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Amy Maley, Denise Bailey, and Heidi Pearce speaking on the AIM 2015 Creative Short Takes panel.

Amy Maley, Denise Bailey, and Heidi Pearce speaking on the AIM 2015 Creative Short Takes panel.

Imaginative, cutting-edge concepts can yield significant results in apartment marketing, and the concepts don’t have to be expensive, just appealing.

Five multifamily marketing executives shared an original idea they effectively put to use at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference during the Creative Short Takes session.

Many of the ideas center around visual concepts, operating under the notion that 74 percent of all online traffic will be visually-based by 2017. “Using visual content gets you 84 percent more traffic,” noted Beth Tuttle, national marketing director of Lennar Multifamily Communities. “And take into account peak hours when publishing.”

Mission Rock Residential pushes the visual theme to the maximum with interactive maps and charts on its websites, designed to help residents scour the area while offering crisp directions and nearby attractions to prospective residents. The central theme is to offer more SEO presence for the locality.

For instance, the site for a Mission Rock community in Castle Rock, Colo. offers real-time traffic and rerouting updates that stem from a nearby highway reconfiguration.

“Our residents, especially our millennials, want to know exactly what the local flavor is,” says Denise Bailey, Mission Rock Residential vice president of marketing and training. “Where are the local pubs? Where is the local farmers market? What schools are in the area?”

AMPS is overtaking a community in San Francisco, where properties must either pay a fee to the art district or incorporate art into the property. AMPS is choosing the latter and is actively trying to gain approval to incorporate a soundscape into the community. “We’re trying to position the community as a place of serenity in the heart of the city,” AMPS chief strategist Amy Maley says. “As you walk the sidewalk there, there will be a timed series of sounds that evolve throughout the day and throughout the year.”

MEB delved into a comedic theme to educate its own team members in an effort to beef up ratings and reviews. Because “share” has been a buzzword in social media, MEB utilized an icon of the singer Cher and used a concert ticket to invite employees to a team-education campaign. “We were feeling really good about ratings and reviews on the corporate level, but what about on the site level?” says Heidi Pearce, MEB director of strategic marketing. “We really wanted to focus on that.”

In a similar effort, Associated Estates launched a Showcase of Apartment Homes campaign and created contests between team members in eight regions. The regions, operating under the hashtag #SOAH, fiercely competed and were judged in a playoff off The Voice.

“When we gave our teams set goals, they hustled,” Associated Estates Director of Marketing Lori Webb says.

Eric Cheng flies a drone over the audience at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

Eric Cheng flies a drone over the audience at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

When most people hear the word drone, they think of military air strikes they’ve seen footage of on CNN.

Eric Cheng imagines new perspectives.

Perspectives that can’t be captured on camera without agile, stable drones equipped with hi-definition video equipment. Perspectives that the apartment marketers in attendance at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference would love to use while marketing their apartment communities and developments across the country.

“I’m an underwater photographer by trade, so my motivation was to get perspectives that I couldn’t get any other way,” Cheng said during his Ultimate Fly-By aerial video presentation at AIM. “It’s about capturing unusual perspectives.”

The possibilities for new perspectives are many for apartment marketers by trade. With drones, apartment marketers could provide prospective renters and residents views of apartment communities and new developments that they couldn’t capture any other way.

It’s an opportunity that just three years ago was hardly even imaginable. Drones were simply a hobby, designed for consumers to build and fly in local parks alongside remote control planes and helicopters.

That’s evolved quickly over just the last few years, due to the advent of mobile technology and a desire to utilize drones for more than just fun weekend adventures with the kids.

“What happened?” Cheng asked the audience. “They were smart phoned. Smart phones know what orientation they’re in and what direction they’re facing. As part of the development of smart phones, there’s also been a miniaturization race that has made components smaller and cheaper over time. They’ve been commoditized.”

That’s allowed drones to become smaller, lighter and more agile, while enabling them to utilize existing mobile technologies, such as tablets, as viewfinders. And with the miniaturization of gimbal technology, which TV news crews have been using on helicopters for years, drones have become commercial-use ready for capturing video and photography.

“The early drones felt like you were flying a remote control helicopter,” Cheng said. “Now you feel like you’re flying a camera.”

Although there are some regulatory and legal hurdles, Cheng says many of those are already being worked out through Section 333 exemptions many companies in other industries have already begun exploring. “They’re basically applying for permission to fly commercially under the same rules of man flight, but asking for exemptions,” Cheng said. “And hundreds of exemptions are already being granted.”

Those exemptions, in turn, are granting drones room for a new brand identity, as marketing weapons instead of  military weapons.

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OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder keynotes the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

Data is power, with one key stipulation. One has to be able to dissect the numbers, make them relevant and utilize them to their advantage. Otherwise, they’re merely numbers.

Christian Rudder, president and co-founder of the dating website OkCupid, entertainingly relayed how he uses data to cultivate his site as the keynote speaker at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

“We were one of the first sites to take a big collection of various small interactions and build a business on it,” says Rudder, whose AIM session was dubbed Dataclysm.

Rudder and his team have taken boatloads of data from social media sites and competing dating sites to help transform OkCupid into a data powerhouse without the benefit of traditional advertising.

Big Data, as it is now referred, has helped OkCupid fuse the openness of Match.com with the rigidity of eHarmony. It has fostered the innovative idea to constantly mix up search results and to optimize the results in unconventional ways.

One metric Rudder relayed was a graph detailing the dating-age preferences of men and women. Women aged 20 to 50 most commonly crave a man in close proximity to their age. Men 20-50 amost desire women ages 20-24.

But that isn’t only who these women and men like. OkCupid has developed a digital spreadsheet rating from 1 to 10 how each gender perceives a particular age to help generate hot and cold zones.

Rudder has utilized statistical data to optimize the client experience in multiple additional ways, including matching prospects with others who were rated similarly on the site’s Quickmatch appearance survey. That ensures, for instance, that women rated a perfect 5 on the survey don’t get inundated with an inbox full of fruitless date requests from 1s.

“If someone tells you everyone on OkCupid is not hot, you can laugh to yourselves,” Rudder said. “Because that means they were probably rated the same way.”

Although Rudder does well with big data, the process isn’t always seamless. Oftentimes deciphering the true value of the data is a multi-tiered procedure.

“Honestly we do tinker,” Rudder said. “Trial and error is a way of life. Stuff fails all the time. Most of what you see that works is probably the eighth or ninth attempt at something.”

Madeline Coite of WC Smith speaks on the Persuasive Imagery panel at AIM 2015.

Madeline Coite of WC Smith speaks on the Persuasive Imagery panel at AIM 2015.

Using social media platforms to market a community is commonplace. But Pinterest isn’t generally the first one that comes to mind.

A predominant theme at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference was the use of visual content as a marketing device. With Pinterest solely a platform for images, one can bet that savvy marketers are beginning to utilize it, as a panel discussed in Worth 1,000 Words: Marketing With Persuasive Imagery.

Pinterest users typically don’t visit the site in search of apartments, but they can be guided there with well-placed, image-decorated posts.

“The short answer is no, they are not there to look for apartments,” says Madeline Coite, content manager for WC Smith. “Our goal on Pinterest is the soft sell. When you get people back to your website with one of these blog posts, you’d be surprised how many of these people are actually looking for apartments. And you might just have what they’re looking for.”

Coite notes that 43 of the top 50 pins from WC Smith were floor plans of their apartments. Users are being exposed on their own social-media based terms.

“In quarter one of this year, for instance, we had 111 people click through to our corporate website from Pinterest,” Coite said. “Of those people, 2.7 percent converted by filling out a contact form or picking up the phone and calling. Our average lifetime value for our residents is about $100,000, so that’s a potential $150,000 in the first quarter from pins alone.”

Ashley Gorski-Poole, national marketing manager of Lincoln Military Housing, has utilized Pinterest to remove the stereotype about the current state of military housing.

Gorski-Poole’s website offers views of current military homes, which are much more updated, equipped and aesthetic than those of previous decades. With the millennial mother a key target in the military housing industry, Pinterest is a natural fit.

“The average time spent on Pinterest is one minute longer than on Facebook,” Gorski-Poole says. “While it’s a social platform, it also can be a marketing tool.”

Melanie Ling, digital marketing director for Contemporary Marketing Concepts, uses Pinterest to keep existing residents happy. One pin reads: “We Are So Fortunate To Have You As A Resident.”

The panel’s tips for Pinterest included having a high-resolution profile picture with a quick description of the property, using keywords, locations and a verified website link. Juggle your board and understand that vibrant colors are more pinnable than muted tones.

Pinterest’s peak time are Friday afternoon and Saturday.

Patrick Morin, Billy Pettit, Holli Beckman and Gianna Negretti on the Lease-Up and New Development panel at AIM 2015.

Patrick Morin, Billy Pettit, Holli Beckman and Gianna Negretti on the Lease-Up and New Development panel at AIM 2015.

It’s the fire drill. The need to get it done yesterday. The hurry up and wait. And the hands down cause of gray hair among apartment marketers.

It’s the lease up. But with some creativity, an honest desire to add real value to the neighborhood and a “localiscious” perspective, the lease-up can be transformed into the success story you one day share on stage. That’s exactly what the apartment marketers on the Lease-Up & New Development Marketing panel did at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

“For us, it’s about building relationships, starting from the ground up and earning the opportunity to promote our new developments by partnering with local people to tell our story,” said Billy Pettit, senior vice president of Pillar Properties, who coined the term ‘localiscious.’ “That’s the backbone of all our marketing activities.”

That desire to provide a localiscious flavor to marketing activities led Pillar to leverage the Seattle Seahawks to market a new development – Stadium Place. The community, which overlooks Century Link Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, raised a truck with the team’s logo on it high above the stadium during a Monday Night Football game. Pillar Properties also implemented a 12th-man flag raise on game days in honor of Seahawks fans, who are known as the 12th man. And they provided access to a local TV station to broadcast from the community.

Local grass roots tactics like these can give new developments the edge they need to lease-up, even against strong competition, without having to resort to concessions, says Holli Beckman, vice president of marketing and leasing operations for WC Smith. Beckman faced that challenge with a new development in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood, where several other apartment communities were being leased up at the same time.

“Everyone was offering concessions, but that’s something our company never did and our owners weren’t interested in doing,” Beckman said. “We had to take a step back and think about what our customers really wanted. In D.C. we’re really overworked, and we love our pets, but we have no time to take care of them. One of the first things I suggested was that we needed to get our own bulldog to live at the community that would be the community dog.”

While the idea wasn’t well received at first, executives eventually conceded. The result – the bulldog made her way onto national television, the apartment community leased up in 10 months and WC Smith never offered a concession.

The key is to be in the right mindset. “It’s about doing what your competitors can’t, or don ’t or won’t,” said Beckman.

Taking it a step further, Beckman’s marketing team partners with local retailers and businesses during new lease-ups, indirectly encouraging them to promote the community by promoting them.

“We made a big effort to promote the other companies,” Beckman said. “Give, give, give and when you need it, it will come back.”

When it does, the headaches, fire drills and gray hair of the lease-up will have been worth it.

The AIM 2015 Innovation panel prepares for a speed round of of presentations on innovations in multifamily marketing.

The AIM 2015 Innovation panel prepares for a speed round of of presentations on innovations in multifamily marketing.

Large companies produce a bevy of brilliant ideas, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones doing so.

It is foolish to overlook some of the astute tactics employed by smaller companies on the apartment landscape. A panel of such innovators relayed ideas at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing session Innovation 2015: Small Companies, Big Impact.

Updater has developed an online resource designed to streamline the moving process for residents.

“The logistics of moving is just an absolute nightmare,” Updater director of multifamily Ash Bell said. “They have to worry about things like forwarding their mail. Think of all the accounts you have to notify of your change of address – they’re doing all of that.”

Bell notes that owner/operators have fantastically utilized technology to attract residents, “But the minute they sign the lease we really kind of drop the ball outside of handing them a move-in packet,” he said.

The easy-to-use Updater software works as a bridge, allowing residents to immensely reduce the time it takes to move.

Domuso constantly is finding ways to ease the application and payment process for residents. Prospective residents can utilize domuso.com to reserve a unit, apply online and make payments, with the added bonus of quickly and seamlessly developing a payment plan for security deposits.

“With rents rising as much as 30 percent, that first security deposit is sometimes difficult,” Domuso CEO Damian Langere said. “With this option they are not required to come up with so much to start. They can pay their security deposit in full or incrementally.”

Danielle Noel, sales director of multifamily for Binary Fountain, has utilized Chatter Insights to help with review management, which has given her company a 636 percent leap in reviews.

“Reviews are not going away,” Noel said. “Google has proven they are going to keep them and that they are going to have an even greater impact.”

Rent Dynamics has developed a Lead Card, which, through taps and clicks, helps owner/operators with data capture. It ensures detailed information about prospective residents is readily available.

“It provides a whole new level of communication between the prospective resident and leasing agent,” said Clint Reeves, the vice president of business development for Rent Dynamic.

Zumper is developing a way to “take leasing into a one-minute decision,” co-founder and CEO Anthemos Goergiades said. Among many innovations, prospective residents can access their credit report by phone during the application process and make it readily available to the owner.

Brett Worthington, Dan Daugherty, Lucas Haldeman, and Randa McMinn on the AIM Connected Home presentation.

Brett Worthington, Dan Daugherty, Lucas Haldeman, and Randa McMinn on the AIM Connected Home presentation.

It is an owner/operator’s nightmare. A resident in the Phoenix area recently left his air conditioning unit set to 60 degrees then disappeared for nearly a month.

The utility bill for the month solely for that unit was in excess of $14,000.

That’s why the Internet of Things, otherwise known as the Industrial Internet, is so essential to the apartment industry. A panel at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference delivered that point and offered vast possibilities for connected apartments during The AIM Connected Home presentation.

“We’re still a long ways from what you’d call mainstream,” said Brett Worthington, vice president and general manager of Wink, Inc. “But the do-it-yourself applications are now readily available. Take it home, download the app and install it in your home.”

The Internet of Things refers to common household devices that now can be tended to online. Washers and dryers. Coffeemakers. Door locks. Thermostats. If the Phoenix-area property had been equipped with home automation, the owner/operator could have quickly diagnosed the air conditioning frivolity and turned it off remotely.

With help of the Industrial Internet, a work-bound father can use his phone to unlock the door at his home when his child arrives from school. One desiring a few extra minutes of sleep can start the coffee from upstairs.

“In the past, the thing standing in the way of making home automation happen was that the systems required an expensive piece of equipment to interact with them,” said Lucas Haldeman, chief technology and marketing officer of Colony American Homes. “Now we all have that expensive piece of hardware. It’s our own smartphone.”

A pop culture reference utilized by the panel referred to a Kardashian sister who suspects another sister of trying on her clothes. A motion-detecting camera revealed it was actually Bruce Jenner, and the Kardashian sister was quickly able to access the footage through her mobile device.

While home automation figures to become commonplace and cost-effective for residents, owner/operators also can reap benefits. In addition to the thermostat example, owner/operators can monitor a property’s common areas and reduce electricity usage by an estimated 15 to 20 percentage.

Some have been slow to embrace the technology, but the panel equated adoption to the early days of Internet banking. The concept initially was met with unrest, largely because it was new, but now Internet banking is widespread and universal.

Some worry about the technology quickly becoming outdated, by cloud-based systems can be perpetually updated. Other consumers fear their home automation could get hacked. The panel downplayed that notion.

“Maybe you could hack in, but what are you going to find out?” Remotely CEO Dan Daugherty says. “That I keep my thermostat at 72 degrees?”

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Karen Kossow, Arthur Kosmider, Ken Hodges and Todd Butler speak on the Integrating Technologies panel at AIM 2015.

Bundle up to save money. Whether it’s meal deals at fast food restaurants or property management technology, bundling has been the choice for years.

Not anymore.

Today’s consumers and apartment owner/operators are choosing variety and quality over bundled products and services, according to the panelists in the Integrating Marketing Technologies session at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

“The biggest issue is that our industry has this mentality of creating a walled garden,” said Arthur Kosmider, director of marketing for Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, a Compass Rock Real Estate community. “It is not in the best interest of technology vendors to integrate with everyone. By creating an artificial barrier in the process, they’re ensuring their own survival.”

But apartment owner/operators are more interested in picking and choosing quality marketing technologies, best of breed, that they can integrate to help them maximize efficiencies and results.

“There’s nothing more refreshing than hearing a company say, ‘Here’s our product, let us know how we can customize it to fit your company,’” said Todd Butler, director of marketing technology for The Bozzuto Group. “It’s like buying un-tailored pants.”

In fact, that desire for unbundled, best-of-breed products has led Butler and The Bozzuto Group to search for technologies from other industries and countries or to develop their own custom technologies, rather than purchasing walled garden systems.

But some vendors are changing with the times, according to Ken Hodges, vice president of technology for Western National Group.

“Six years ago I tried to integrate with a property management system vendor and there was a serious effort to prevent that integration,” Hodges saud. “Finally, they did agree to integrate and it was a watered down version. Things have changed, and I think the PMS vendors have realized that they can’t be all things to all people and are more willing to integrate.”

That’s not to say that bundling is being completely eradicated. It still makes sense for some owner/operators, especially those with smaller portfolios and fewer IT resources.

“If you’re smaller, I don’t see why you would hire a developer to build something for you,” Hodges said. “Your best bet if you’re a small company is to buy something off the shelf. There’s a lot you can get from an off-the-shelf product.”

Nonetheless, the unbundling trend is taking hold and owner operators are expecting their integrated marketing technologies to run on open systems that empower them to choose and integrate best-of-breed products.

“One of my favorite words in this industry is API,” Kosmider said. “When I hear a person say yes we have an API that will work with anything you want, it makes my heart sing.”

Greg McCoy shares insight into improved cost and marketing spend through better data analytics at AIM 2015.

Greg McCoy shares insight into improved cost and marketing spend through better data analytics at AIM 2015.

Traditionally, marketing has been known as an inefficient cost center that can’t really be measured.

While that’s changed some over the last few years with the growth of Internet marketing, some doubters remain. If Rich Hughes, head of data science for RealPage, and Greg McCoy, social media & digital marketing manager for Campus Apartments, had their way, there’d be no doubt that marketing works.

They put the results where there mouths were during the Marketing Analytics: It’s a Data Driven World session at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

“Marketing is the fuel of the engine of our enterprise,” Hughes said. “Why is it a cost center? It doesn’t make any sense to me. If we want to escape this cost center perception, we need to be able to anchor our activities to demonstrated results.”

Hughes went on to show how lead scoring can significantly improve leasing office efficiency, providing a true ROI to sophisticated, data driven marketing activities.

“We split prospects into quintiles, five buckets, each containing the same number of people,” Hughs said. “The top 20 percent converted 16 times better than the bottom quintile. We can show you who the best candidates are quite early in the process.”

But the benefits of lead scoring can be further enhanced through an even more sophisticated data-driven approach to search engine marketing prior to garnering leads, McCoy said. In the summer of 2013, McCoy recognized that his cost per conversion was too high and took steps to reduce the cost through the use of data.

McCoy reviewed the quality of his cost-per-click campaigns and optimized his spend to get the most high quality leads for the lowest cost possible. To determine quality, he multiplied the best CPC bid times a 1-10 ranking of how relevant his ad was to market.

McCoy also reviewed where his traffic was coming from and stopped spending in locations where he received little to no traffic. Finally, he reviewed which devices – desktop/laptop or mobile, were producing the best results in the highest conversions for the lowest cost. McCoy, then, optimized his spend based on the device, putting more money to more effective devices.

The result was a lower cost per conversion and an optimized marketing spend. Through the use of data, McCoy and Hughes demonstrated real results from marketing both in cost savings and return on investment.

Khushbu Sikaria of the Bozzuto Group and Summer Austin of Camden Property Trust talk about branding campaigns at AIM 2015.

Khushbu Sikaria of the Bozzuto Group and Summer Austin of Camden Property Trust talk about branding campaigns at AIM 2015.Y

While branding a newly acquired apartment community seems like a rudimentary first step, it can carry as much weight as the product itself.

Various, wide-ranging tactics can be effective when formulating a brand and the process should be thorough and unrushed, as a panel of experts imparted at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

Some owner/operators brand each property separately. Some incorporate the company brand into every property and separately name the community (i.e. Camden Waterford Lakes). Effective examples of each were provided by at the session Who Am I? Finding Your Brand DNA.

Dana Pate, director of marketing for Matrix Residential in Atlanta, relayed the process of branding two nearby properties in Savannah, Ga.: the Monroe and the Jane. The former is a reference to Marilyn Monroe, who famously frequented bars in the area. The latter a reference to Calamity Jane, the putter used by iconic local golfer Bobby Jones. “We really want the brand to stand out as far as the community goes, with being focused on the hyper-local,” Pate says.

Matrix Residential also branded Charlotte-based properties Myers Park and the Gibson. The Myers name carries weight in the area and caters to aspirational residents. Gibson is a guitar reference and caters to more of the hipster crowd, residents that might be different at night than during the workweek. The property is in more of an urban area.

On the other end of the spectrum is Camden Property Trust. The Camden brand is highly visible and well regarded, so each property unveiled by the group carries the name (Camden Copper Square; Camden Montierra, etc.).

Camden director of strategic marketing Summer Austin notes that 36 percent of prospective residents recognize the Camden brand and that 42 percent of those deemed it influential. Camden employee uniforms are emblazoned with a Camden patch and an in-house scent permeates the lobby of each property. “It’s not like people will walk in and say ‘Oh, that smells like Camden,’” Austin says. “But scent carries a subtle emotional trigger.”

The Bozzuto Group is a proponent of ingredient branding. One of its key properties is based in the former Charleston Chew factory in Boston. Embracing its history, the group rebranded the property The Batch Yard.

Numerous details play off of the candy-rooted history. The Batch Yard’s slogan is The Sweeter Side of City Living. Residents who wrote a review were given a Golden Ticket, which was entered into a $5,000 drawing. At the big reveal, the original Charleston Chew signage was unveiled on the rooftop.

Much of the architecture incorporates the iconic yellow associated with Charleston Chew.

“All the details are very deliberate and intentional,” says Khushbu Sakaria, director of brand development for the Bozzuto Group.