LIKE NEARLY ALL business segments in 2009, multifamily marketing is going to be the victim of a volatile economy and a dearth of spendable dollars. Most marketing budgets will likely take a hefty cut this year. What's more, current and prospective residents will also be über cost-conscious as the economy keeps them on edge.
“Not so long ago, it used to be all about technology, amenities, and concierge services, but now it is coming down to affordability,” says Leslie Williamson, who, as executive vice president of marketing for Coldwell Banker's new homes division, oversees marketing campaigns for all of the firm's multifamily developer clients in the Southeast. “Residents used to be looking for highly amenitized features. Now, they are just looking for a bargain.”
That's not necessarily bad news for marketing executives, explains Mark Linnell, president of Windsor, Colo.-based multifamily marketing agency Linnell Taylor. “It's an ideal time for an apartment owner or manager to take a breath and learn new media, marketing, and Web-enabled channels to reach out to their prospective and current residents,” Linnell says. “It's economical, and it's available.”
Getting cyber active can be as simple as having someone on the marketing staff jump onto Facebook and Craigslist to develop a straightforward, no-frills marketing plan for 2009. “Operators have been lethargic in taking advantage of this relatively inexpensive technology,” Linnell says. “The prospect is there, waiting for it. ‘You've got amenities? You've got deals? You've got a concession that fits my fancy? Show it to me.'”
Indeed, even in discount-driven environments, marketing has to draw consumers in and make them aware of what a company offers. That's why Williamson, who does advocate targeted social and viral marketing via Google Ads and even Facebook, says there's no reason to overlook grassroots outreach. “You've got to get the message out locally, and we'll do some local print advertising, but we'll also do spinner advertising and even have individuals walk around the mall with a big sign on their back.”
Alexandria, Va.-based AvalonBay Communites isn't exactly going the mall route, but given the dismal forecasts for 2009 and 2010, the firm's vice president of marketing Kevin Thompson says his team is watching the bottom line. “[But] we aren't going to cut off our nose to spite our face,” he says. “Marketing plays a pivotal role in generating leads and traffic—that focus is even more important in this economy. It will be important, too, to focus more on the service and value message, versus the aspirational message of luxury and resort-style living.”
In October 2008, Alexandria, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities was the first multifamily partner of USA Today's “Make a Difference Day” event, touted as the nation's largest day of volunteerism. Driven by the company's core value of a “Spirit of Caring,” nearly 5,000 associates and residents worked with local non-profit organizations across dozens of volunteer projects including blood drives, beach clean-ups, canned goods and coat collections, walk-a-thons, and more.
The selfless payback? “In addition to enhancing the lives of folks in our surrounding neighborhoods, AvalonBay received valuable media attention, with nearly 71 million impressions across all 50 states,” says company vice president of marketing Kevin Thompson. “But more than that, we are proud of the fact that we sincerely helped to ‘make a difference' in the lives of those around us.”