When it comes to marketing, Phoenix-based multifamily owner, developer, and fee manager Mark-Taylor Residential doesn't mess around.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the company is giving away iPods and iTunes gift cards during lease-ups as part of a larger branding campaign featuring a '60s-era cartoon mascot, psychedelic soul music on the corporate Web site, and pool parties at Mark-Taylor properties. When marketing director Kim Atkinson was discussing the campaign with Hyper Disk, Mark-Taylor's Internet marketing agency, they had an additional suggestion: Pepper the budget a little bit more and slap banner ads throughout MySpace—the social networking Web site where users create links to friends, family, and interests.
The decision was easy. “[Multifamily marketing] has become a science to try to pin down where the cool thing is and where everybody's eyes are and how you reach them,” says Atkinson, who leapt onto MySpace with the Summer of Love campaign. “We are trying to find out where our customers are, and when we are there, we want to make a big statement. You have a limited time to make an impression, so we try very hard to make the right one.”
Mark-Taylor isn't alone on MySpace. Plenty of multifamily stalwarts—including Equity Residential and the Bozzutto Group—maintain an ad presence on the site, all of them vying for time in front of the 176 million registered users that MySpace says represent 57 percent of all social networking on the Web. In April, MySpace claims to have clocked more than 66.7 million unique visitors and 44 billion page views. That's well over six page views for every person on the planet—in one month alone. Next up for Mark-Taylor is to delve deeper into that traffic by creating its own profile page on the site so users can link up with the company as a “friend” in their social network.
And it's not just MySpace that is commanding the attention of Web-savvy multifamily marketers. With streaming videos, photo galleries, uploads, and downloads—not to mention an undeniable hipness factor—sites like YouTube, Google Real Estate, and craigslist continue to redefine the business of how apartments and condos are marketed and sold. Multifamily specific sites such as Rent.com and Condo.com are also offering users enhanced blogging and video tools for interacting with their target audiences. What's more, some multifamily firms are experimenting with their own interactive, Web-based programs. Many incorporate refer-a-friend type viral marketing, where the audience is compelled to e-mail, link to, blog about, or otherwise share advertising and promotional messages with their family and friends.
PASS IT ON Regardless of the M.O., multifamily tech gurus agree it is no longer enough to adopt a plug-and-play mentality regarding the Internet. “You could be interviewing tenants and putting the interviews up on YouTube, you could be doing eBay auctions in lieu of garage sales, even online dating,” suggests Dani Babb, author of Commissions At Risk, a book for real estate professionals on how to compete in the online environment. “Generation Y, in particular, wants to be connected electronically with other people. You need to create entire communities and be involved online where people can network.”
Indeed, virtual property tours, streaming video, and great background music mean nothing if you're not driving visitors to your Web site via social networks, keeping them there with fresh content and functionality, and ultimately getting them to bring their friends along for the ride.
Infecting residents' friends and family via viral marketing has been a primary focus at AvalonBay for the past year. Pop-up screens on the Alexandria, Va.-based REIT's Web portal remind residents to electronically refer friends via e-mail links back to Avalon Community Web pages. “Viral is important because resident referrals are the highest lead-to-lease conversion source—about 49 percent for us,” says Kevin Thompson, the firm's senior director of marketing. He adds that fully half of AvalonBay's leases across its 49,000 units now come from some Internet source, up from 23 percent in 2003. Most recently, the pop-up effort has increased online resident referrals from 8 percent to 12 percent of all AvalonBay's captured leases.
Whether posting video on MySpace or getting net surfers to stick around your site, the key is to get creative and keep it light, says Laurel Howell, director of Internet marketing at McLean, Va.-based developer Kettler. “We are always working on how to do something fun, something hilarious, something interesting that someone is going to pass on, but [also] walks the fine line of protecting our brand,” Howell says. “And for any Web site we build, you have that viral option to forward it to a friend.”