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"For us at Fitzrovia, the marketing piece is not a bolt-on component. It carries the same weight as the building's architecture and interior design." — Ryan Funt
It's not often that one can boast having an apartment block that is 100% leased and 100% occupied, but through an incredible marketing campaign (which won them a large number of awards!), Ryan Funt and his team at Fitzrovia have achieved that at The Waverley. In today's episode, Ryan joins Nicolina for a discussion around marketing strategy for purpose-built rentals, and how, when done right, can turn rental prospects into brand loyalists (another uncommon achievement in the real estate industry). Ryan explains why your marketing roadmap should be created before any physical work on the building has started, and he shares examples of what it means to build a coherent brand image throughout a development. Ryan also shares his thoughts on how developers should be thinking about amenities, shifts that he has seen in the Toronto market in terms of desired unit size, why speed of response from rental agents is so important, and more! Tune in today to hear it all.
Key points from this episode:
"The goal is to create a holistic experience where prospects view marketing executions in advance of touring a community. Once the prospect eventually does tour that particular community in person, that visual tie back to the marketing materials is so strong, it can't be overlooked."
[00:00:46] NS: Welcome back to Sync or Swim. I'm your host, Nicolina Savelli. On this podcast, I chat with rental housing industry experts to learn how you can reach more renters, sign more leases and maximize the value of your assets. Today, I am once again excited to welcome back Ryan Funt to the show, who as some of you already know is the Director of Marketing at Fitzrovia. If you want to know more about Ryan and Fitzrovia, then by all means, go check out the episode we did, I believe it's Episode 33, to learn more about that. But Ryan, thank you again for joining me on the show.
[00:01:20] RF: Well, thanks so much for having me again. I appreciate it.
[00:01:22] NS: Yes, and early in the morning when both of our minds are still figuring things out. Last time we spoke at length about The Waverley lease-up that you were in the midst of. I know you're working on a lot of incredible things, and you've shared it with our team and you've shared it on LinkedIn. I want to touch on all of this. Could you just share a little bit about the results you saw from The Waverley lease-up so we can kind of kick this conversation off, and some of the biggest wins that you experienced through that lease-up?
[00:01:53] RF: Yeah, no, for sure. I'd be happy to. It's a great question. Firstly, it was a privilege to be a part of such a monumental project that is so rich in history. In terms of results, The Waverley was fully leased up in five months, which exceeded our underwritten expectations.
[00:02:10] NS: What were your expectations, if you don't mind me interrupting?
[00:02:13] RF: Well, we certainly had a longer absorption schedule. We were able to beat that absorption schedule. When you think about that, when you actually backdrop that with the COVID-19 pandemic, that rocked the rental housing industry, specifically the downtown Toronto core, where The Waverley is located, you can really appreciate the quality of execution from the entire Fitzrovia team. Beyond this, the project was widely recognized by our industry. As a collective, we could not be more grateful for that recognition. At the 2021 Build Awards, we were nominated for Best Suite Design, Best Website, Best Organic Social Media Campaign, Best Advertising Campaign, and Best Overall Marketing Campaign, ultimately taking the title for Best Organic Social Media Campaign.
Just to elaborate even further, at the 2021 FRPO Awards, The Waverley received acknowledgement as well, eventually taking home the award for rental development of the year for a community of 200 units or less. Best Advertising Campaign, Best Amenities and Best Organic Social Media.
[00:03:24] NS: Yeah. It feels like it was a Titanic of a win there and like nominations. It's like, Ryan's got the Titanic of the development awards here and marketing awards for multifamily.
[00:03:40] RF: We have a great team at Fitzrovia, and it was execution on all fronts. Really, beyond the results of the initial lease-up, it's clear that the offering at The Waverley continues to resonate. Take our resident events as an example; we spent a lot of time considering the programming of these events. When you finally do make it to an event, you can't help but say to oneself, "Wow! I really can't miss the next one." Really, Nicolina, beyond the striking marketing collateral, the materials, the level of onsite hospitality and customer service has really resonated, resulting in a great deal of renewals as we enter year number two of our tenancy agreements.
[00:04:24] NS: Right. Awesome. Yeah. I was going to say, and I didn't have this in the question, but you would say you're near stabilization at this point, and that you're able to kind of renew. Are you increasing rents and actually being able to renew based on rent increases? Is that something that you can speak to a little bit?
[00:04:43] RF: Absolutely. We are fully stabilized. I was saying to a colleague recently that this is the first time in my career that we've hit 100% leased and 100% occupied.
[00:04:55] NS: Wow!
[00:04:56] RF: Right? Typically have a bit of vacancy, a bit availability. Not in The Waverley's case. It was an extremely successful project. We have started to issue our annual increases, and they have been extremely well received by our tenant base at The Waverley .
[00:05:12] NS: You can tell the value is there, and it's worth every penny. I mean, just the visuals alone make me feel that way. I've never actually been inside The Waverley yet, but I would love to eventually get there, or even one of the newer developments that you guys have been working on, like The Parker.
Let's move on to the second question, because I think we can talk about this more but I think this will kind of highlight some of the things that you're working on right now. Talk about, kind of, the best marketing planning tactics for a new lease-up in 2022. Has anything changed for you this year, in terms of the tactics that you're implementing?
[00:05:48] RF: Also a really good question. It may sound obvious, but I believe it's critical to have a detailed, yet distinct plan for each lease-up. I say distinct because no two lease-ups are identical. They come with a different set of challenges, different budgets, different target renter profiles, different staffing plans, different suite mixes that may include affordable rental replacement and so on. Essentially, the marketing roadmap needs to be created even before you put a shovel in the ground. This is a fundamental point, because I've noticed through experience that the marketing component often doesn't get considered until six to eight months prior to occupancy.
[00:06:34] NS: Right. We experience that as well at Rentsync. Our clients are – sometimes it's even for three months. Yeah, that's definitely something to note and I think that something that the industry almost needs to really strive for.
[00:06:50] RF: Absolutely. Really, it's far too late and it doesn't lead your team enough time for quality execution. The marketing factor drives your leads. It is critical to supporting your top line revenue, so it's vital to start early, and ensure that your marketing materials are standing out in a crowded marketplace. In terms of tactics, really, it's back to the basics. This roadmap is something that you can reference throughout your lease-up to keep you on track. Right?
[00:07:27] NS: Yep.
[00:07:28] RF: Who are you targeting? What's your brand positioning? Who is on your market survey and why? Does the strategy support your thesis that you can achieve a 10% premium on face rents when you contrast your product to market incumbents? Then this one's important, how does your roadmap help you earn loyalty from your prospects? I say this one, and I know that you can resonate, Nicolina, but most prospects are browsing many ILSs and reaching out to six or more competitors in the same web session.
[00:08:08] NS: Yep. Yes, we know that.
[00:08:10] RF: Right? So really, the question becomes, how do you overcome this to become the only option versus one of six?
[00:08:19] NS: Absolutely. Yeah. That's how you really have to – your frame of mind going into your marketing and your lease-up, any strategy is, how do you become the one amongst – I mean, that's for anyone, but I think that as marketers, sometimes – I mean, I'm a B2B marketer, but we also have to think that way as well. Sometimes we forget, and we're just caught up in the day-to-day marketing strategy, and we don't see the bigger picture. Time is needed for that bigger picture thinking, and that's why having that lead time is so necessary as well. So, yes, agreed.
[00:08:55] RF: No, it's critical, absolutely. Really, just a final point on this. All of these questions that we just talked about, they can be systematically answered with some solid planning and a clear roadmap. To your point, more time is never a bad thing for these things.
[00:09:15] NS: No, absolutely. The more time you can try and make for it is going to end up being, you will see a contrast in success, and that goes with any marketing campaign, and allotting that time for creativity, and brainstorming, and all of that, and getting all your ducks in a row and realizing the channels that you want to use. Those are paramount to your success.
Now, we will kind of get back to this, but I did want to talk a little bit about – because The Waverley, obviously the attention to detail, all of those things, all of your buildings, the attention to detail is absolutely paramount to your brand and your vision. First, how do you ensure a brand's identity is integrated into building design and architecture? Why is that so important to you?
[00:09:59] RF: For us at Fitzrovia, the marketing piece is not a bolt-on component. It carries the same weight as the building's architecture and interior design. So really, the purpose built rentals of the future will deeply consider how the communities brand identity comes to life within common spaces, amenities, and even the community's landscape architecture. There are so many opportunities to integrate the brand factor into finishes, into wayfinding signage, into furniture and so much more. Really, the goal is to create a holistic experience where prospects view marketing executions in advance of touring a community. Once the prospect eventually does tour that particular community in person, that visual tie back to the marketing materials is so strong, it can't be overlooked. It works the opposite way as well. That is, if your prospect is a walk in, and then reviews marketing materials post tour, it creates the same net effect. That there is creating brand cohesion, which is really important.
[00:11:23] NS: Yes. I think all of our designers would definitely agree with that. That's their motto they tout all the time. Cohesion, consistency is the key to any brand strategy. Would you say that, as a company, you target certain buildings because they do fit the Fitzrovia brand? Is that something that you think about, or like a location, because you can envision what it could look like and how it relates back to you as a company?
[00:11:56] RF: Yeah, 100%. I mean, it's all contextual. We just finalized the deal at 260 King Street East. It's an incredible sight, with incredible history. There are a number of heritage buildings onsite that will be preserved, old brick and beam office space, which is highly in demand and desirable in the city. It starts from there really, like how can a site, its history, its existing architecture inspire the development, the planning, the architecture, the interior design, and finally, the marketing piece, right? It all ties together. Me, as a marketer, I work closely with the other departments to make sure that everything is working in harmony, there's that synergy across every single vertical, and really, that creates better, more vibrant communities for our prospects and it lasts just the test of time in general, right?
[00:13:07] NS: Yeah. When your focus is on that rich history, and really bringing that to life, it becomes ingrained in – it's just another fixture. In the community, you can't ignore that piece, and then revitalizing places that were once fixtures of the community that maybe needed a second chance. Now, it's like, they've got a new generation to explore this building that you've created and marketed so well, with such that unique history that people don't want to let go of. They want to remember it. I think everyone feels that way, just a little bit that they –we don't want to let go of our history, especially the positive of the history that we can bring back to life. If it can be done in a positive way and do it for good, and rental supply is for good at this point, that this is going to be a positive thing. You can see it so well in how you market. I will say that I'm sure you're in for another Titanic of nominations soon.
Moving on, kind of in that respect, to Class A rental development. Can you talk a little bit about the future of amenities, and what amenities you're most excited about?
[00:14:20] RF: What an exciting question, really.
[00:14:22] NS: Yeah, I know.
[00:14:24] RF: It's a good one.
[00:14:25] NS: Thanks, Ryan. I think that was your suggestion.
[00:14:29] RF: Well, it was my suggestion and I did want to talk about it, because I think we've reached a critical juncture where it's now an expectation amongst renters that you have to have a fitness centre, or a party room and smart parcel lockers. These amenities don't have the same pull as they did even five years ago. Diving deep into your renter profile is important, including the conducting of consumer focus groups. Then challenging your conclusions by asking whether those amenities will still be relevant in 20 years. If your new Class A development is truly about hotel style living, then maybe you should consider a eucalyptus steam room, a pool, a hot tub. The era of shying away from these particular amenities based on high operating costs, may no longer be a winning strategy, given the increasing expectations for renters, especially as competition increases.
[00:15:36] NS: Can you talk about that a little bit? Because I remember a time where pools, saunas, those really extra amenities were necessary. Then, developers kind of moved away from providing those kind of extra pieces. Obviously, it had to do with operating costs and maybe – how have you been able to make a use case for those extras, that you can say, "Yes, it's worth the operating costs, because it's going to make a resident stay, it's going to be able to raise our rates," all of those things? How did you prove that out? Have you been able to prove that out in a way that you can speak to that a little bit? Because I'm sure that there are developers out there or other luxury that may be like, "I don't know if we should add that, that pet spa, because we don't know, necessarily." They're doing feasibility reports and all those things. Have you been able to kind of garner where or geographically those amenities resonate more?
[00:16:40] RF: Such a good follow-up point and there was a couple of questions in there.
[00:16:44] NS: There were. I'm sorry.
[00:16:45] RF: No, no. That's wonderful. I really appreciate the discourse and going off script. It's perfect. What I would say, Nicolina, is that there is a premium to live in a professionally managed rental community, in contrast to a condominium development. I believe the amenity program, and programming in general can help justify these rent premiums, can justify that incremental rent, to your point.
[00:17:18] NS: We did a study, just quickly, we actually did a study that proved that is true, that renters are willing to pay. But this is why I kind of led with region and geography, that it did rely on urban markets, when it came down to some of the premiums required for some of those amenities, especially around pets. That was one of the ones that was like urban markets, people want to live with their pets, they need that in their rental unit. It's not an option. It's like not optional for them, and they're willing to pay whatever it is to get their pets with them. That was like the number one across the board no matter what age group you're in. Of course, there is differentiation with other amenities, but that was the one that kind of stood out.
[00:18:03] RF: I think you hit the nail on the rock again. You have to do your research. This is not something that can be determined overnight or over a short period of time. You need to do your research, you need to do those consumer focus groups, you need to determine whether those amenities will resonate with your target renter group in that particular location and geography to your point. There's lots to consider. There's certainly lots to consider before you make the final decision. But I think there are so many interesting ideas out there that a developer may want to consider. Depending on the research that you do, maybe it's a karaoke lounge, maybe it's a therapeutic water circuit consisting of multiple spa pools such as a Dead Sea salt water pool, or a cold plunge pool, or an Epson salt pool and so on.
We're seeing co-working spaces now with stock kitchens, and business class printers, fully equipped with office supplies. We are starting to see pop up amenities, including gift wrapping stations that pop up during the holiday season, daycare facilities that go beyond the standard kids room amenity. Really, there's so much you can do to enhance your offering and encourage resident retention, right?
[00:19:28] NS: Right. Yeah.
[00:19:30] RF: Yes, some of these ideas seem daunting, and perhaps, even costly to your previous point. However, if this is going to be a long-term hold, you need to future proof your community.
[00:19:46] NS: Yeah, absolutely. When you think about that experience, it just makes sense. Why would I go anywhere else if I have this? I know I'm going to – childcare, oh my gosh. If that was an option within a rental community and like be – that I mean, I don't know what you guys are cooking up over there, but if that's an option, I just – the cost of that, the convenience of that, all of those things, you put it in my rent. Take all my money, because that's – yeah. I've said this before when I've talked to you. I'll move out of my house. I'll rent one of one of your units so that I can get all the great amenities that you guys cook up over there.
Now, did you have any final kind of comments on amenities, kind of what you're looking forward to or you've kind of said all you want to say about that?
[00:20:33] RF: All I'll say is, stay tuned. We have a lot in store for you, specifically on Yorkdale and The Elm & The Ledbury, which is our community two towers at 88 Queen Street East. Don't be surprised if some of these incredible ideas that we just chatted about surface at some of these future communities.
[00:20:54] NS: That's what I was hoping for. Okay, awesome. Okay. Now, can you talk a little bit about unit mix? If you've noticed any trends lately in your kind of research and what you've been working on.
[00:21:04] RF: For sure. We are certainly experiencing a shift in the Toronto marketplace. Definitely over the last decade, there has been a substantial amount of studio and one-bedroom supply within new developments. Really, one of the driving forces here is that you can get more out of a smaller size unit on a per square foot basis. As you climb up to larger two- and three-bedroom units, there are diminishing returns. Essentially, it's challenging to apply the same high studio PSF formula to your twos and threes, as your larger size units would become "overpriced" or at least this was the case.
Just to circle back here. We've seen a limited supply of three bedrooms come to market in the city of Toronto, and the GTA in general. We know there is a demand for larger units. Now, keep in mind, we have a downsizer population, and many within this group are selling their home. But this group still has a desire to retain the spaciousness that they were used to, at least to a certain degree. Often, Nicolina, a two-bedroom unit just won't cut it for this group.
[00:23:14] RF: Additionally, we're seeing this trend continue where homeownership is increasingly out of reach for young families. They require space as well. We'll bring The Waverley back up for a second here, because we have an exceptional three bedroom offering there. There's one particular unit, and it's our most expensive sweet in the entire building. It was one of the first units to lease during pre-lease.
[00:23:43] NS: Interesting.
[00:23:44] RF: It was the first – yeah, really, one of the first. I think it might have been the first.
[00:23:48] NS: Wow! Okay, I want to get into that a little bit.
[00:23:52] RF: Yeah, it's a spectacular suite with a massive terrace and trees on the terrace. Really, it's a wonderful unit, but it was back on the market recently and it leased within a couple days.
[00:24:06] NS: Wow!
[00:24:05] RF: In fact, I think that we have a waiting list for that particular unit and threes in general at The Waverley. As we continue to price more buildings, we're noticing that we can get more out of our twos and threes on a PSF basis than ever before. Simply put, the demand is there.
[00:24:25] NS: Fair enough. When we do our demand report, we don't even – we have data on three bedroom, but it's not enough right now.
[00:24:36] RF: Well, they don't really exist, right?
[00:24:39] NS: That's the thing, it's not enough.
[00:24:39] RF: So when you go to do your research.
[00:24:40] NS: Exactly. There's not enough on the market to even collect data on, so it would need to be something kind of individual to what you're noticing in your own communities, where it's like, "Oh! We did really well with that three bedroom in that community. Maybe we should be doing more of that," and then doing some studies of your own to figure out if this is something that the market is looking for. Because a lot said was, we were noticing this shift of demand, but it wasn't necessarily a shift or lack of demand, it was a lack of supply for certain types of units. So then people just weren't inquiring, because they were like, "We want more space. We need more space. We're working from home and a one bedroom is not going to cut it. That's all that's available in where I live. That's all that the market is offering me. So therefore, I'm just going to stay where I am or not make any changes because there's just no supply for it." That's really an interesting thing to note about three bedrooms, two bedrooms kind of increasing now.
Do you think that that will, as pandemic and work from home and that maybe just kind of takes it back just a little bit, you think that will wane in demand at all? Or do you think we've now become accustomed to this way of life, and that no matter what, we're going to need to make space for ourselves in our homes, because remote work is really not ever going to be a thing of the past, we're always going to have that? Do you think that you can see any trends shifting on that regard or do you think that this is something that's going to be long-term?
[00:26:15] RF: I think it's something that's long-term. I think, previously, there was an understanding that a lot of these rental buildings were sort of an initial step in one's life, right? You get a studio, you're single, you grow out of the unit, you get married, you buy a home.
[00:26:37] NS: That's my life too, but that was also 10 years ago when I started that, so things have changed.
[00:26:47] RF: When homes are more affordable, right? We believe that people will be settling down more and more in purpose-built rental product. They want a bigger unit. They want that space. I don't think it's a trend that's going to discontinue. I think we're going to see developers adapt and build more large scale units, because there truly is a demand for that. We have seen with some of our smaller three bedrooms that there's not a lot of interest, because people want more space. We have tested it. We have taken a three bedroom unit, put it on market, that's sub a thousand square feet. There's not a lot of interest in it, right? Can you believe that? People want more than a thousand square feet. That's just the way that the industry is heading, so we're seeing a demand for it.
[00:27:45] NS: I don't know if you can share this at all. But is there any way for you to share maybe if there's a trend in who you've seen rent those three-bedroom units that you spoke to about The Waverley, if there's kind of some commonality between who's renting?
[00:28:04] RF: Yeah, most definitely. The Waverley specifically, taking a three-bedroom, you see that a lot of students are taking advantage, because it is to a certain extent, still the affordable play. For a roommate situation, it is the affordable play.
[00:28:24] NS: That makes sense.
[00:28:25] RF: But we've also seen a lot of professionals, lawyers, and even doctors take on these units because they want that space.
[00:28:35] NS: It's those who can afford, and then those who can subsidize their rent with a bigger space. They can make better decisions and save some money when they've got two other people who can live with them. And they also – we did this kind of in our rental listing webinar, that space was so important to the future generation of renters, because they want to be able to live and live individually when they're living with other people and space is conducive to that lifestyle. That makes a lot of sense, what you're saying.
Now, let's move down the line here and let's talk about leasing agent response time. What are the best practices? What do prospects expect in 2022 from their leasing agents and how soon – when you've got one three-bedroom apartment unit available, and that's all you've got, they're desperate to get in there, what is the expectation here?
[00:29:29] RF: Yes, that is a good question. I know it won't come as a surprise to you to learn that renters want information yesterday. They want information immediately when they're searching for an apartment. Firstly, use a proven CRM software that's specific to multifamily. This is a key element to help your team manage leads effectively. With respect to response time, if it takes your agents more than four to six hours to respond to a lead, then forget it. That lead is gone.
[00:30:10] NS: Yeah, they found another place. They've inquired on another place. They're in that mode, where, "I'm inquiring on all – I've set aside some time to find where I want to inquire," and they're doing that all at once. If you haven't gotten to them, then they've probably found another place to inquire. If they've gotten back to them in that window, then yeah, by that time, you're too late.
[00:30:33] RF: Fully agree. The other thing that I'll add, is there's rarely that loyalty. I made that point earlier on. What is it about your marketing strategy that gives your community that competitive edge? Because most renters are exploring several apartments on their journey. If you finally get on their shortlist, but you respond 12 hours later, again, they're gone.
[00:31:00] NS: Mm-hmm. It's funny, because this is something that I even experienced with hotels now, too. If I have to call a hotel to make sure that I have to secure a booking, I'm looking at 15 different hotels at the same time. If I don't get the response, I will book and even if it's $100 more for the night, I will book there just because I want to secure where I'm going to be staying. I mean, a hotel situation is a little bit different, it's more short term, but you can see why it's like, "Well, if you don't want my business, I will take it elsewhere." It's kind of that feeling. I had this conversation because I was just booking a hotel for a wedding with a bunch of friends in Newfoundland. It took a month, and then someone got so fed up with waiting for the response for this hotel room, that they booked a garage above somebody's house down the street, because they were like, "Whatever, I just need somewhere to be." Even though there was vacancy in the hotel, they just were like, "I need response right away." Well, not right away, they gave them plenty of time, but they will move on. They will and they'll get fed up with you, for sure.
[00:32:09] RF: Again, you're absolutely correct. Marketers can do all the right things, and they can invest in all the right lead sources. There was probably a marketer behind that hotel case in Newfoundland that had great ideas, and they found you, right?
[00:32:28] NS: Yes.
[00:32:31] RF: But if agents aren't responding, it's a bad investment. What is the purpose of calculating your cost per lead if you're not going to respond? Really, at Fitzrovia, we're incredibly fortunate to have an incredible leasing team that not only responds promptly, but they also schedule follow-ups and avoid canned responses. Because really, from my perspective, renters can see right through canned responses. Also, it's not abnormal to see a 50% drop off rate in scheduled tours, which for some is a tough pill to swallow. Ultimately, you have to respond and respond quickly.
[00:33:18] NS: Now, are you at all experimenting with the option of chatbots? I know that this is something that we're experimenting with and I just wanted to talk about it because I think that chatbots have been, I come from the customer service space. I was B2B marketing for a cloud callback software, and chatbots was part of that industry10 years ago, if not more. But now, it feels like multifamily is like just starting to really pick up on what chatbots can do for them. I think that that required a little bit of chat bot learning and them not feeling confident maybe in their responses. But now they're saying that chatbots are doing better work than their actual agents are doing. I guess, depending on who, like if they have an outsourced call centre or all of those other, their chat bot. How do you feel about chatbots? Maybe in the Fitzrovia experience, do you think that fits in with you?
[00:34:13] RF: Such a great follow-up question, and really such a hot topic in multifamily right now, is the use of artificial intelligence, AI and chatbots. Absolutely, there is a place for chatbots at Fitzrovia and we're currently using the chatbot that's part of the doc CRM functionality, and we have done great with that. Prospects consistently open that chatbot window and start to engage, which is great. I would like to see more IM, instant messaging really, with the chatbot. The ability to be able to quickly pivot to a live agent, engaging with the chatbot, you want to pivot and talk to an actual leasing agent being able to quickly shift to a WhatsApp type of functionality that funnels directly through to your CRM.
While I love chatbot functionality and I think it's the future to a large degree, you can never replace the personal touch of that leasing associate. You can never load the chatbot up with every single question, right?
[00:35:29] NS: Of course.
[00:35:30] RF: It's very similar to self-guided tours. You go on your self-guided tour, it's all very automated. But then there's that leasing associate at the end of the process to tie it up into a beautiful package with a beautiful ribbon.
[00:35:49] NS: The customer service industry knew this eight years ago, that humans would never be replaced by chat bots. They were already saying and predicting, they are just to complement, they are to help alleviate and kind of aid those when you can't get to people in time. Or they're just doing a general inquiry and you don't want to take a leasing agent's time up with someone who's maybe not yet invested in the process, in touring, and then you bring them in, because that's really where their time and effort is worth. I think that's probably what we'll see with the industry moving forward, and I think that people are already doing that and know that. But yes, definitely, I feel that there's more to be done with what chatbots can do for this industry and making sure that it's serving you and personalising that experience, and making sure it doesn't feel like this really kind of robotic interaction.
[00:36:49] RF: A hundred percent. I think we're going to see so much more from these chat bots, and that technology in general. We are still at the formative stages, and there is so much to come in terms of that functionality. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what other new innovations all these great companies and digital marketing companies come up with. Because, again, I think there's so much that we can continue to explore with respect to that technology.
[00:37:22] NS: To your point, integration is obviously a huge part of that functionality, and knowing that you can integrate it into your property management software, and CRM, and getting those leads in the right way. Because having it separate doesn't do you any, it doesn't save you any time at the end of the day if it's a completely siloed kind of add-on experience unless it has an integration option.
[00:37:46] RF: A hundred percent. We are constantly pitched different ideas from companies that have incredible functionalities and technologies to pitch, really. It's dead in the water if it doesn't integrate with your particular CRM. It's incredibly key to what we do. Our agents are faced with dozens and dozens of leads every day. If you start going outside of the system, things become very ineffective and inefficient and things get missed. To your point, integration is primal.
[00:38:24] NS: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Now, I'm trying to wind down, trying to get to the end of the points that I have here. I added these last minute and I do think that we can speak to these a little bit. As marketers, we're always talking about what we are implementing, what we're going to do, where we're going to spend. But I think it's also important to know where we're not spending or we're not –the places that we're not spending as much time or not doing as much with anymore. Are there any tactics that you feel you're saying goodbye to this year or rethinking your approach to them this year?
[00:39:01] RF: Yeah, let me think about that. I think for us, it's not about what we're not going to do anymore, because I believe there is a time and place for most tactics. Really, it's about understanding how and when each tactic can be useful. I'll give you an example, large scale banners on your building, A-frame campaigns, and out-of-home advertising are all great at driving awareness for the rental opportunity. However, I'd be surprised if you told me that a significant number of your leads came directly from such tactics.
I think that these types of ads do build credibility over time and do support leasing velocity long-term, but oftentimes, those particular tactics are about awareness rather than immediate velocity. For example, if you're doing a lease-up near a university campus, and it's understood that a large percentage of your occupants are going to be students, then as you're creating your budget, maybe there should be some consideration for bus shelter advertising on campus. Now, of course, if you need traffic immediately and a large volume of it, as is often the case, in pre-lease or lease-up, you likely need to be doing more, and complementing some of these more traditional approaches with a well thought out digital campaign such as SEM, SEO, ILSs such as Zumper. All of those things are probably a good idea in tandem.
[00:40:49] NS: Right. Really the answer is time and place is everything. Maybe not every tactic is going to be the highlight of every single marketing campaign. However, depending on who you're marketing, some tactics will rise to the top, and then some will kind of flow in the middle. But it's all about kind of who – you have to think about who your personas are and what tactics really are going to be the key to those. Then there's other ones that are just kind of a necessary thing that you need no matter what, and it's just about placement.
[00:41:21] RF: No, 100%. I think it's just about understanding why a particular channel is relevant. It's not a bad idea to have a billboard of your rental opportunity on the 401. But if you're looking for immediate velocity, that's not the solution. I'll ask you this Nicolina, when's the last time you were looking for an apartment and you said, "I better get in the car and head on Highway 401, because I need to find an apartment"?
[00:41:53] NS: Absolutely. I'm on my way to do something completely unrelated to purchasing or renting an apartment. When I see that I'm like, "Cool, that looks nice." But then, it's at the back of my mind, never to return unless I maybe took that trip again. Then the third trip, and maybe the fourth trip, I'm like, "Oh! I should call. I should maybe inquire."
[00:42:16] RF: Precisely. It's building that brand awareness. When you do eventually make a rental decision, you might be, "Oh, yeah. The Parker. I just remember The Parker." So, you Google The Parker, you find The Parker on an ILS. Those strategies, those billboard strategies, those traditional strategies, they do have a place in our industry, but you need to understand how and why they're effective.
[00:42:46] NS: Absolutely. Before you go and put a lot of money into billboards everywhere, you do kind of have to make sure that you are being strategic in how you're placing them and why you're placing them. To continue from that, and kind of to wrap this up in a nice little bow, do you think that there are any tactics that haven't been as successful through this pandemic but will once again pick up momentum over the next year? I think that billboards are one of those. Is there anything else that you can think of that really – you've had to pivot and change to a lot of digital approaches, is there anything that you're seeing that you're like, "Okay. Yep, we're still going to continue those digital approaches, but we're also going to add a lot of more marketing materials, perhaps, like brochures," things like that that maybe you didn't see a lot of use cases for through the pandemic?
[00:43:39] RF: Well, logically, during the pandemic, to your point, most operators shifted to mostly digital executions. This included the rapid growth of virtual tours. While I have no illusions about the dominance of digital multifamily marketing and digital marketing in general, I do believe that there will be a place for tangible executions as well. We always talk about the five senses on an in-person tour, and creating sensations and an immersive experience, which includes touch and feel. Leaving a Class A community with a beautifully printed brochure, to your point, presented on premium cardstock paper with embossments, leaves an impression and it ties back to the level of detail offered at that particular community. It complements the striking tour path that that prospect just explored.
Now, contrast that to a community that gave you nothing, or maybe a brief PDF brochure. That's a different experience. One may and probably wouldn't draw conclusions that one community has a higher level of polish over the other. Similarly, a well-weighted pen that ties nicely to your property's branding versus a 25 cent pen that was handed to you by a leasing agent, again, is a different experience. Prospects may make decisions based on these exchanges, whether they realise it or not.
[00:45:29] NS: Yeah, it's a subconscious effort here. I'm sure there are psychological studies around these things in marketing. I wish I had some evidence or data to back the pen theory, but I'm sure there are. It's interesting, because when you think about that PDF example that you just gave, as well. I've got a PDF on my computer, I'm not seeing that PDF, though. I'd have to open it up and look for it in my computer, to once again, view that rental property and all those things. But if I've got this beautiful brochure that's sitting on my kitchen counter that I'm walking by every day, and I'm engaging with that, again, you're seeing the brand over and over and over again, you cannot ignore it. There's that repetition there, which we know in marketing works. Just having that alone, that touch factor, and then also the brand awareness and repetition is going to be paramount. I do think that through the pandemic, it wasn't that the tactics didn't work. It's just the opportunities weren't there for them. We will just now have more opportunity to actually provide those chances and those traditional means of exchange, and brochures and the marketing materials that we're all used to doing in this industry. So yeah, absolutely.
Ryan, I think we've hit the 9:00 mark. We did it. It was under an hour. As always, it's been a pleasure chatting with you. Once again, I'd love for you to share before you go, let listeners know where they can connect with you, and learn all about, and follow you on LinkedIn and see all the Fitzrovia amazing marketing tactics and amenities that you guys are coming out with.
[00:47:08] RF: Yeah. If you're interested in getting in touch, LinkedIn is always a great way to connect, or feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.
[00:47:19] NS: Perfect. Well, thank you again, Ryan for taking the time to join me on this episode of Sync or Swim. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Until next time, everyone, just keep swimming.
[00:47:30] RF: Thanks, Nicolina. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me again.
[00:47:34] NS: Of course, anytime.
E54: Leveraging AI to Improve the Multifamily Leasing Experience
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