Data mining – a complex process to get a lot of information you don’t know what to do with or a true gold rush of key prospect insights that can dramatically improve your marketing practices? We connected with Elaine De Lude, chief marketing officer for ROSS Management Services, to uncover how cutting-edge data mining has helped the Mid-Atlantic-based firm better understand its prospects and residents.
De Lude discusses how ROSS uses data mining to create “personas” for each of its communities, the need for an aggregation tool in business intelligence, the possibility of incorporating psychographics into the construction of the company’s personas and the kinds of additional data on prospective residents she would like to have.
AIM: Describe the “personas” that you create for each of the communities that ROSS manages, and outline how you create the personas. What sources of data do you use?
De Lude: We use various sources such as Google analytics, CoreLogic Benchmarking and Insights data, Entrata, U.S. Census data, CoStar and Yardi to create a persona for each community. The data tells the story of the typical renter for the community.
AIM: It seems like it would take a significant amount of time to gather and aggregate the data for these personas – who manages that process for ROSS? Is there a third-party company you work with to develop the initial personas? If so, what was the cost to conduct the research and create the personas?
De Lude: It does take a significant amount of time to create a persona because the process includes manual data extraction and evaluation. ROSS’s regional sales and marketing supervisors pull together the data and then share it with the appropriate team members for discussion and finalization. We do involve a third party, which adds another level of complexity because you have to merge the two sources of data, and they don’t always align, when we have the marketing budget to support their involvement.
AIM: How do these personas improve the resident user experience? What’s their impact on such things as unit mix, amenity packages, rehab/renovation plans, lifestyle amenities, etc.?
De Lude: The persona helps you develop a product offering that meets or exceeds the user’s expectations and positions the community for long-term success. Without the persona, you are trying to position the community so that it appeals to the largest audience of residents possible. That creates a very vanilla resident and prospective renter experience that works against you in the long run.
Our personas help us determine if our communities have the right amenities and services that appeal to the right residents. If our amenities aren’t meeting the needs of that persona to support the rents ownership is trying to achieve, we recommend renovations that will make that possible.
AIM: How do you leverage these personas in your marketing and leasing efforts?
De Lude: We create unique selling points (USPs) for each community based on the persona and the community. The USPs become the cornerstones of our marketing strategies. As an example, we managed a suburban community that was competing with new construction and was in need of a brand upgrade. We re-evaluated the clients’ preferences, income, employers, commuting time and analyzed what our residents loved about the community, and we found the answer in our ratings and reviews. Our residents love where they live. They loved the concierge, the management and maintenance team, proximity to conveniences, transportation, etc., so our USP was “Love Where You Live.” Residents’ reaction to the new brand was overwhelmingly positive.
AIM: Your firm is primarily a third-party manager. Generally speaking, is it a challenge to persuade your owners to update or substantially renovate your communities based on the personas you compile?
De Lude: No, because we have to prove that we can obtain an ROI on the renovation scope and that is based on a comprehensive market analysis and the persona. At a large community close to a university, we wanted to provide the residents an additional amenity or service. In this case, new communities were being delivered in the market and the competition to attract “Sally the Student” increased. We presented a lobby renovation (new spaces and Wi-Fi bars) plan to the owners, and they agreed to try it in one of our two lobbies. If the lobby renovation was a success, we could replicate it in the other lobbies. Once the lobby renovation was completed, the building became the most desirable building, and we demonstrated that it positively impacted the vacancy in that building.
AIM: What are your plans for these personas in the future? Are you planning to update them when you get new data?
De Lude: We evaluate them once a year and make any necessary adjustments. We are hopeful that someone will provide a platform that automates part of the process so that we can review with more frequency. Today, we’ve begun incorporating how the prospects are making their initial contact with us, so we have a better understanding of what channels are most effective for our marketing efforts.
In the future, we plan to incorporate psychographics and have already engaged a service that might be able to do that for us. By incorporating psychographics into our consumer evaluation, we can enhance our understanding of our consumers and apply the appropriate marketing and operational strategies.
AIM: Let’s assume you could get any data you wanted about prospective residents. Ideally, what kinds of data would you like to have on prospective residents that you don’t have today?
De Lude: I wish I was as intuitive as Steve Jobs to know what they need before they know they need it, but I would like to know why they selected their previous housing. Is the person doing the research the actual decision maker? Does today’s format for apartment shopping meet their needs, or is there something we are missing? How much time do they spend looking for a new apartment? How many online videos did they review before they made a housing decision? Do they prefer short and to-the-point apartment community videos or more elaborate, lifestyle-oriented videos?
Does today’s format for apartment shopping meet their needs, or is there something we are missing?Elaine De Lude
AIM: Where is data mining going in the future for apartment owner-operators? What’s next and how will it help the industry improve its marketing efforts?
De Lude: Getting business intelligence on one dashboard so we can make decisions that will improve the communities’ financial performance. Apartment marketing has moved from a primary focus of creating a pretty ad to creating solutions based on real-time data.
We have more reports than we have time to read. What we need is a tool that will aggregate the information and put it into a snippet format with the crucial, need-to-know data so that marketing professionals can apply the most efficient and effective solutions to community challenges.
To learn more about data mining, be sure to attend next spring’s AIM 2016: The “X” Experience, which will feature a session examining how owners and managers are mining data from customer relationship management (CRM) systems to better target prospective renters and also improve the user experiences of their current residents.