The initial 2014 study surveyed online responses from 31 different communities. The communities represented a wide range of companies—public and private, national and regional, owner/operator, fee manager (and mixed), with an equal distribution of geographic locations. We made contact with the various communities through their company website (not through apartment marketing sites) and requested information about a one bedroom one bathroom apartment. If required, we asked for a move-in date one month from our inquiry date, and specified a 12-month lease. We intentionally did not give a phone number so that we would experience how operators responded through online means exclusively.
In our 2017 research, we replicated the study using the same methodology and included the same companies. We generated 31 leads online, using the same set of operators as in 2014. We contacted one community per operator, however, this time we also filled in a phone number to measure phone, as well as email response.
In 2014 we saw varying response times after the lead was submitted. Most of the responses that we received came the same day, which impressed us, and a few came in too late to be meaningful. We were disappointed in the number of operators who did not respond to our inquiry at all, but there was some good news in that those who did respond, did so quickly.
While quick initial response is essential, a long term drip campaign approach is also very important and we wanted to assess any changes over the past three years from the various companies. A drip campaign is an automated response system that sends pre-written emails to customers over set a period of time. A drip campaign is distinct from other database marketing in two ways:
In 2014, we reported only 19% of the companies had any automated drip campaign. In 2017, this number declined to 17%.
Three years ago, we said that the multifamily industry is missing out on a significant marketing opportunity. It takes a lot of time, effort, and cost to generate a lead; but other than the upfront time and cost of developing a good drip campaign, the incremental costs are basically zero.
We conducted this research in 2017 with the hypothesis that we would see improvement from 2014, however not only did we not see improvement, we saw a decline on the two most impactful metrics: response rate and number of drip campaigns.
While personal contact from leasing associates is obviously the most engaging and effective form of contact, it is both unreliable and inconsistent. Automated drip campaigns provide greater control and consistency, and ensure higher levels of connection. And, email marketing can be designed to be highly targeted and personal, leveraging the efforts of on-site associates and educating the prospect.
While we encourage operators to have their leasing associates personally respond, it is imperative to also have systems in place to ensure they do follow up (with a professional message), and to develop the sales ecosystem to ensure they communicate effectively.
The unfortunate conclusion is the vast majority of marketers in this space continue to avoid taking the time to experience their lead generation activities from the prospect’s perspective or, worse, aren’t even thinking systematically about how their lead generation activities look and feel for their prospective residents. If readers do nothing else, they should generate leads from their own sources (their website, ILSs, etc.) and then experience exactly what happens the way their prospects do.
A deeper dive into this study can be found as a full whitepaper, downloadable here.