’t remember being annoyed and ungrateful when they brought their renewal paperwork back or got excited about a contest or event (especially because sometimes it took a lot of work on my part to get that renewal paperwork back!). The fact that they got excited about contests and events was often the motivation I would need to get back on the spirit train.

I visit on-site teams now to help them think of new ways to involve residents in the community, and more and more I hear them tell me that their residents don’t want to be involved or aren’t interested in the community experience. And I honestly started to believe it. Then I hear a story like this, and it makes me think: If when they are excited and motivated enough to participate, they are then let down by feeling like they are being bothersome, it’s no wonder they “don’t want to participate”. Just as we would not want to go home to someone who’s miserable to have us there, neither do our residents and it just might mean they go elsewhere where they are appreciated.

While I will not naively believe that every resident will get excited about or become involved in every community activity that is presented to them, that story helped me to regain that spirit and confidence in the importance of resident appreciation and community activities and I hope to motivate our teams to get back that spirit instead of giving up.

I would love some advice and even some great stories that I can share to help others regain their spirit and motivate them to continue to think outside the box and create a living experience that is truly memorable for their residents.

How’s My Service?

We’ve all seen one of one of those How’s My Driving stickers on the back of a truck.

They seem to care but do they really?

My boyfriend recently ordered my birthday present online from a popular home and garden store. I won’t disclose the name, but let’s just say it rhymes with Shmowe’s.  Anyway, he ordered it through their In-Store Pick-Up service so that he could pick it up from a store near me while he was visiting for my birthday, but when he went to pick it up, it wasn’t there. He was told that someone was supposed to be in charge of calling him to let him know it hadn’t arrived yet, but apparently they forgot, and they would have to call him back Monday. When they didn’t call, he called them, only to continue to get the run around. Almost a week later, the item showed up at his home (in a completely different state than where he had requested to pick it up). The only solution customer service would offer was for him to return it to the nearest store (40 minutes from his house) and have me re-buy it from the store where it was originally supposed to go. Only when he went to the store to return it, they couldn’t access his order in their system and refused to give him his money back. After spending almost an hour in the store dealing with several different store associates and managers, and becoming infuriated, he was given his money back.  Needless to say, after their complete lack of help and horrible customer service in dealing with his issue, he would not be re-buying anything from any other ‘Schmowes’ store.

No matter how bad his issue became, not one person was willing to become solely responsible to insure he received call backs and verify that the matter was corrected and the customer was satisfied. Instead, he was given different answers from several different people and given the run around to the point where it ended up losing them two customers (both him and myself), and potentially more because apparently he was not the only person in their customer service line who had issues with their online in-store pick-up program (and of course all of you reading this who don’t want to take the chance of this happening to you).

The point of all this is that I work for Mills, a fairly large company that relies mostly on our site teams to handle property specific customer service issues. However, we recently added a resident relations position to our portfolio for those times when an issue reaches the level that the above mentioned story reached. This person is specifically responsible for getting to the bottom of such issues and working directly with the resident until the issue is resolved. This has become a great asset to our company and I believe that no matter how big or small the company, there should be some type of position similar to this available for customers.

Do you have a program in place to insure that customer issues never get out of control? Any tips on what has been most effective?

Fill Your Marketing Balloons With More Than Air

marketingI was recently given the privelege to co-moderate a brainstorming session on the topic of marketing. The session was held for members of the apartment management industry at various stages in their careers, from leasing agents who have been in the industry for 2 months to  property managers with 10 years of experience. My topic was old school marketing. Old school referring to anything not social media. More specifically, tools such as resident retention, outreach marketing, Craigslist, etc. The idea was to get creative juices flowing, discuss what’s working, what’s not working and maybe learn a few things to take back to the rest of the team.

I was surprised by the lack of marketing knowledge…and for that matter, the lack of creativity. I heard the same 3 “best practices” from a majority of the groups: Generic signs and balloons for drive by traffic, generic Craiglist ads and monetary resident referral incentives. I heard questions like: “What do you say when you’re marketing to a business?” and “It’s ok to send thank you cards and gift baskets to businesses who refer someone to you?” Leasing agents and PMs who had no knowledge of free additional ILS marketing template tools like VFlyer and Postlets, who had never thought past posting a flyer with a resident referral rent credit in terms of using residents as a marketing tool, and those are just building blocks. It’s as if they were told that marketing is something only a rocket scientist can figure out.

First let me say I’m not exactly saying the 3 best practice items listed above are crap, I’m simply saying that they shouldn’t be IT.  Also, I’m in love with social media and believe it’s an insanely valuable tool, however 1. It was not my topic to discuss and 2. I also think that personal touch and those face to face human interactions through outreach marketing and resident appreciation events are valuable, and combining the 2 forms is fabulous! (Read Urbane Media’s QR Codes blog). But I’m not sure I believe you can be effective with social media if you don’t even know the basics of effective old school marketing tools. And if no one is teaching or motivating their team on the basics of marketing, then I doubt that there is any social media marketing in place anyway.

So I guess what I’d like to learn from this eye opening experience is: Am I way off base in believing that some old school marketing techniques are still a valuable tool in the industry? Is someone teaching your staff about marketing? Do you believe that one can effectively use social media tools without ever having learned/practiced old school marketing strategies?

Title courtesy of Melissa DeCicco

Photo credit bloggingoutloud