COVID-19 Curveballs Keep Digital Marketing & Communications a Priority for Apartment Owners

Joshua Swanson

Given the constant technological advances in online marketing, renting apartments is an ever-evolving craft. Now, with Coronavirus and social distancing our new reality for the foreseeable future, marketing apartments must evolve once more, but this time it must evolve quickly and pivot to a focus on consistent communication and virtual everything. COVID-19 will accelerate the trend we already see toward a fully online leasing process.

Do you stop marketing your apartments during this crisis?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room; do you stop marketing your apartments during this crisis? In unpredictable times it’s tempting to react quickly in order to protect valuable resources. Does that mean apartment owners should stop their marketing efforts? Your emotions may say “yes” as we see markets decline and job losses increase, but in the end, people need a place to live during good times and bad.

Additionally, leases are still going to expire, albeit some renters may be allowed to stay past a lease expiration due to the extreme circumstances facing all of us during this crisis. So, when those leases expire and renters move on for any number of reasons, how will apartment owners fill those vacancies? By telling stories about your communities and distributing those stories online using digital platforms. It’s more important than ever for communities to have a presence online so those looking to move during this crisis can find you.

Given that a large portion of our business is working with apartment owners around the country, what we are seeing from our vantage point is that moving will slow and renewals will increase, but communities with vacancies will need to compete even harder to fill them and that means spending money on online marketing and filling that funnel with leads.

Does a poor economy mean more rental demand?

Plus, with a slowing economy comes more demand for rental housing. That isn’t a new concept and is the reason that a lot of institutional investors seek out multi-family opportunities. Aaron Marshall, CEO & Co-Founder of Keyrenter Property Management says, “…the point is that when recessions happen, housing is often affected, and when people can’t afford to buy homes, they rent.” (Link)

But given the unusual circumstances of forced work-from-home and social distancing, Realpage is predicting a possible short-term demand drop. But that demand drop will only compress the early-rental-season or the early-consideration period (February – April) and will put more pressure on the high-season as people who want or need to move will still move between now and Sept. 1.

So, even if there is a slowdown there will still be demand and possibly even pent up demand come summertime. Our advice is to never stop advertising because slowing demand isn’t NO demand, and there’s a good chance this will only be a short-term slow-down. Any increase in demand from, God forbid, layoffs will add additional pressure to the rental markets. Logistically speaking, it takes time for us to fill our client’s funnels with leads and when the economy comes roaring back, for those that stop marketing, it will take even longer to recover since the steady stream of leads filling your funnel was cut off.

The Marketing Funnel

 

Why so much focus on the marketing funnel during a temporary slowdown?

The way the marketing funnel works is that people enter the funnel at the awareness phase and filter down through the consideration phase (where they become a lead) and ultimately emerge as a conversion (generally speaking, a lease application). Our job is to keep the top of that funnel full so that process (while slowed in this circumstance) continues to flow. By leveraging the latest tools like online leasing and remote tours, users (arriving at the conversion portion of the funnel) sign that lease electronically. The constant influx and filtration of this marketing funnel strategy mixed with our segmentation strategy mean a constant flow of leads filter down, first to better quality leads and then to renters. The important takeaway here is that clients need future residents continuing to flow into the top of the funnel to make the whole process work.

Apartment Marketing FunnelWhat logistical changes is our industry facing during this crisis?

Our political leaders are asking us to do our part and flatten the curve by staying home, so how do we rent apartments to those in the market? How do we keep filling the funnel with leads?

Remote Apartment Tours are the first step and our Chief Creative Officer, Jason Naumann, just published a very informative and helpful piece on how to produce those quickly and efficiently to deliver key information to the potential renter that will push them to convert.

Live Streaming is another great option. There are several platforms that allow live streaming, but once that live stream is over, it’s important to follow that up with social advertising to ensure your remote tour is seen. Work with your GTMA digital team to download that live stream and turn it into short social ads to bring awareness and fill the funnel with leads.

Additionally, now more than ever, the use of geotargeted advertising techniques allow those virtual tour social ads to be seen by potential renters already in your neighborhood. We find the majority of renters are moving within the city they currently reside, so geomarketing techniques are an important piece of any good strategy. Those edited live stream short clips can also be emailed to potential renters. We also suggest posting them on Instagram Stories, IGTV, YouTube, Yelp, LinkedIn, Twitter, Gmail Ads, Snapchat, etc. and then creating ads out of each clip to point back to the full version of the video stream.

Bring a marketing strategy to your communications strategy.

But, how else must we evolve our marketing strategy given this new challenge we all face? Focus next on resident communications. It’s important to reach out to each resident in order to better understand their specific needs. Then comes more widely distributed communications. NMHC says, “Accurate, timely and regular communications with employees, residents, suppliers and even the media are critical.” (Link) It’s extremely important to stay connected with each resident, but play offense with communication surrounding what’s happening in the community. More residents will be home for more hours of the day than ever before, so each community announcement, which can be as simple as a Facebook post, is very important to ease tensions and keep the residents on the same page with the happenings in the community.

That said if you do choose a social platform to make your announcements, be sure the residents know that!

More marketing ideas for our new remote reality surrounding safety, health, and online everything.

Your communications strategy should also include a focus on how your community is keeping residents and future residents safe and healthy. As we know, a lot of communities have closed offices in order to force social distancing. Therefore it’s important to inform the team handling your online marketing and communications what actions you have taken. Update your website messaging, your social channels, your paid advertising campaigns, your listing sites like Yelp, etc. Or, if you work with GTMA, just email your team and we’ll handle that for you.

Apartment owners and managers that are thinking about others’ safety in a time like this should be vocal about that fact as it will encourage future residents to remotely tour your community instead of the one across the street. It also sends a message that you care, because you do. You care about your team’s health and the health of the greater community. Enough to update your communications messaging across all platforms.

If we continue with that communications strategy of showing your current and future residents that you care, what other tools do you have that your digital team at GTMA can talk about?

  • Paying rent virtually
  • Valet trash
  • Laundry service
  • Package valet
  • Concierge services
  • Remote tours
  • Daily Facebook Live fitness classes
  • Local grocery delivery services and/or Farmer’s Market produce boxes
  • Support local restaurants by posting updates on available delivery & take-out services

Focus on online resident engagement and keep it light.

Another interesting situation for apartment managers brought on by this crisis is the fact that more residents are actually in the apartment community for longer periods of time than ever before. When are almost all of the residents home and it’s not the middle of the night? Additionally, as a safety precaution and to help flatten the curve, most property managers have closed amenity spaces to help create more social distancing.

This all translates into more people being home and online since they shouldn’t leave. Netflix, YouTube, Prime, and Apple have all announced that they will be slowing down streaming so that the internet won’t be overloaded given all the additional usage. This is good if you’re marketing an apartment, but it’s also good if your community can somehow create online engagement between residents living in your communities.

  • Can you create a competition for the most creative Instagram post from one of your apartments?
  • View shots from their units looking out at the pool?
  • What about a door decorating competition from the inside?
  • Trivia about the building?
  • Streaming fitness classes or yoga classes?
  • Virtual community happy hours?

Give a reason for all of your residents, who are literally online right now, to talk on social media about your community by way of a fun and creative social distancing experience and your residents will turn into your online advocates and you will, in turn, benefit from more social engagement.

Remember, keep filling the funnel!

In conclusion, all things considered, it’s important to communicate often and continue to market your community during this difficult time. In order to see conversions (leases) come in, it’s imperative that you always continue to fill the marketing funnel. Use tools like social ads, blogs, and organic social media posts to bring awareness to your community. Next, employ remarketing tactics on Google and social networks, focus on SEO, paid search, and reputation marketing to help those future residents considering making the move to filter down to the next stage and then convert! Once things get back to normal, and they will, it will take time to fill the funnel again with leads. So, if you stop marketing now when things turn, you won’t have leads that are ready to convert.

Online marketing does allow for speed and quick responses, but it still takes future renters a lot of time to pick an apartment since it’s the largest purchase they will make in a given year. This will be especially true as the busy leasing season may be condensed and pent up demand released when this crisis winds down. So, our advice to our clients is to focus on the health and safety of your teams, residents, and future residents, keep marketing, communicate more than you ever have, and come up with fun ways for your current residents stuck at home to engage with your brand online. That way your funnel will be full of quality leads, you’ll lease apartments during the crisis and you’ll come out on top when everything returns to a new form of “normal.”

Thanks for reading my piece and I’ll see you online!

Joshua Swanson

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