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

TYE – Mr. Apartment Resident; That’s Goes Against Our Policy

Image from: techsavvyagent.com

TYE is is short for The Thank You Economy by Gary Vay-ne-chuk; I started reading it right after it’s early morning release today. I have made it through the preface and the first chapter and would highly recommend picking it up or downloading it.

No – That’s Our Policy

Gary starts the book by telling a story about a guy who comes into his father’s wine store to redeem a coupon after the fact. The manager in the story quotes a strict interpretation of the coupon policy and sends the guy away empty handed. Gary recalls feeling, in his gut, that the guy was never going to come back to the store and let’s the manager know as much. He goes on to suggest that his gut was wrong about the guy returning but right about another thing.

Apartment Company Policy

The topic has been written about over and over, many times in our business we push our prospects and residents away over policy and procedure. I don’t have enough fingers and toes [even if I count my Facebook acquaintances] to count the number of times I have witnessed it over the past fifteen or so years I have been in the business. I can’t honor that, I can’t waive this, I can’t waive that. I know it’s your first month being late after twenty-three years of living here but late is late is late [Read with a good cheer in your voice]. The really good ones displace it on corporate; it’s a corporate thing! I wish I could help but corporate won’t let us do that.

Apartment Company Policy of tomorrow [Read: Today]

Understanding that Fair Housing plays a necessary and important role in our industry; the world of business has changed. Getting back to Gary’s Gut; the guy returned to the store to let them know he would never buy another thing from them – ever! We know the rest of the story [pre-social media and smart phones]; the man likely told ten of his best friends about his experience. And, so on and so forth.

Business has changed and we not only have to adapt but rather stay ahead of the competition and the human beings we do business with. One of the ways I try and stay ahead is reading books of all kinds and participating in our industries social spaces. And, believe me; I learn something everyday. The preface of Gary’s book reminded me of how being rigid and using strict interpretation turns customers away and unlike the guy in the story, many never return. And, today they pull out the social media bullets to get you back. Trust me, many of us, sad to say, deserve it…

I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and share some more thoughts. In the mean time; what have you learned in the short year of 11′ that speaks to the point of rigid policy and or procedure that turn customers away?

Influence: That resident in 205 is such a….

Influence has a new name: Always On! Be Mindful of your surroundings as you are always influencing…

Over the course of the last two weeks I have picked up coffee at two different Starbucks locations in Saint Louis, Missouri. On one occasion I sipped my freshly poured coffee and listened to a Barista belittle management over a time clock issue. It quickly struck me that there was a total ill regard for those who were in ear shot of the conversation. It was as if the customers in the room were deaf to her words, somehow shielded by an invisible sound deadening shroud.

No less than three days later I sipped coffee and listened as three Barista’s took turns making fun of various customers that had made their way in over the course of the day. As each story ended and the next began, the Baristas seemed to take on an almost perversive sense of pride in their topping of one another. It ended only when a customer entered the door and made their way to the counter to make an order. It really took me aback and in the same respect, it gave me recall to times when I sat on-site and poked fun at residents. Many times with frustration over events that just transpired.

The worst instance happened while working in San Francisco back in the early 2000’s. It was right around the time that the dot.com bubble burst. The fall out drove two bedroom apartment rents from $4100 a month to $1750 nearly overnight. It was mayhem. My days consisted of back to back one to two hour meetings with existing lease holders who were locked in to twelve month leases paying top market rate. All looking to negotiate a rate reflective of the street. Or, in many cases looking to get out altogether. Somewhere in month three I encountered a resident who not only tested my every nerve with personal jabs and barbs but managed to get me over the edge. I stood my ground, prevailed and puffed my chest as she stormed out of the office in defeat. I turned to make my way back to my office and piped up with “that resident in 205 is a real…,” – the about the time I was going to drop the adjective of all adjectives, I hear [in a voice so familiar it make the hair on the back of my neck stand to attention] – “careful.”

It was the resident. She made her way back into the office to, of all things, apologize for her behavior. I will say, if not by her grace or the one who governs the universe, I would have been toast that day. And, these were the days prior to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin…

Takeaway: Influence has a new name: Always On! Be Mindful of your surroundings as you are always influencing [Starbucks Barista’s – if I didn’t like the coffee so much, I would move to Panera] – if you would not want it repeated as front page news – it’s likely best left unsaid.

Apartment Marketers – Stop the C[r]ap

At the risk of causing discord with the fine people over at Mid-America – I have to ask, is it really worth it?

I ran across Stop the Cap this evening while reading some blog post and Google alerts. At the risk of causing discord with the fine people over at Mid-America – I have to ask, is it really worth it? I recognize the value in exclusive marketing relationships and revenue shares and advocate them myself but this one seems very anti-resident. In jest, I kind of wish I had a few Mid-America communities in my various sub-markets, I could use a few occupancy points.

Maybe the story has it all wrong and if so my apologies for drawing a spotlight to it. However, if it is valid the following excerpt really sums up the downside:

Mid-America earns a significant kickback bonus from Comcast for mandating cable service on all of its renters.  That upsets many renters who choose not to have cable service, or subscribe to a satellite provider like DirecTV or DISH.  The $40 fee doesn’t go away if you don’t want the service.  Earlier in July, Stop the Cap! covered Mid-America’s mandatory cable service introduction in other parts of Tennessee and Texas.

My question comes in the context of an era of social media – did anyone consider the potential for bad buzz?

What does the community think? Good idea? Bad idea? Other points?

Be gentle –

Apartment Marketing: Gather the Group

Over the next month or so, I will be reaching out to some of our apartment Facebook friends asking if I can  enlist them in a virtual ongoing open feedback Tell Dell like mechanism. The intent is to prompt the forum in the coming weeks, months and years as we move forward in building out Mills Properties improved web strategy. The friends are coming from a mix of our like pages that span across our 43 communities [Note: not all are published as of this writing] in Saint Louis. The only catalyst to their selection is  – on balance – they participate more than others. Our real hope – as part of a much larger strategy – is to build on the success of others in and out of our industry by including consumers in the process.  That said, it never ceases to amaze me just how easy it really is to get acquainted anymore. This quote below is part of a response I got to reaching out just this past week –

…..been here just over 5 years and really like it. My main interests include Conservative talk shows and Trance/Techno music. Odd combination……

I can’t wait to get some discussion going with this resident. 5 years – can you imagine the change she/he has seen in five years? Can you imagine the potential value he/she might add on the premise of that 5 years of history?

What are you doing to leverage the power of your networks?

Apartment Leasing: The Friendly Factor

How much is unfriendly costing you?

Short and sweet post today – could have been a tweet but really looking for a comment or two on the subject.

So here it is –

How much is unfriendly costing you?

I wish I could suggest that this post was inspired by an experience of mine outside this industry but it was not. It was inspired by a couple of emails I received this week suggesting as much about our firm. Yikes! But but but… In my position – it is sometimes hard to separate the juiced up aggressive nature of a hostile prospect or resident who just had a bad day and or the position of the – more times than not -pushed to the limits on-site leasing and management heros. My bias always leans to the on-site team and in the same breath I would say – I have read some compelling prospect and resident statements that made me wonder. That said, it all comes down to delivery – in my opinion.

More times than not – the statement: they are not friendly – comes up.

So, I wonder – How much is unfriendly costing you?

And, have a very friendly day –

Also, a quick shout out to the NAA bound folks from the Multi-family world. Have a great week in NOLA –

Apartment Internet Marketing – Entertainment

Consumers in the age of new media have grown accustom to a very high set of standards that sites like; Facebook, Google and Twitter have imbued on their minds. At the core of these standards there are three apparent consumer behaviors.

This is the third installment of a five part series based on a recent emarketer survey. In part one we discussed the concept of Exclusivity. Part two spoke to the idea of Education. Today we discuss: Entertainment as it relates to Apartment Internet Marketing.

Here is the chart for reference:

Reasons for Friending or Following Companies Through Social Media According to US Consumers, December 2009 (% of respondents)

What is Entertainment?

Princeton defines entertainment as; an activity that is diverting and that holds the attention. There is no doubt that we are living in an attention economy today. And, the key point to this economy is that  the consumer has choice. Consumers have near holistic control over the spend side of the attention equation when it comes to on-line activities. As such, goods and service providers are left to tailor their offerings to meet a new set of standards and expectations. Attention is the currency of today’s consumer and they will only agree to give it up if it is in exchange for they perceive as having value.

Value Exchange

While it is a race to attract a consumers’ attention, it is in the same respect just as, if not more, important to keep it once you have it. One way to do that is to entertain your audience. Two great examples of this from the blogging world are Perez Hilton and TMZ. TMZ ranked number one in the most popular blogs of 2009 – I contend for the absolute entertainment value it exudes. For their massive audience there is a willingness to give up time and attention because of the exchange they receive in the way of value [entertainment].

Consumer Expectation

Consumers in the age of new media have grown accustom to a very high set of standards that sites like; Facebook, Google and Twitter have imbued on their minds. At the core of these standards there are three apparent consumer behaviors. First and foremost, I think it fair to say that we as a population have grown much more impatient in that we want our information now and we want it delivered our way. Second, I think it fair to say that we have grown very intolerant in that if a good or a service does not meet our expectation – we vote by not returning and moreover we tell our friends about it. And, finally we expect and demand trust. Our ability to sniff out the BS has gone hyper and as such we return to the things we can trust most. Now I’m going to step out on a limb here and look at these things in aggregate and contend that their essence is entertainment.

Offer it and they will come

I contend that if apartment internet marketers get these things right – we will have created an activity that diverts and holds attention. I write that presupposing an understanding that content is king here – the content has to be compelling. But, I am considering that a given. The point I am attempting to get across is that entertainment is a key concept in working up to that thing we are all after. That thing we will discuss in the final post of the series. But, not before we pen our thoughts on one last concept. We will have that out in a few days.

Until then – make this a compelling and entertaining week.

Apartment Internet Marketing – Exclusivity

Came across an interesting survey at over at emarketer that spoke to the want’s of social following. The results were captured in the following chart:

Reasons for Friending or Following Companies Through Social Media According to US Consumers, December 2009 (% of respondents)

Using this chart as a catalyst, we are going to do a five part series titled: The Five E’s of Apartment Internet Marketing. The overarching premise will be playing to the want’s of would be apartment Facebook, Twitter and other social medium friends. We start the series with Exclusivity.

What is Exclusivity?

Exclusivity can be defined as the sole right to a specific business function. AT&T’s exclusive right to market the iPhone is likely the most paramount example of this. Beyond that there is a huge push by aggregators to secure exclusive rights to content. We have seen this with the likes of Harvard Business Review striking a deal with an aggregator and Steven Covey striking a deal for distribution on Amazon’s Kindle. These are mass examples of exclusivity but the concept can be applied to things as simple as white papers. In this case the exclusivity comes in the way of getting for giving or more specifically, give me your email address and I will give you the white paper. It’s exclusive in the sense that not everyone would be willing to give personal information to get.

Value Exchange

The overarching point is that exclusivity has a give and take scenario baked in. You give up Sprint to get the iPhone, you give up buying from B&N and buy a Kindle so you can read Covey, you give up personal information to get information. The goods, services, experience or information requires an action on the part of the consumer and guess what, it’s the overriding reason they friend brands. They want to learn about specials, sales, etc..

Consumer Expectations

Human beings have a few things in common – one being the innate need to feel important, wanted or needed. When we apply that fact to the concept of exclusivity we can clearly see that the perception of being a part of what could be considered an elite group is compelling. We own an iPhone so we can feel cool. We read the HBR so we can feel cool. We read the latest Covey book so we can feel cool. We found our apartment on Craigslist and it was a great deal so we feel cool. Consumers are willing to give up stuff and things to feel important, wanted or needed – all day long.

Offer it and they will come

As it applies to Apartment Internet Marketing in the context of social mediums – more times than not, if you offer it they will come. Now, before I go on, I am not suggesting that you can just put any old thing out there and expect participants to join in, you have to work it. You have to willing to commit to listening, joining in, trying, failing, retooling and trying again. Otherwise it’s all for naught. I am suggesting, however, that if you do things as simple as offering a rent concession to the resident that increases your fan page base the most, or something we eluded to awhile back with tryvertising, or simply setting up a kiosk in your lobby set with twitter and facebook and asking anyone that walks in the door to friend you – you will gain an audience. However, it does not stop here…

…in part two of this series we will talk about what to do with that audience: Education

In the mean time, feel free to continue the Exclusivity conversation by leaving us a comment below.

And, have a compelling day!

Peter is a Patriots Fan – Could he be a Mills Properties Fan?

I stopped Pete mid speech and said, “you’re not a Pariots fan, are you?” He said, “You’re damn right I am, let me tell you a funny story.”

My week was more than eventful – transitioned 1100 new units [what an amazing team we have – so many talented people made this happen], walked a fire unit with an insurance adjuster, experienced two alarms that called for an ambulance and fire truck, handed off a property and talked to a guy named Peter.

Peter was less than happy that the lighting in our parking lot was not as bright as he thought it should be. It rocked that I could tell him that we approved some lighting improvement proposals the day before but he was not satisfied. He really wanted to discuss the fact that the new parking policy was not accommodating for he and his daughter. You see they are taking a trip to Boston next week and past management allowed him to park in the open reserved parking spots for a mere $5 a day. I said, “no worries” – let’s go get you a spot now. “Okay, but did you know the reason that I moved into this apartment was that my employer is right across the street but….at that moment he raised his hand to the sky and exposed an New England Patriots watch. I stopped Pete mid speech and said, “you’re not a Pariots fan, are you?” He said, “You’re damn right I am, let me tell you a funny story.”

Pete went on for the next fifteen minutes [fifteen minutes I really didn’t have but I knew would yield huge dividends] telling me a story about Saint Louis sports teams losing every sporting event they were involved in to a Boston area team during a certain week back in 1994 – he knew it was 94′ as it bared some significance to a major family event. Pete ended his story by telling me that Mills was the best thing that ever happened to the property and that he sees the things we are doing to make the place better. I have to believe it was the fifteen minutes of listening that matter most to Pete.

Is Pete a fan? I venture to say he is still in the wait and see stage but I guarantee you he will be over the next year. And, if the Patriots ever come to town – Pete will have a pair of tickets – on me.

Tell Them How Much You are Moved by the Neighborhood

Don’t tell prospects and residents how much your apartments are – tell them how much you are moved by the neighborhood.

imagesDon’t tell prospects and residents how much your apartments are – tell them how much you are moved by the neighborhood.

 

velTell them about waking up on a crisp fall morning and taking a run in Forest Park just one block over from your apartment. Tell them about stopping back by Velocity Coffee Shop to have a cup of coffee – served by a friendly Barista named Tracy who rarely smiles but wants to. Tell them about the free copies of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the St. Louis Dispatch. Tell them about the free wifi. And, oh – it’s a bike shop too with cool bike motif everywhere. The bathroom even has a cool chalkboard where you once drew a giant dragon that looked as if it were eating the giant flower someone else drew.

Tell them about Papa John’s pizza and Subway at the end of the block where Tony and Charles remember your name and serve you with a smile. Tell them about Atlas Restaurant located in the heart of the neighborhood and the amazing food and desserts that they serve. Tell them about The Loop and The Central West End [very cool Saint Louis neighborhood hangouts] being just one mile away and don’t forget to mention the friendly cab driver resident who will drive you over while entertaining you with great conversation. Tell them about all the fun nights you had in those neighborhoods.

Tell them about Mr. and Mrs. Wang who own the dry cleaners right next door to Papa John’s and how they wash and fold clothes for $0.75 a pound. Tell them how much you love the fact that each Christmas they give your children big canisters of candy as a thank you for your business.

Tell them about the dog park even if you are not a pet lover – not even in the least.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is the neighborhood that I fell in love with in Saint Louis. Oh yeah, and I lived in a great apartment that overlooked a tree lined street that looks amazing in the fall.

Tell them with conviction how much you love the neighborhood the rest will fall right into place.