If your apartment community is located around a university or college, chances are good Millennials are the lifeblood of your business.
Every year, a new cohort of young renters enters the off-campus market looking for a great rental home. And your community may be the ideal location for some of them. But the methods this cohort will use to find a new place may be very different from what their counterparts from just a few years ago employed.
Marketing to Millennials is quite literally one part art and one part science. The art of marketing to Gen Y, as they are also known, involves crafting a message with a tone and content that will resonate with this demographic and the world they know. The science of marketing to this demographic, meanwhile, requires that you know the trends affecting Millennial behavior.
When these two halves of marketing are combined, an appropriate message delivered through the right channels can be a powerful tool to begin, and later nurture, a relationship with a future member of your community.
Talk Their Talk
Millennials don’t want to be marketed to—they want to be part of the conversation. So you need to know how to speak their language.
In a Forbes.com article posted on April 16, Katie Elfering, a consumer strategist at CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, describes what motivates the Gen Y crowd: “First, understand and speak to the values that drive them—happiness, passion, diversity, sharing, and discovery. Second, understand their realistic lifestyles and experiences, and find ways to amplify their reality. And, finally,” she notes, “make sure they feel informed and involved, not just marketed to.”
One crucial way to involve and inform Millennials, of course, is social media. Millennials understand the power of social media, and they don’t hesitate to use it through a variety of apps and mobile sites every day. Facebook is still the top dog in social media, snaring 71 percent of online adults. And others aren’t far behind.
“Some 42 percent of online adults now use multiple social networking sites,” according to the Pew Research Internet Project, in a report posted on its website on Dec. 30, 2013. “In addition, Instagram users are nearly as likely as Facebook users to check in to the site on a daily basis.”
Different sites also reach different demographics. For example, Pinterest appeals to women, while LinkedIn has a large college-graduate and higher-earning base. Twitter and Instagram are reaching young users and urban dwellers, according to Pew.
Use these various outlets to show Millennials how your community can benefit them or solve a specific problem. This demographic includes students in various stages of their education, so target them by highlighting the qualities of your community that will appeal to them. For example, point out local features such as coffee houses where they can study, proximity to bus routes or bike paths, or a great restaurant or pub where they can meet and hang out with peers.
Your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts can also highlight events in your area, showcasing your location and the ease of access to schools, office buildings, and local events. Use social media to drive potential renters to your listings as they start the research stage of their apartment-seeking journey. In addition, regularly highlight local events, and your current renters will be more engaged and become an indirect referral source every time they interact with you.
Creativity and Authenticity Drive Engagement
Not only must you reach out to Millennials on their turf, be it Facebook, Instagram, or Vine, but you’ll also need to connect with them on their terms. In general, Millennials are skeptical when it comes to traditional, “top-down” advertising.
Here are 10 ideas to help you grab the attention of this core demographic on their own playing field.
1. Host a party: If there’s one thing most people can’t resist, it’s free food. Add a game on the big screen in your community’s rec room and you’ve got a party. Let your tenants know that they’re welcome to invite a friend or two and you have happy customers spreading the word on your behalf. Develop a calendar of weekly events themed around sports or campus occasions. Use social media and your residents to get the word out to prospective tenants.
2. Offer freebies: Who doesn’t love something free? Try some nontraditional incentives, like free laundry detergent as part of the welcome package. Another option is a gift card to a local pizzeria. Partner with other businesses in the area to benefit your tenants and prospects while building your reputation with the locals. Monthly giveaways can draw new residents while helping retain your current ones.
3. Use economics: Differentiate your product to appeal to a variety of budgets. In a Sept. 6, 2013, MFE story, Miles Orth of Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments, says that “the idea of product differentiation is fairly common across many real estate sectors, hospitality in particular, and, now, student housing companies are doing it.” Orth, Campus’s executive vice president and COO, added that “there are a number of markets where it makes a lot of sense.” Remember, Millennials came of age during the Great Recession. So consider offering upgrade packages that include cable and high-speed Internet or other services, to allow renters to customize their living space. Such packages provide product differentiation to appeal to different budgets and lifestyles.
4. Don’t forget Mom and Dad: Students are making decisions with Mom and Dad’s input. In some cases, parents are assisting with or paying the rent. Make them feel welcome in the community. If possible, provide a parents’ suite that will be available for overnight visits. Parents want to feel they’re leaving their children in a safe and friendly environment. Highlight those positives about your community.
5. Embrace negative reviews: Instead of ignoring or running away from negative reviews, use them to your advantage by balancing them with positive comments. “Sixty-eight percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30 percent suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see anything negative at all,” according to an article by Reevoo on the social-commerce company’s website. Don’t hesitate to respond to negative reviews, but don’t fall for the trolls who are just out to pick a fight.
6. Be part of the pack: Students rely heavily on search engines, Google in particular. Its algorithms are meant to capture a local user-friendly search. So make sure you’re part of the Google pack by claiming your profile and keeping your information in local directories current. Use a listing service with a local flair as another means to build awareness among apartment hunters.
7. Provide access to “on-demand” spaces: Millennials are looking for temporary spaces they can make their own. This includes access to reserved outdoor grills, game rooms, volleyball courts, and fitness areas. The latter are empty, gymlike rooms to which residents can bring equipment to make the space into whatever they want, such as a yoga studio or Pilates classroom. When you allow your tenants to use an open space for a class for their friends, you get prospective residents visiting your community in a unique and positive interaction.
8. Offer as much technology as you can: Today’s renters are accustomed to online interactions, from payments to maintenance requests. Are you taking advantage of this medium to interact with your current and potential tenants? Other technologies that are attracting residents, according to Katie Smerko, national director of leasing and marketing for student housing operator Campus Advantage, include electronic apartment keys (FOBs), docking stations in amenity spaces, and Apple TVs.
9. Adopt online leasing: You showcase your properties online, so why not allow residents to complete their lease online as well? Provide prospective renters with easy access to an application from any mobile device. Offer a marketing and application kiosk, as well, where people can complete their application and lease online. Make leasing agents available to answer any questions.
10. Turn your tenants into community ambassadors: Why bother going out of your way to allocate part of your budget to tenant events, giveaways, and the like? If you give your current tenants a reason to talk about your community, they will. So give them something good to show off, and that’s what they’ll share with other, prospective renters. When they do, they’ll drive traffic to your leasing agents. Use referrals to your advantage as well as to your current residents’ benefit. A small decrease in rent for every new tenant a resident refers can be a great incentive for Millennials to talk up their new, off-campus digs.
The key to attracting students and young professionals as renters is to do so on their terms. Rather than forcing them to accept the status quo, consider winning their affection by updating the status quo to meet their needs. By making use of these marketing—or, better still, “customer experience” techniques—you can develop a loyal base of tenants and capture your share of the Millennials in your market.
Michael Taus is vice president of marketing at ABODO, a hyperlocal apartment-search service that caters to college students and young professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, at @MikeTaus, or online, at list.abodo.com.