We are Still in the Apartment Business

sheridan keynoteToday’s piece comes from our over-the-top amazing Marketing Director at Mills Properties – Melissa DeCicco She rocks! 

Lately we have been told we are in the media business or is it the relationship business? Both from wonderful, brilliant people who know a lot more about the apartment business than I. While they are both correct, I think it is just unnecessarily muddying the water. Make no mistake about it, we are still in the apartment business. Think about it. We, as consumers, are all doing our best to avoid all types of media (at least of the marketing variety) these days.  And, when was the last time you wanted an actual relationship with a service provider? Really? The apartment piece makes us different. It is something that we can be proud of and something that we can become experts in. We are in the apartment business. Our goal is to help people find apartments.

So what should we be doing in the apartment business to continually earn and retain customers?

Do you remember the last time you thought that your salesperson actually had your well-being in mind instead of the commission you represented? I can’t think of a single instance. How refreshing would it be if people looked back at this point in marketing history as the age of ‘doing the right thing.’ When marketers/salespeople really just focused on helping the consumer to find the best possible fit for them, knowing that their product might not be the answer. It’s what good customer service is all about but it is never executed the right way or for the right reasons.

I recently attended the Social Media Marketing World Conference put on by Social Media Examiner. It was incredible. One thing hit me particularly hard. The closing keynote was from Marcus Sheridan who owns an in-ground pool company and happens to be an incredible marketer. His business was literally drowning and he brought it back to life. How? He made it about people and being useful.

The headline in the New York Times magazine article about his efforts was “A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions.”

Revolutionary, huh?

We are all people and desire real interactions that are not drowning in sale-speak. The answer? Write about your business online to teach and get the word out but never directly sell. Then become helpful/useful to the point of exhaustion. Customers ask a question, we answer. Sheridan aka “The Sales Lion,” suggests that we break down our marketing/sales tasks to this small list.

1. Listening

2. Communicating

3. Teaching

4. Helping

All day, every day. This is the future of business. Not media. Not fake relationships. People helping people in a genuine way.

Your tirelessly working on being helpful marketing maniac,

Melissa DeCicco


Photo courtesy of The Sales Lion Closing keynote – SMMW2014

Don’t Bing it On

You have probably heard commercials for this or seen it on the internet…Bing It On. Essentially, Bing is conducting a blind test of your preference for Bing  or Google search results.

It is the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ of the 21st century. The only problem is, even if the challenge favors Bing more often, like it did Pepsi in the 80’s, there is a major flaw in their logic. I think Bing is under the assumption that if proven in a blind test, web searchers will actually start to change their behavior and choose Bing. Coca-Cola made a similar assumption when people started preferring Pepsi and nearly killed their brand to try to save it. Because, even though people prefer the taste in a blind sip test, that does not necessarily predict behavior. In the real world we don’t actually search for things blindly. That is to suggest that the experience means a lot more than simply the words on the page.  Mainly, the power of the Google brand is being severely underestimated as was Coca-Cola.

Current contest explanation:

In the test, participants were shown the main web search results pane of both Bing and Google for 10 search queries of their choice. Bing and Google search results were shown side-by-side on one page for easy comparison – with all branding removed from both search engines. The test did not include ads or content in other parts of the page such as Bing’s Snapshot and Social Search panes and Google’s Knowledge Graph.

In my opinion, sensation transference has a huge impact here. Real or not, people have a strong emotional attachment to Google and the aesthetics and experience associated within. So taking all of that away would obviously have an impact because it is no longer Google. Same thing with Bing. Frankly, I hate Bing for many reasons one of which is actually the relevancy of their results to my search query. Which even in this test I noticed was an issue. While I agree this marketing campaign probably brought some additional recognition to the brand, the actual conversion will be minimal at best.

Blind Apartment Test

With Bing’s logic, we could stick anyone at our apartment communities and they would sell. We all know it takes a lot more than a pretty property or even one that meets all our ‘search criteria’ to get the sale. The experience (sensation transference and all) will make the sale in my book, every day, all day long.

In the blind test I still chose Google. Try for yourself – share your results with us! My advice to Bing is to take the approach that Pepsi did. Instead of trying to take customers from Google, create your own niche. Pepsi went for the younger generation and it worked. Coca-Cola still has more market share but the gap between them is less significant.

Will you change your search behavior based on your results?

My results…








(side note, Bing you have terrible apartment search results – thank you Google for including Mills Apartments on page one)

Social Media Flash Mob

I have decided.  If I am not passionate about doing something, I am simply not going to do it.   For a recent experience, Lovin’ the Lou, I was able to let my passion flag fly and find others flying theirs proudly as well…it was magical!

First things first, we have a fabulous new development/rehab called The Laurel Apartments located in Downtown St. Louis in the Mercantile Exchange District.  This is an up and coming neighborhood with incredible potential to really help rejuvenate Downtown – and we are right in the middle of it.  So we needed to get the word out.  In comes Lovin’ the Lou!  In order to enter, we asked Lovin’ the Louers to create a 2 minute video capturing their love for St. Louis.

This is not just a contest with a fabulous prize (Free Rent for a Year at The Laurel), it is much bigger.  It is about reminding an entire region how alive and exciting downtown St. Louis really is.  We originally wanted to use all the traditional media outlets like television and newspapers but as it turned out, that is not where you find people for passion projects. So you ask yourself…how can we find this targeted audience of people passionate about St. Louis?  The internet of course!  This project was run completely through social media – twitter, facebook, website, and blog posts.  And maybe we sacrificed some volume (maybe) by avoiding traditional media, but I think we gained a ton more in passion.

We received 18 passionate, creative, and fun videos showcasing St. Louis for this project!  Every entry had a great story to tell and it was clear that this was not really about winning free rent.  BAM!  Exactly what we were looking for…our prize was secondary to real passion for the city!  Not only were people loving the videos, they were also commenting and sharing the information with their friends.  Our broader goal of helping revitalize downtown was really coming to fruition.  We have 18 mini-commercials from real St. Louisans that are much more intriguing than any ad I have ever seen.  This is only the beginning.  It’s funny (and maybe this is a precaution), when you start a passion project you find it will never be complete – you will feel internally compelled to do more.  So I guess we will see what the next chapters bring! 

But for this chapter, we are in the final stages of judging to announce the winner later this month – check out all the entries at Lovinthelou.com.

Broader reminder to marketers: Don’t push your content (especially with passion projects).  Passionate people who really buy-in are much more inspiring than fancy ad campaigns with fake passion.  Passionate people truly believe in what you are trying to accomplish and they will find you.  It’s like a social media flash mob for your project!  Ok-ok.  Here are some stats… (over 5 month period).

5,058 Visits
3,231 Unique visitors
16,951 Pageviews
166 Lovin the Lou fan page likers
554 Facebook individual webpage likes
63 Tweets
11 +1’s

We are nearing the first chapter finale for this passion project and I can’t wait to continue!  What will your next passion project be?

Sales, or something like it

I have never been in a position where I get more cold calls than now.  I guess that is what happens in marketing.  I have to admit, I have been super busy and my patience level is incredibly short.  Probably the reason I have been furious lately when my phone rings.

However, some sales calls I get super excited about.  Here is my advice to sales people – not only in multifamily.  Some of them happen to apply to our leasing associates as well!

11 Sales No No’s.

(FYI, all of these things have happened to me in the last week or so)

  1. It’s about a relationship, stupid.  Please don’t be fake.
  2. Do not cold call me with no knowledge of my company or what we do.  At minimum, please use Google.
  3. I do not respond well to threats or super pushy marketing tactics like name dropping or insulting our current efforts.
  4. If we, or I, determine your product isn’t right for us (now or even in the future), don’t bully me to change my mind – that really ends the possibility of a future relationship.
  5. Don’t send pushy emails copying my superior, especially when I still don’t know why I should care about your product.
  6. Don’t request me on LinkedIn before we have had a positive conversation/interaction or any at all.
  7. Please be prepared.  I don’t want to wait on the phone for 2 minutes while you look for your earring back or listen to your uncomfortable pauses and sighs when you aren’t sure what to do next.
  8. NEVER ask me what we pay your competition for their services.   If you don’t know what your product is worth, I do – $0.
  9. Call a million times a day without saying why I should want to call you back, you will likely not get a call back if I have no clue why I am calling you.  Its super weird for me to call you and say “Hi this is Melissa, I have no idea why I am calling you but please, pretty please, sell me something.”
  10. By the way, NOT COOL, when I finally begin to try to have a conversation with you (warranted or not), that you berate me for taking so long to call you.  Give me a reason first and I will respond more quickly!
  11. This one is too hard to explain, so here is the actual email. Don’t do this, ever, and at least spell my name correctly!!!!!!!   I have never interacted with her (I think she left me some empty voicemails)…

“Haven’t given up Melisssa…

Certainly don’t want to be a  “thorn in your side,” so I’ll try & make this as painless as possible.

Eager to know your level of interest in our training offerings. Please check an option, promise no hard feelings : )

___ YES, send me a FREE DVD  preview of  your latest & greatest training programs,  __customer  service __leadership

___ I prefer to preview online, set me up with a FREE demo with your web-based platform.

___ Training doesn’t fall under my umbrella, try contacting ___________________________.

___ My plate is more than full, better timing would be  ___later this year,  ___ early 2012,  ____ never darken my
doors again.”


The Best do these things.  Short and SIMPLE and it doesn’t waste my time or yours.

  1. Interact with our company on our social media platforms in a meaningful way (not name dropping your company), we like that and builds trust.
  2. Start conversations, not sales pitches.
  3. Be an expert in your field and help us when possible – without our business at first.
  4. Go the extra mile.
  5. Help our company and teams increase efficiency.
  6. Use email at first then move to the more personal phone call.  Refer to number 10 above.

Final Thought:

Above all else, do us all a favor, and LOVE what you do and what you are selling.  If you don’t, why should I?


Thank you for listening to my rant.  I really want to like sales people (I will always love ours though :)), but for some reason only a limited few really get it.  Does your team?

I would love to hear that these things happen to other people, so please tell!


Business, Love, and Other Guts

In the beginning…

It began with strategy.  We set out to re-think our marketing.  Scratch that.  We set out to re-think Everything.  Our mission includes Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and a new website for the online world as well as other off-line ingredients.

So the first question was:  Who shares our passion and do we have the support we need to be successful? – Yes.

Here we go!

Our delectable combination…Business, Love, and Other Guts. (This combination is true for all our social media and other endeavors, not just blogs)


business: Apartments, the experience of


  1. People
  2. St. Louis
  3. Apartments (crucial that your business falls in the love category as well)

other guts: The fire in your guts that is dying to come out.  Passionate people with everything to say.

And then we blogged…

We selected Mills associates who are creative, passionate, and gifted writers – they all have a common b.l.o.g.  (Learn more about them here)  And then, we gave them the matches…

We knew we had a talented group of associates but our first blog posts were INCREDIBLE, and the next ones, equally amazing.  I feel like the best is yet to come!

Our quest is still in its infancy, but every day I am excited to see what we will ignite next.   Check out their work at millsapartments.net/neighborhoods

Tell us what you think!

Fabulous Mills Bloggers!