How apartment marketers exceed resident and onsite operational goals with “first mile marketing” (and Knock)

Authenticity, innovation, and collaboration, and how they apply to customer relationship management (CRM), website redevelopment, and peer-to-peer marketing was the focus for an AIM Reconnect Conference panel discussion of wide-ranging topics under “first-mile marketing.”

The webinar included Sarah Gencarella, Director of Marketing, Olympus Property; Amy Johnson, Director of Marketing and Sales at Roers Companies and Core Living; and Zach Sloan, Founder of Rentgrata; with moderator Sydney Webber, Customer Marketing Manager, Knock.

Peer-to-Peer Marketing

Peer-to-peer interaction (a variation of influencer marketing) is something apartment communities are leaning on with their own residents. Through Rentgrata, residents are rewarded if they make themselves available to answer prospects’ questions about what it’s like to live in their communities.

This strategy plays into marketers’ ongoing emphasis on delivering authenticity behind their ratings and reviews.

“Staying active, staying current, and staying authentic is very important,” Sloan says. “Ratings are one of the most heavily weighted items when it comes to renters deciding where they want to live. You want to help the prospect understand why they want to make your apartment community their home.”

Gencarella says using Rentgrata was Olympus’ first attempt at peer-to-peer marketing.

“It allows us to market our property, honestly, through people we don’t truly know, and build friendships with them,” she says. “People are using online dating apps, so this is kind of a form of that. Our residents can connect on RentGrata and get to know their neighbors before moving into a community.”

Webber says that because so many people have been at home so much lately, “everyone is interacting with each other more. That makes authenticity even more important. This is such an important time to do campaigns that bring people together, given that so many have been lonely through this pandemic.”

The multifamily industry is beginning to see how peer-to-peer influencer marketing is taking control, Sloan says.

“These residents talk to us on our level, like regular people, in ways that we can relate to,” Sloan says. “It takes celebrities out of the picture and renters can become the new ‘celebrities.’ ”

Gen Zs and Millennials prefer authenticity over brand ambassadors, Webber says.

“Peer-to-peer marketing in its simplest forms are resident referrals, which can become hot leads,” Webber says. “In the past, when referrals did come in – and it was challenging sometimes to get them – they were hard to track and didn’t really work in tandem with our other marketing efforts.”

Knock is capable of measuring these types of campaigns.

Working with localized influencers can bring in new leases, Webber says. As director of marketing for Templeton a few months ago, she worked with an influencer in Portland, Ore., setting her up with a nine-month lease in exchange for content produced under her name, including YouTube videos.

“We used them in tandem with Knock’s CRM tracking capabilities to measure the effectiveness at really granular levels,” Webber says. The community gained 20 leases from her efforts.

“Her content was casual and effective,” Webber says. “She shot video of her place and talked a lot about the furniture and where she bought it. The prospects loved it.”

Other effective ways to engage renters is to ask them to share their favorite images from living in the community. Webber did and offered them a $10 rent credit if any appeared on Templeton’s marketing collateral.

Johnson is engaging in residents through a resident loyalty program. It’s designed so that residents can earn points by taking simple actions, mostly through social media.

There are hundreds of options, from posts, likes, shares, videos and images, Johnson says. The more residents engage the more points they earn. Those points can be cashed out for gift cards. It has boosted the company’s retention rates and helped it to earn more positive reviews (points are earned for leaving a review).

Prospect Connectivity Improves with Knock’s App

Johnson says her company’s goal throughout the pandemic has been to keep its properties full and to find easier ways for staff members to respond to prospective residents’ inquiries.

“We set the goal of a 30 percent tour-to-conversion rate, but weren’t hitting it,” Johnson says. “We were struggling to get back to prospects fast enough in this competitive leasing environment.”

She began using the Knock mobile app Knock so that she could connect with them by smartphone, when they were not in front of their computers, Johnson says.

“Having that connectivity in real time, and integration with Facebook was a big help,” Johnson says. “We set it up through Knock that any inquiries we got through Facebook went directly into our CRM feed. We could schedule tours from leads gained through and other ILS listings instead of having to have prospects fill out a contact form; our agents became more efficient. We hit our benchmark and our occupancy is 95 percent.”

Website Redesign Boosts SEO

Gencarella recently redesigned her company’s and communities’ websites.

“Our websites are our pride and joy,” she says, “They are an outlet for creativity. We are focusing a lot on our digital process right now and continuing to move away from print collateral. If we can get prospective renters to our website, we have a captive audience and can more easily work to convert them to leases. The most efficient way is through digital advertising. People are spending more time on our property websites more than ever, while asking themselves the question, “Could I see myself at home here?”

Olympus recently rebuilt each of its community websites to incorporate a multi-page strategy versus a single-page architecture strategy.

In doing so, “we’ve included a lot of web pages for our visitors to explore and learn more details about living with us,” she says. “We took this strategy to help meet and exceed Google’s standards for search rankings, and also because the reconfiguration has helped reduce our web page load times from 13 seconds to 3 seconds. Not only does this make a big difference to the user, but the change has also significantly impacted our organic SEO (search engine optimization).”

It also created a virtual tour path that leads prospects to the next steps that they should take in the renting process.

“We included a lot of calls to action throughout the site, including multiple opportunities to contact the property directly, whether our prospects are looking at us from their phones, tablets, or desktop computers,” Gencarella says.

The sites have a giant gallery that displays swipe-able images. Online reputation scores also play a key role in each website.

“We pull in our 5-star reviews from numerous sources such as Google, Yelp, etc. so our visitors see them – and, they don’t even have to leave our website to do their due diligence about us,” she says. “Our overall traffic volume has not only increased, but so has the quality of our leads.”

Olympus drives all of its Instagram social media to its national Olympus Property account, and only utilizes Facebook social media at the property level.

“One campaign we are currently doing is called Olympus Goes Green, which encourages our renters to share what they are doing to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle,” Gencarella says. “One focus of the campaign was to show our residents how to sign up for ‘plastic-free deliveries’ from Amazon. Many of them didn’t even know that a portion of Amazon’s plastic material is non-recyclable, or that they could sign up to not receive plastic packaging.”

Getting C-Suite Buy-In

Apartment companies are learning that a high-performing CRM can be used to demonstrate to the C-suite the need to invest in various technologies. Knowing and understanding the tech stack’s features and how they can translate into revenue makes for a more meaningful case and an easier sell.

Download the business case template that will help you make the case for the marketing tools you need.

“I have my own goals from what I want from a tech stack,” Johnson says. “But when it can meet the onsite team’s goals, too; and will help them to save time, for example, that’s even better. The onsite team needs to be sold on its value or the product launch won’t be as successful as it could be.”

Getting regional directors involved, too, helps, the panel agrees. “When you do, it makes the pitch to the final decision maker easier because everyone agrees that a change needs to occur.”

“We’re an early adopter to technology, Gencarella says. “We want to be an industry leader, not a follower. We want to dive in and try things out, and not copy a competitor just because others are using it. If you don’t have a valuable CRM, you’re not going to be able to test other products through the CRM to measure them.”

To help its efforts, Olympus created a technology working group that sits down each month and participates in demos of four to five new products. They could be related to a variety of different things, including new marketing platforms, revenue management software, operational technology, etc.

“We’ve already rolled out two new products this year as a result of this collaborative group,” Gencerella says. “We’ve looked at products that help our residents improve their rental history. We’re looking at companies that provide doorstep trash delivery. We are considering offering a credit card to our residents that will enable them to earn bonus points (similar to frequent-flier mile programs) by paying their rent.

It has already rolled out two new products this year as a result of this collaborative group.

“When we roll a new platform or technology out, we beta test it on a few properties of different sizes and in different regions,” she says. “From there, we re-evaluate things, typically after a six-month time period. You can gain buy-in from the C-suite with numbers. If you can show the value, the numbers don’t lie.”

One new thing Olympus implemented in 2019 was customized move-in gifts. Each time residents move in they receive an email with an invitation for them to choose their own move-in gift. The onsite teams no longer have to spend valuable time sourcing gifts for each new move-in, Gencerella says.

Powered by its efficient CRM, these operators have found new and better ways to connect with their residents and operate at a higher level overall.

You can watch all the AIM Reconnect videos here.