The Demand Solutions Blog

Five Big Take-Aways From A Welcome Return to AIM

by Dom Beveridge | October 20, 2021

This week marked an important step in the rehabilitation of the multifamily industry’s annual conference circuit. The Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference (AIM) is one of the joys of the conference schedule.  Marketers and operators normally flock to Orange County, CA in May for this event. A COVID-related reschedule pushed this year’s show to October, but a normal-sized crowd and a full complement of speakers made AIM 2021 feel like things are back to normal.

On Tuesday, I got to attend a fascinating session entitled “Seven Executive Marketing Lessons from Seven Great Brands,” which featured two industry marketing leaders: Sheri Killingsworth, the VP of Marketing at Lincoln Properties and Justina Omokhua, the newly-minted Chief Marketing Officer of smart building technology provider, Latch.

AIM has always prided itself on driving the conversation about technology and innovation. In this session, the seasoned multifamily marketer mined the blue-chip experience of the industry newcomer to look for lessons that we can learn from the marketing departments of companies like Apple, Pepsi, Verizon, and Nokia. Unsurprisingly, the insights came thick and fast - some of the main take-aways may be summarized as follows:

1. How Followers Become Rabid Fans

A recurring theme of this session was how marketing is about establishing a meaningful relationship with our customers that is reinforced at every touchpoint.  Pepsi provided a rich source of examples here, as Justina explained the prominence of entertainment in building the brand platform as repeated sponsorship of the Super Bowl and partnerships with major music acts helped the mega-brand as they sought to “meet people where they’re at.” 

2. Don’t Become Nokia!

While Nokia was an undisputed global leader in mobile communications, the impact of the rise of the iPhone is, of course, well-documented. The key learning from the Nokia marketing experience is to listen to customers. Nokia’s Symbian operating system (OS) was in last place among the rapidly-developing mobile operating system market. Despite strong views that Nokia’s interests were best served by aligning with Google’s emerging Android OS, Nokia chose the Windows mobile platform.  

That decision cemented last place for Nokia. And the rest is history. When considering the marketing lessons from Nokia, “Everyone can’t be telling the same lie” is a memorable quote from this conversation: when you keep hearing the same feedback from customers and associates, it’s worth paying attention, even if it isn’t what you want to hear!

3. Not Every Model Will Walk The Runway

As the panelists discussed the marketing lessons in the context of multifamily, authenticity took center stage. The brand-building process starts (like most of the other lessons) with being honest. “Everyone is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean that every model will walk the runway,” the panelists shared.  

The key is to be aware that the arbiters of taste (in our case, residents) are typically not in the room when marketing decisions are made. Residents decide what they like about multifamily communities. It is the job of marketers to understand those preferences rather than convince prospects otherwise. Or, to put it another way, too many marketers market the way that they want customers to buy. The good ones market to how customers actually buy.

4. Why Data Trumps Intuition. And Tradition.

Drawing once again on Apple experience, trust plus reliability plus delight are the pillars of iPhone design. Apple tends to eschew product features in its marketing, favoring instead promoting an experience that’s consistent with those pillars. But sometimes, it’s harder to stick to those principles when considering radical product changes.

Justina described the progression of Apple’s product set from pure hardware to services, citing the example of Apple Music. Apple was not only late to the category, getting in after Spotify and Pandora, but also had to embrace a much edgier category than those to which Apple was more culturally accustomed. The key learning - and one that should inform product decisions more broadly - is that data (on usage, for example) should challenge companies’ conventional value propositions.

5. The Pervasive Power of the “Say-Do Ratio”

Finally, I was glad to hear a leadership lesson from Apple that jibes with one that I have heard from numerous high-quality companies: “Do what you say you’re going to do.”  One previous employer of mine called this the “Say-Do Ratio,” and it became one of the most important markers for high-potential associates.

In this conversation, the concept was expanded to the subject of influencer marketing - which got considerable airtime at this year’s show. Justina used the example of the influencer saying how much they love Galaxy phones in a tweet from their iphone as a reminder of how the stickiness of the thing being promoted and the authenticity of the person promoting it should be more important to marketers.

It’s been a while since we got to talk in person about the state of marketing and innovation in our industry. I, for one, welcomed the opportunity to listen in on this week’s sessions, and to take what feels like another decisive step towards a 2022 that will be (fingers crossed) more like what we considered “normal” before everything changed in early 2020. We thank Steve and Dennis and everyone involved in delivering an excellent return to AIM.

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