LMC’s recently opened Marlowe, located in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. The property is the first fully integrated smart-home community in the Windy City.
Courtesy LMC LMC’s recently opened Marlowe, located in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. The property is the first fully integrated smart-home community in the Windy City.

In an increasingly digital world in which smartphones are evolving seemingly daily, it’s time for the multifamily industry to make headway on the technological front. Truly, operators' and developers' livelihoods may depend on it.

Even when considering the recent evolution of tech-focused campaigns, the apartment arena has only scratched the surface of digital marketing.

“The industry has done a really great job pushing out a variety of advertising campaigns and digital strategies,” says Morgan Porter, director of digital marketing for LMC. “But we’re spending too much time creating campaigns and strategies only to hope the foot traffic and qualified leases will increase. Instead, we should be dialed into the audiences we've attracted with these marketing dollars, optimizing their experience, and capitalizing on the spend by studying their engagement with our websites and social channels.”

The ability to determine how prospects arrive at your site—and how they engage with your content when they get there—qualifies as gold for digital marketers, who can properly attribute leads and build marketing strategies based on users' key performance indicators.

It’s easy to get lost in the giant sea of digital marketing tactics that have been unearthed since the beginning of the information age, but it’s clear that three approaches in particular represent the future for multifamily: marketing-automation systems, multitouch lead-attribution models, and Google’s ever-evolving algorithm.

Marketing Automation Saves Time, Delivers Key Data
Marketing-automation software, such as HubSpot and Marketo, simplifies everyday marketing processes and saves time by alleviating the need to repeat mundane tasks such as updating rental rates across several channels and automated email campaigns. If a community can update its rents on one platform and automatically feed that information to every other one of its marketing channels, that saves the property manager the time it would have taken to update the channels manually.

Marketing-automation software also delivers key data pertaining to the search habits of prospects engaging with your channels, such as the location and timing of their searches.

“I believe location data is very underutilized, and it’s a huge key performance indicator [KPI] that I lean on heavily,” Porter says. “When I look at website data and user engagement, I find a lot of nuggets hidden in the locations of our users when they do their searches. I can see how they found our website, where they are when they're searching, and when our prospects are conducting their discovery searches versus applying for a home.”

Porter commonly adjusts her geotargeted locations to ensure that LMC isn’t posting irrelevant ads, using ineffective search terms, or targeting an unconnected audience. The more engaged the users, the more likely the community websites will appear in quality searches.

Conducting a deep data analysis on a particular community, Porter discovered that a significant number of website visitors during the day were searching for apartments from a downtown market over an hour away. However, by 7 p.m. the website audience was much closer, with a significant percentage based within five miles of the community.

“This data point indicated that we needed to adjust our digital ads and social reach to target this downtown metro area during the day and run an additional, separate campaign closer to home in the evening,” Porter says. “The interesting piece of the puzzle was the original assumption that the prospective renter wouldn't want this long of a commute, so the discovery of this KPI was very eye-opening.”

Within the first two weeks of the adjustment, the community closed 14 leases. That was without spending any additional marketing dollars but simply adjusting the strategy to complement the users’ KPIs. That’s one of many examples Porter has of utilizing data to adjust SEO, social, or pay-per-click strategies at an underperforming community and delivering results.

Multitouch Attribution Provides Clearer Picture of What Sealed the Lease
In the past, marketing teams would credit a conversion to a prospect’s first or last touch point. If the prospect first discovered the community through a flyer, the flyer received full credit for the lease. In other instances, if the prospect last visited the community’s website before signing, the site would be deemed the winner. Yet, this type of attribution model is extremely flawed, according to industry experts.

Imagine a man leaves his Chicago home in the morning to attend a concert in San Francisco that night. He takes an Uber to the airport in Chicago and flies to Denver. After making a connection with the help of a friendly gate attendant in Denver, the gentleman arrives in San Francisco. He then takes a trolley the final two blocks. You wouldn’t give the trolley full credit for getting him from Chicago to the concert.

Just like our detailing of the Chicago traveler’s itinerary, multitouch attribution enables marketers to credit each touch point along the way on a weighted basis. In the case of our traveler, the airline flights would receive the bulk of the credit, but those smaller commutes and the friendly gate attendant would receive some as well.

During an apartment search, a prospect typically visits several channels ranging from review sites to community website to ILS listings to social media ads and others. Multitouch attribution allows each of those touch points to receive its share of the credit.

“Multisource attribution is the wave of the future, and there are ways you can use the data available to you now to make decisions based on the weighted touch points,” says Trevor Riley, senior vice president of product for property management software company Entrata. “Properly applying the data can equate to significant ROI boosts now and down the road.”

Armed with these data, digital marketers can determine which channels are most effective and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly on the fly.

“The data tells the story,” says Jennifer Anderson, director of B2B marketing for RentPath. “A conversion always seems like a win, but when you can evaluate all the touch points used by the renter before they decided on your community, it holds even greater value.”

A snapshot of the traffic numbers for The Briscoe, an LMC development in Dallas that opened last fall, shows how Google Maps searches are increasing and now outnumbering Google browser searches.
A snapshot of the traffic numbers for The Briscoe, an LMC development in Dallas that opened last fall, shows how Google Maps searches are increasing and now outnumbering Google browser searches.

Keeping Pace With Google Algorithm Fosters Adaptability
It’s nearly impossible to predict Google’s ever-changing algorithm and how it will affect what consumers will see when they conduct a search. The more marketers can keep pace with any such changes, the more they can effectively adapt their strategies.

Machine learning—the ability of a program to learn or predict behaviors rather than base them on preprogrammed rules—plays a large role. Google’s RankBrain algorithm, which allows artificial intelligence to run its search, is a prime example. The algorithm evaluates the intent and context of each individual search query and delivers results on a customized basis, rather than simply matching keywords.

Porter recently applied her knowledge of the evolving Google playing field to one of LMC’s communities located just outside the Denver Tech Center. In December, she adjusted the community’s SEO strategy to focus on Denver Tech Center apartments and housing-related searches. But at the time of the adjustment, Porter got word of several hiring sprees and company relocations to the area, so she decided to monitor things more thoroughly.

“The actual query for ‘apartments near Denver Tech Center’ or ‘Denver Tech Center apartments’ had just barely tipped 200 searches a month,” Porter recalls. “I worked in parallel with our PPC [pay-per-click] provider to make sure the SEO and PPC strategies complemented each other. When I looked at the March 2018 results for these keyword searches, there were close to 2,000 Google searches a month for these queries. In three months, the market and the digital search trends shifted by 900%.”

In the first quarter of 2018, Google acknowledged that mobile is the future of search and pushed its "mobile-first" algorithm (indexing and ranking) update. Marketers anticipated this change, Porter acknowledges, knowing mobile searches have dominated the digital space. Google knows what websites you've engaged with, what stores you've visited, and how long you were there, and last year the tech giant announced it even knows how much you've spent. This information changes the playing field for a digital marketer, Porter says.

“When two people sit side by side searching the same phrase and the results are different, how do you craft a marketing strategy to ensure your brand appears?” she says.

Google’s presence could continue to alter the landscape in the future, as well, with Google My Business and Google Maps now rapidly gaining momentum in the search-engine world. In response, apartment operators are optimizing their communities through Google My Business to gain visibility on Google Maps. Google My Business now enables users to upload videos and business descriptions, and apartment operators are taking advantage of these features.

While sophisticated strategies and concepts like long-tail search terms (very specific three-word-plus search terms, such as “Cherry Creek North two-bedroom apartments”) might still be foreign to some in the industry, the landscape of digital marketing is transforming. As such efforts equate to more consistent occupancy rates and stronger ROIs, the industry will have no choice but to take notice and allocate resources accordingly.

“Many marketers are reactive in their allocation of marketing spend,” Entrata’s Riley observes. “But in the current landscape, it would benefit everyone to be more proactive.”