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If you’re over 50, apartment marketing is something you buy from vendors. If you’re under 30, marketing is media you create so you can leverage and exploit the distribution networks of others to get eyeballs.

A decade ago, it was enough to be an expert ad buyer. But no more. Companies like Alliance Residential, Bozzuto Group, and, WC Smith are vertically integrated content shops producing consistently great media – from the written word to imagery, videos or new forms of social and mobile multimedia (see the slideshow below for examples).

The best multifamily marketers are great storytellers, weaving and sharing the narrative of people, product and place at every opportunity. The 2015 multifamily marketing executive is like a movie producer – gathering the resources to tell great stories, making sure the stories get distributed, and making sure the profits from those stories return to the company like any good investment.

Armed with media, marketers can use stories to engage in any channel where renters or referrers are to be found: ILSs, Instagram, Twitter, Craigslist, YouTube, with local bloggers, in the trades and industry publications or on their own web sites and mobile apps. Stories can be used over and over again. They can be adapted and customized for time of year. They can be collated into brochures and books and e-publications. Stories sell. (And so do photos of babies and dogs, but that’s a different blog post.)

In the digital age, consumers get value cues from the professionalism, beauty and targeting of the stories they read about products and services. High-definition photos are easier to understand and thus equate to a better value. A funny or touching story creates empathy and a desire to linger. People still buy from people and identify with others who are engaged in solving the problems they face. The best multifamily marketing teams have recognized a way to convey their humanity most effectively by creating the media that represents their true and authentic lifestyle.

The theme for this year’s conference – The Producers – recognizes this new normal for the in-house producers of marketing across the apartment industry. We’ll celebrate best practices in creating compelling stories, and story elements. You’ll learn how to sharpen your writing, script and shoot a video, take great photos (and aerial photos too) and create new multimedia. You’ll improve how you craft location and amenities into stories prospects identify with. And we’ll take a fresh look at which content goes into which distribution channel for maximum exposure.

To paraphrase last year’s keynote speaker, our industry’s humanity lies in our fundamental stories about homes, security, status, lifestyles and community. Every community is a brand, and every resident interaction is a potential story that can reach the heart of someone who wants to be a member of that tribe. We hope you’ll join us at AIM for an exploration of what could be possible.

AIM attendee, super-charged video awards judge, and Senior Vice President / Chief Marketing Officer of Princeton Properties Sarah Greenough.

AIM attendee, super-charged video awards judge, and Senior Vice President / Chief Marketing Officer of Princeton Properties Sarah Greenough.

We’re back! The 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference is pleased to announce our slate of programming for the 10th annual AIM Conference May 4-6 at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. From SEO audits to workshops in digital copywriting, imagery and video, presentations on the wired apartment, a dive into retargeting and alternative advertising opportunities and yes the return of the AIM video awards, we’re looking forward to the best AIM Conference yet. By popular demand, we’ve also relaunched our annual call for speakers. Check out all of the planned programming and download a speaker submission form on the AIM website. We’ll announce all confirmed speakers and sessions by January 30, 2015. Don’t forget to register early and save on discounted attendance to AIM 2015!

Panda and cloaking: Search Engine Land founder and chief editor Danny Sullivan keynotes AIM 2014.

Panda and cloaking: Search Engine Land founder and chief editor Danny Sullivan keynotes AIM 2014.

Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, didn’t waste any time answering the conspiracy question posed in the conference guide: “Google is taking over everything. This will be a very short talk.”

Fortunately for the attendees of the keynote session at the Apartment Internet Marketing conference (AIM), Sullivan continued and explained that success with Google isn’t about the tactics, but the Internet marketing strategy.

“Stay focused on the broad strategy,” Sullivan says. “It will guide you toward success in the long run. You understand how people search on Google and you should take advantage of the ways that help you do well on Google.”

Being successful, however, is becoming more difficult by the day, as Google regularly changes its guidelines, making it difficult to keep up for brands. Sullivan pointed to the introduction of Penguin, a Google algorithm update aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violated Google’s Webmaster guidelines, as a prime example of the complexity.

“Every day, I think I have seen it all,” Sullivan says. “Google had to ban itself for violating it’s own rules.”

Google banned some of its own pages in 2005 for cloaking, a search engine optimization technique in which the content presented to the search engine spider is different than the content presented to users. If Google can make mistakes that lead to being banned, apartment owner-operators can easily find themselves in the same position.

At least cloaking is in an apartment company’s control. What isn’t is Google’s increasing emphasis on advertising, which is pushing organic search results further down the page.

“A few years ago when you searched for the name of a hotel on Google, the number one thing would have been … the hotel,” Sullivan says. “Your conspiracy. That’s it. It’s just reality. Google is showing more ads.”

That means apartment owner-operators have to pay for a lot more with Google to get prime placements in search results. And that’s the conspiracy of Google – a brand once known as the champion of free information.

Download the Danny Sullivan AIM 2014 keynote presentation here.

 

Melanie Flaherty of Carmel Partners presents on building a Brand Book at AIM 2014.

Melanie Flaherty of Carmel Partners presents on building a Brand Book at AIM 2014.

The logo doesn’t make a brand. The design of marketing collateral doesn’t make a brand. Even the style of the apartment community doesn’t make a brand.

Brands are always bigger than most people first think when they hear the word. They’re a combination of all of the above and much more, including the personalities of the associates, the style of customer service and even the appearance of the uniforms. Brands are an experience.

So, it only makes sense that the experience be created in a collaborative environment, involving on-site operators who have to execute the brand, the development team and a little outside help from an agency. That’s exactly what Melanie Flaherty, vice president of marketing, led at Carmel Partners to launch 14 individual brands for communities across the country, which she presented at the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference. But it wasn’t easy to sell in.

“We have such small amount of time with senior execs to discuss branding,” Flaherty says. “If we can frame up how we approach strategy, the process that we’re using and show them that strategy with results and how it plays out in creative execution, it can be an effective way to sell in the creative strategy.”

The collaborative process in which on-site operators were intimately involved in the branding helped frame the branding concepts win the executives over.

To begin the process, Carmel categorized the communities into five different themes: boutique, location, destination, suburban and Gen Y. Boutique communities are smaller, unique communities with an opportunity to be defined by an intriguing style. One example of a boutique community was 325 Lexington in New York City, which reflected an appreciation of culture, art and travel.

The location communities offered excellent location amenities that could be easily incorporated into their branding. The RockVue Apartments, a location community in Broomfield, Colo., was branded for active men and focused on the many outdoor activities available near the community.

Destination communities incorporated the fact that they were in destination places like Iroquois Point in West Oahu, Kapilina. The branding for the Kapilina apartment community creating a sanctuary experienced focused on the backdrop of the beach, family-friendly amenities and open spaces for indoor-outdoor living.

Suburban communities are locked in unremarkable neighborhoods, but offer an opportunity to bring urban style to soccer moms in the burbs. Alder, a community in a California suburb, creates a distinct sense of style with modern patterns and the use of stylish lifestyle photography of interiors that look more like an urban home than the traditional suburban experience.

Gen Y communities were designed with Gen Y expectations in mind, including being technology-friendly, having a unique personality and offering a walkable location. One example was BLVD63 in <insert location>, which features a beach lifestyle throughout all marketing collateral featuring surfboards, skateboards, beach cruisers VW buses and other beach-related iconography.

Within each category, Carmel worked with 11 different marketing agencies to develop individualized brands for each of the 14 communities. The brands that were developed delivered a first-class experience similar to high-end consumer product and service brands from brochure design to community amenity space design.

The cohesive brand strategy was achieved by also working closely with development on new projects that were in the works.

Lauren Curley delivers her Think Like a Technologist presentation at AIM 2014.

Lauren Curley delivers her Think Like a Technologist presentation at AIM 2014.

To be a better marketer, think like a technologist. It’s happened faster than anyone probably anticipated. Marketing and technology have become so intertwined that marketers must not only understand technology, but also transform its use into revenue generating activities.

That’s definitely been the experience for Lauren Curley, marketing director for Landmark Property services, who shared her advice with attendees of the “Think Like a Technologist” session at the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference (AIM).

“We’re the ones driving this change within our organizations because our customers are driving the change,” Curley says. “And we’re responsible for the customer experience.”

To be effective in driving that change marketers have to think like the technology gurus who consider the needs of the user before moving forward with development.

“We need to be the intersection between our communities and our brand and our customers,” Curley Says. “Technologists think about software as a service. In this changing dynamic, we need to think about marketing as a service.”

Thinking about marketing as a service means providing the technology tools that solve the problems apartment residents and customers have that technology can solve.

“Good software is all about trying to solve a problem,” Curley says. “They’re asking themselves, ‘What do my customers want? What do my customers need that they don’t realize they need?’”

It’s the antithesis of QR codes, which have all but disappeared because customers didn’t want to use them. They were something marketers wanted so they could better measure the value of their marketing campaigns.

But determining what marketing technologies actually add value is easier said than done. The key is to collaborate and work with on-site teams to determine what customers are asking for, Curley says.

“The future of marketing is all about partnerships both inside and outside of your organization,” she added. “One of the most successful things you can do as an organization is get your regional team on site.”

Download the Think Like a Technologist presentation here.

Dana Pate, Jolene Sopalski, Eric Clark and Sarah Milligan on the integrated marketing panel at AIM 2014

Dana Pate, Jolene Sopalski, Eric Clark and Sarah Milligan on the integrated marketing panel at AIM 2014

Integrated marketing campaigns were a breakout trend this year at the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference  because multifamily is the perfect example of an industry in need. Today’s residents are hyper-connected and use a mix of technology and personal connections to find their next apartment home. It’s important that multifamily professionals understand where and how to reach this new consumer via IMC.

So what does IMC mean to today’s marketer? Steve McKee sums IMC up in a way that is easy to understand, “Integration means communicating a consistent identity from message to message, and medium to medium, and (more importantly) delivering consistently on that identity.” The AIM conference theme this year is “Conspire,” and we set out on the integrated marketing brand campaign panel conspire to gain inspiration from some of the world’s most successful brands, including Nike, Red Bull, and Kraken Rum.

Kraken, a company that not only has a awesome name but also an amazing integrated marketing campaign, has empowered their consumers to purchase their product. Kraken took their offline marketing campaign to a whole new level by creating a giant Kraken mural in Brooklyn. Fans can compare their size to the Kraken. They took this a step further by asking their viewers to post pictures with the mural on Instagram using the hashtag #KrakenHugeness

In addition to their giant mural and social presence (fans love them), they have a YouTube channel dedicated to the legend of the Kraken, and a mobile app on which customers can practice navigating the deep seas where the Kraken lives.

These three brands understand the importance of creating an integrated marketing campaign that empowers their consumer to purchase from them. They show that they understand their consumers likes, needs, wants and how to reach them. They understand how an empowered customer can make a difference in their bottom line.

For many multifamily management companies they are inundated with marketing opportunities, those opportunities can be overwhelming when trying to implement an IMC. It’s not that multifamily marketer’s are not familiar with IMC. For many it is getting past the road block of thinking an IMC is not feasible either due to the size and scope of their portfolio or it just wasn’t in the budget. During our panel presentation Dana, Sarah, Eric and I hoped to show you how to embrace consumer empowerment in-spite of having extremely different portfolios and budgets. That by empowering your team to understand the ‘campaign’, you’ll be able to empower your prospective residents to lease!

The AIM 2014 Executive Power Panel featuring (L to R) Steve Lefkovits, Cindy Clare, Jeff Brodsky and Brad Cribbins

The AIM 2014 Executive Power Panel featuring (L to R) Steve Lefkovits, Cindy Clare, Jeff Brodsky and Brad Cribbins

Brad Cribbins, chief operating officer for Alliance Residential, describes his daughter’s digital media consumption and interaction with wonder, “She’ll be on the couch watching a movie while playing a game on her iPad while texting with a friend on her phone.”

That sums up not only the challenges many marketers attending the Executive Power Panel at the Apartment Internet Marketing conference (AIM) face in marketing, but also communicating with their senior executives. Marketing is inexplicably linked to rapidly changing technology that is inundating customers with messages from friends and advertisers nearly every minute of the day and making it even more difficult to communicate new ideas effectively to senior executives.

“There’s more change happening in marketing in the last 5-7 years than what has happened in the last 100,” Cribbins says. “There’s this knowledge gap between how we’re trying to advance the ball in each of the various markets and how our executives are trying to advance it at the corporate level.”

In order to sell in a marketing idea in this complex context, marketers need be able to quickly and simply articulate the benefits of the idea, how it will affect operations and how it will be implemented.

“Those of us in the senior positions aren’t the most patient. Don’t give me a 30-minute speech about marketing,” says Cindy Claire, president of Kettler Management. “You need to be able to articulate what you want and show that there is going to be some return. We need to understand how it’s going to help the whole. Implementation and understanding what that means is critical to a great marketing idea.”

Jeff Brodsky, president of Related Management, added that marketers need to speak the language of the executive audience, much like they do when they’re developing consumer campaigns.

“The first challenge to marketing is that I have an opinion about marketing. I’m not a marketer,” Brodsky says. “Everybody in your c-suite believes that they know as much as you do about marketing, which they don’t. Your job, if you’re good, is to be able to speak their language.”

But in the end, there’s one thing senior executives want from the marketing function and any ideas they present – leads.

“We have to focus on so many things,” Claire says. “We have to brand our company. We have to brand what we do. And that has to translate down to how we operate our properties. Brand means a lot of things to a lot of people, but it ultimately translates into — does it bring us more business?”

That’s a difficult question to answer, considering the amount of data coming in from the many advertising sources inundating customers, like Cribbins’ daughter.

“We now have a lot of systems that give us a lot of data,” Claire says. “We have data, but we don’t have it all coming into one place. How do we take all of that data and make sense of it.”

CJ Edmonds, Melanie Gersper, Tracy Bowers and Lynette Hegeman rock the customer user experience at AIM 2014.

CJ Edmonds, Melanie Gersper, Tracy Bowers and Lynette Hegeman rock the customer user experience at AIM 2014.

It started with a rendition of “Simply Irresistible,” air filled inflatable guitars and sunglasses.

The Customer Cartography: Mapping the Prospect to Resident Journey session at the Apartment Internet Marketing conference lived up to the opening salvo with a simply irresistible customer-centric view of the process. The customer touch points throughout the process are important, but the key to the journey is the customer and what the customer wants.

“Being customer focused and customer centric has to start with knowing your customer and what your customer wants,” says Melanie Gersper, executive vice president of property management for CFLane. “That’s the psychology of sales, engaging with and understanding what your customer wants and needs.”

The way to do that is to truly listen to customers, which can be difficult in a world of standardized operational processes.

“Learning how to actively listen is something you learn,” Gersper says. “I believe that listening to someone is the highest form of respect that you can show them and respect is the foundation of every good relationship. We try to train our sales people or people on the floor to be good listeners. We’ve definitely turned the corner there and good sales people listen.”

Listening leads to engagement, a higher level of customer interaction.

“We believe that engagement is what drives the customer to the place of interest,” Gersper says. “Engagement breeds familiarity and familiarity sells. Everything from the leasing process to the move-in process to each time they are paying rent to every service request and even move out. Our associates have a chance to touch the resident at any one of those moments.”

The touch points start with having a website that makes it easy for prospects to get all the information they need without having to contact the community.

“We are creating love relationships with our residents,” says Lynette Hegeman, vice president of marketing for Berkshire Property Advisors. “The first step is attraction, the engage interest stage. They really don’t want to have to pick up the phone and ask questions. They want everything they need to know on a great website.”

Listening begins when the customer contacts the leasing office either through the website or via the phone to set an appointment. Upon arrival, customers have expectations that have already been set by the website and their interactions with community team members.

“Once they get there, they want to be reassured that everything they saw on the web was actually there,” says Tracey Bowers, managing director of Matrix Residential.

The on-site associates also need to be able to deliver on the customer-service experience with strong communication skills.

“We should be teaching people to be superior communicators and negotiators,” Gersper says. “The technology that we have today iOS really driving the transaction. I think we all agree that all the technology in the world is going to take the place of the human element that is required to sell apartment homes.”

But the customer-centric experience doesn’t end at the visit and lease signing. It continues all the way through move-out, an opportunity to give a customer a reason to return or tell their friends about their positive experience.

“The move-out experience is just as important as move-in,” Gersper says.

From website visit to move-out, the key to providing a simply irresistible experience is to see the journey through the eyes of the customer.

Download the Customer Cartography: Mapping the Resident Journey presentation here. 

Steve Taraborelli presents on lead scoring and attribution at AIM 2014.

Steve Taraborelli presents on lead scoring and attribution at AIM 2014.

Marketing gets the leads. Sales closes the leads. It’s that simple. Right? Not exactly. The devil is in the details.

For an apartment company to be successful, marketing needs to deliver quality leads, and sales needs to close effectively. There’s the rub. Marketing and sales don’t always agree or talk about what makes a quality lead or how to effectively close a sale.

That’s where lead scoring, data-driven customer relationship management systems (CRM) and training come into play, according to Steve Taraborelli, president and CEO of Acperion Digital Marketing, and Arther Kosmider, director of property marketing for TGM Companies. Taraborelli and Kosmider presented the power of lead scoring, CRM and training to marketers at the Apartment Internet Marketing conference.

“Lead scoring can be a unifier for sales and marketing,” Taraborelli says. “Lead scoring also helps prioritize the leads and get the right leads to the right sales people.”

To make that possible, sales and marketing must come together and agree upon the factors that determine how ready a lead is to sign a lease, which make up the lead score. That allows the organization to prioritize leads, qualify the right leads and capture long-term sales opportunities that would otherwise be lost, Taraborelli says.

“The data points that go into the algorithm is what marketing feels is important and what sales feels is important,” Taraborelli says. “The higher the score, the more engaged they are, the more sales ready they are.”

After the factors that make up the lead score are defined, leads are generally broken up into three categories – hot, warm or cold. Sales will treat leads differently based on the category, allowing them to close more effectively and efficiently.

Arthur Kosmider presents on lead conversion at AIM 2014.

Arthur Kosmider presents on lead conversion at AIM 2014.

That requires proper training and quality CRM systems with comprehensive data.

“Unless we have a robust strategy to convert that traffic into actual leases, a lot of that work can go to waste,” says Kosmider. “You have to create the whole environment around data. … Make sure your teams are able to use that data and create actionable items and improvement plans.”

That also means having the right associates on the leasing team, who are capable of closing a sale and delivering outstanding customer service.

“In order for somebody to be a leasing super star, they have to have the constant desire to overachieve,” Kosmider says. “The reality these days is that we’re not only talking about leasing staff from a sales perspective. They need to be able to do customer service. We need to make sure we empower our teams with all the tools they need to address all the comments and questions that our prospects may have.”

Download the Steve Taraborelli lead scoring presentation here.

Download the Arthur Kosmider lead and leasing motivation presentation here.

AIM 2014 Graduation Day panel moderator Casey Van Zandt.

AIM 2014 Graduation Day panel moderator Casey Van Zandt.

The students of today are the apartment residents of tomorrow. That means there’s quite a bit to learn from student housing providers that can help apartment owner-operators successfully attract future residents.

The Graduation Day: Nurturing Student Housing Residents into Apartments session at the Apartment Internet Marketing conference offered practical tips on how to make apartment communities simply irresistible to the next generation.

But it really comes down to one thing – customer-centric. Whether the idea is technology that makes leasing and paying rent easy to fitness on demand spaces, it’s about residents and what they want in an apartment community.

“The student demographic is quite diverse,” says Kim Cory, director of student media for ForRent Media Solutions. “A lot of us think of the student as the undergrad. We talk about fitness on demand. We recently did a survey to that entire demographic about what really piques their interest. What they’re really looking for is spaces that they can make their own.”

These fitness on demand spaces are empty gym-like rooms in which students can bring equipment to make them into whatever they want, such as yoga studios, Pilates classes or even sports facilities.

It’s all part of an on demand lifestyle that has been driven much by technology, which has transformed convenience into a commodity. That’s even more apparent in how students prefer to lease, pay rent and submit service requests. Students and parents alike want to complete all of these transactions online.

“There’s not much that they don’t do online,” says Katie Smerko, national director of leasing and marketing for Campus Advantage. “I think it’s more foreign for them to fill something out with handwriting than to type it into a computer.”

That proved itself out when Smerko rolled out online leasing to Campus Advantage’s communities.

“Our goal was to get 80 percent to sign 80 percent of leases online,” Smerko says of her team’s original goal. “It seemed like a really lofty goal. Once we started everybody wanted to do it. We’re now a little bit under 100 percent.”

Sites can also use technology to enable unique marketing activities using today’s popular social media tools, like Facebook.

“Facebook still reigns king with this demographic,” Cory says. “We recently did a study on our own Facebook page. Our highest click through rates and highest respondents come from Facebook.”

Other technologies that are attracting residents, according to Smerko, include electronic apartment keys (FOBs), docking stations in amenity spaces and Apple TVs.

Technology, on-demand spaces and convenience are what the next generation of renters will expect from you.

Download the Graduation Day AIM 2014 presentation here.