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Your Unique Marketing Advantage: Part 2

Asking the right questions

By John Hall - November 15, 2018

Our last entry was about market intelligence, and where you can find it.
[READ PART 1]

Now, we will look at some of the questions that you should be asking.

When you gather information, remember that you have a goal in mind, so the information that you acquire should serve to help you with that goal. In this case, your goal is to identify strategies that will set you apart within your market. So, there are two basic questions you need to ask:

1- What is your market?
2- What is currently being offered to your market?

This is the information you need before you can ask the most important question, which is: What can you offer that will give you an advantage in your market?

Here is the thing: You sort of need to avoid asking that question at this stage. You need to tailor your questions to learning about possible differentiators, but you need to do so without specific differentiators in mind.

What?! 
Let’s simplify that:


As much as possible, you want to be neutral with your solutions, so that you don’t just automatically turn what you find into support for your idea.

Whoa! What??!! Let’s simplify that one more time:

Don’t put the cart before the horse!

Is that simple enough?

Your goal is to gather data, but you don't want to attach too much meaning to that data. Not yet. 

Let’s take a look at some of the information you should be trying to acquire:

Competitors 
-Are there newer communities than yours?
-What are their amenities?
-What are their rents?
-What are they advertising?
-Where are they advertising?
-What is the quality of their advertising? (Web design, photography, etc.)
-What is their social media presence?
-Which ones are you competing directly against? (Similar rent land amenity offerings. Hint: your applicants will typically also look at your most direct competitors. Non-direct competitors will compete at much different reant levels than yours.)

Applicants
-What are they looking for?
-Do they have pets?
-Where do they work?
-How do they get there?
-Do they have cars?

Neighborhood
-Where are people eating? Going out? Hanging out?
-Are there attractions (such as parks and pedestrian areas) near you?
-What are your neighborhood demographics? (Pro tip: In most cities, there are neighborhood organizations. Not only are these a good source of data, but they can also be an ally to you if you show a willingness to help out.)
-Are there changes on the horizon? (Employers moving in? Attractions being built?)

That’s a lot, and this list is just to get you started. The good thing is that this information is always available to you. You just need to be in the habit of seeking it out.

In other words, interactions with any applicant should be approached as an opportunity for you to collect information. Your interactions with your own neighborhood should include observation as to what is going on out there. Looking at what your competitors are doing should be a regular part of your routine. If you approach your days that way, you will soon have a plethora of useful information at your disposal.

And then, you will be able to start using that information!

Next, we will look at how to apply information to create your own unique marketing advantage!

More Multifamily Insights:
RETHINKING MILLENNIALS
ARE PAPER BROCHURES A THING OF THE PAST?

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Your Unique Marketing Advantage: Part 1

How To Start

By John Hall - November 6, 2018

There is nothing like marketing a new apartment community. Everything is shiny and clean, amenities abound, and the competition can’t hold a candle to the excitement created by that “new car smell”! (Actually, that new car smell is something that automakers are trying to eliminate, but let’s not ruin a good metaphor.)

If that is where you are, congratulations!

This post is for everyone else.

What do you do when the novelty of a brand new property wears off? How do you respond when newer communities are beating you with all of their shiny, new toys?

You get some new toys of your own! In this case, those toys are called “unique marketing advantages”, and they are they key to your success in your changing marketplace. All you have to do is figure out what they are.

And here is how you do that:

STEP 1 - Market Research

When a new community is developed, there is a ton of market research done. Developers do not like like to sink millions into a project when they don’t everything that is going to influence their ability to make money.

The problem is this: Things change.
New competitors. Changing local economies. Changes in renter demographics. 

Market research is what you do to to figure out what has changed. Simply put, you cannot make smart decisions about marketing your community if you do not know what is going on outside of it.

So where do you go to gather that information?

From the beginning: Look at the marketing plan you are operating under now. Whatever your mix is, it is likely based upon extensive market research. What did your market look like when those decisions were made? What about your community is most emphasized in your messaging, and why? You can’t think about what to change if you are not fully aware of where you are starting.

Check out your competitors. You should be looking at your competitors’ online presence regularly. Read their reviews. Monitor their websites. Their guide listings.

Talk to your applicants. They are conducting market research in real time. Ask them to share what they have found. Ask new residents why they chose your community, what they felt they had to sacrifice, and what appealed to them about other communities. If possible, reach out to people that didn’t choose your community, and ask them the same questions. Then, thank them for considering you. Do not use this as an opportunity to market negatively. You never know who is going to be looking again in a few months time, of what they are telling friends who are looking at a move.

Know your neighborhood. Are there new large employers around? Where do people go in your neighborhood? Read up on city guides to know what is being said about the area where you live. At the very least, you need to know the full range of entertainment, dining, and service options that are available to your residents.

Stay on top of the industry. Somewhere, some community has a great idea that would be perfect for you. You need to stay on top of industry publications, like Units and Multi-housing News. Your local apartment association offers you the opportunity to work with other apartment professionals, as well as a wide range of vendors.

Those are some places for you to start. Are we missing anything? 

GO TO PART 2


Title Photo by David Jiang on Unsplash
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How Hiking Got Me Thinking About Leasing

Part Two: Apartments and UX

By John Hall - October 30, 2018

I bought a bunch of hiking socks. There were multiple businesses that would have been happy to sell them to me, but my decision was determined as much by my online user experience as it was by the socks I wanted.

Your prospective residents are like I was. They are motivated, have a budget, and they want to focus their energy on the features of your community that are important to them.

Let’s take a look at the problems that often frustrate motivated online searchers, whether the search be for socks or for a new home.
  • Searches are too broad
  • Searches are too narrow
  • Not enough detail
  • Poor visuals
  • Inadequate saving capability

So, what features would you expect to see with good multifamily UX?

1) Useful search parameters
Prospects don’t all want the same thing, so they need to be able to meaningfully narrow their searches, both in terms of parameters and scope. 

2) Breadth of information
Your prospects are not one-size-fits-all. Your most saleable features should stand out, but make sure that all of your features can be found by those who are interested. Good UX creates a structure where a user is not overwhelmed with information, but has the ability to access certain items with very few actions.



3) Sleek design
Too many apartment applications are unnecessarily cluttered, and complicated to navigate. Simple, intuitive navigation is essential to a positive user experience. 

4) Quality visuals
Visuals - photographs, video, maps, and diagrams - are vastly superior to text, especially with online or touchscreen displays. An overreliance on text, or an application that looks unattractive or out of date, will sink your leasing efforts.

5) Portability
If a prospect finds something they like, make it simple for them to save and share. Good design allows users to design their own takeaways, and save them on their own devices.

Good UX showcases the best features of your community, and makes it easy for your prospects to find the information they value. But it does even more than that. There is a sales element to good UX design that is not as explicit, but is still very important. Think of your online leasing applications like you do your leasing center. You want your leasing center to be beautiful and inviting, while being functional and useful to your prospects and residents. While your residents will not be living in your office, how you treat it sends a message about the quality of your entire community.

Likewise, well-designed user interfaces communicate that you are dedicated to providing a good experience - to prospects and residents alike.

Is UX helping or hindering your leasing efforts? Do your prospective residents have their own sock stories to tell?

Title photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic on Unsplash
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How Hiking Got Me Thinking About Leasing

Part One: Socks and UX

By John Hall - October 23, 2018

Earlier this year, I started hiking again. It’s a great workout, especially if you live in an area with amazing trails and endless natural beauty.

<<< I mean, just look at that! Pretty nice, huh?


Hiking is better when you have the right gear, and it doesn’t take long to learn that good hiking socks are essential for comfort and performance.

Those white socks that you buy in packs of six? They just won’t cut it when it comes to staying put on your foot, or staying dry. It wasn’t long before I discovered moisture-wicking, designed-for-distance-running, multi-colored socks like these:



Yes, this post is really about socks, but we are going to end up on leasing. At some point.

There were so many choices, and shopping for different colors and styles was so much more fun than looking for plain white gym socks. However, before I could jump in (feet first, of course!), I had to solve one big problem.

One big foot problem.

Socks are designed to fit a broad range of feet. If you go to a sporting goods store, you will find rows and rows of socks, all labelled “Men’s L: Size 10 - 13”. Which means that all of these socks will fit anyone who wears a men’s shoe sized 10 to 13, right?

Not quite. Sock sizes are not the same as shoe sizes. Those socks that are sized at 10 - 13, are designed for shoe sizes of 8 - 12. I happen to wear size 13 shoes, which means I need the XL socks that most places don’t carry.

(If you have ever wondered about why sock and shoe sizes aren’t the same, know that it is shoes that are to blame. Sock sizes are simple - they are how long a foot is in inches. On the other hand, shoe sizes are based upon the size of the foot-shaped molds that are used to make them. Shoe molds (or “lasts”) must be larger than the feet they are designed to fit.)

OK, I might be getting too far off topic, but haven't you ever wondered about that? Time to get back on track! We are almost there.

Now, I could have done what I always did before, and just make due with too-small socks, but when it comes to socks for hiking, fit is (really) important! I had no interest in paying premium prices for socks that didn’t fit perfectly.

So, I took to the internet, and that is where I was reminded of the importance of UX.

You probably know that UX stands for user experience, which simply describes how easy or pleasing a website or application is to use. UX standards are ever-changing, as designers seek to make more complex transactions easier for users to navigate. If you have ever bailed out of a website because you don't have the time or energy to get to where you want to be, you have experienced bad UX.

And when it came to finding hiking socks online, I was surprised by some of the UX problems I encountered. Problems like these:

1) Searches were too broad.
I did not want socks that were designed for other sports, or that were not available in my size. Yet, on many sites, I was unable to narrow my search down to only what I wanted.

2) Searches were too narrow.

Other sites required me to select search criteria that I did not want - limiting my desired results. Sure, I only wanted to see socks in my size, but I did not want to rule out socks with different lengths or thickness.

3) Not enough detail.

When I found socks that interested me, I wanted more information. Some sites were surprisingly vague when it came to offering product specifications.

4) Poor visuals.

Hiking socks should look good, so I was surprised to find sites that had poor photography, or worse, “Image Not Available” instead of any photograph at all!

5) Inadequate saving capability.

I wanted to save socks that I was interested in, so that I could refer back to them for comparison or purchasing. Alas, many sites didn’t allow it, short of adding items to a shopping cart. I could save pages, but the pages I saved were often missing the choices I had made on color and style.

When it came to buying hiking socks, I was a motivated customer. I had money to spend, specific needs in mind, and wanted the information I needed to make the best choices in the least amount of time. Given those conditions, it seemed as if many sock websites were not designed to meet my specific needs. Their UX issues led me to sites with better design, where I ultimately made my purchases.

There are plenty of good hiking socks out there. I probably could have soldiered on, and found socks that I liked even more, and at better prices, than what I ended up with. But, at the end of the day, my purchase decision was driven as much by my user experience than by the actual socks.

In other words, UX matters.

Wait! Here we are at the end of this post, and still nothing about leasing? Go to Part 2, for a lot less about socks, and more about the things that make or break multifamily user experience.

(In the meantime, if you need some good hiking socks, I would be happy to share a little intel. Drop me a line!)

PART 2: APARTMENTS AND UX

 


 

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Your Complaint Solution Playbook

Being Prepared Is The Key To Effective Complaint Management

By John Hall - October 3, 2018

Let’s take one more look at complaint handling. Previously, we talked about LAST (Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank), and how each of those steps is essential to effective complaint handling. Steps 1, 2, and 4 are the easy ones. No matter what the complaint, you are not really doing much differently.

It is Step 3: Finding a Solution that really requires you to be on your game - incorporating your experience and your community knowledge to arrive at solutions that keep your residents happy. All of the listening, apologizing, and thanking in the world cannot overcome the lack of a workable solution.

Fortunately, you can ensure that you are offering the best solution every time, while removing much of the stress associated with complaint handling.

How?

Create your community’s complaint solution playbook.

What are some of the characteristics of a useful playbook?

1) It gives you the resources to easily solve most complaints, and allows you to focus on the other parts of good complaint handling.

2) It allows you to quote realistic time frames immediately.

3) It will include the steps to the complaint handling process, so that you don’t forget any in the heat of the moment. It also gives you confidence in the solutions you have to offer, so you can focus on the other (often neglected) steps.

4) It creates a log of the process for every complaint, so that subsequent inquiries can be handled by any leasing agent.

5) It lays out all of the important steps to the follow-up process, and reminders to confirm resolution of every complaint.

6) It is a changing document, allowing you to avoid shortfalls from reoccurring, and ensuring that future complaints have optimal solutions

How do you build your playbook? It’s pretty easy!

1) Make a list! Organize potential complaints by type, and list as many as you can. Most complaints within each type will be handled similarly, so classifying them in advance gives you a jump start on your solutions.

Here are the complaint types you should be ready for:

  • Maintenance issues 
  • Issues with neighbors (noise)
  • Pets
  • Pest control
  • Safety
  • Communication

2) Under each type of complaint, list as many specific complaints as you can, and then give preferred solutions and expected turnaround types for each.

3) Incorporate a system to track every request, and include checklists for follow-up and resolution.

4)When complaints are resolved, circle back, and make any changes that will ensure future complaints are handled better.

Maintenance issues are usually straightforward. You need to know who gets called, and what time frames should be quoted. Neighbor and pet issues are more complicated. They are handled as mitigations, and require contact and follow-up with both parties. Pest control can be tricky. You need to gather information to determine the extent of a problem, but you don’t want to sound an alarm about a problem that might be isolated. Safety issues - such as physical hazards or potential crime - should always be treated and communicated as your top priorities.

Communication plays a part in most complaints that you get. So why does it get a category of its own? Well, it is the communication about all of these other things that really comprises the bulk of complaints that you will hear from residents! Resident complaints are often more about their frustrations with getting issues addressed than they are about the issues themselves.

[Here is a great article we found about communication and resident complaints.]

Which brings us back to your playbook, and the most essential part of making it effective. Your complaint process has to have something in place that makes it less painful and more productive for your residents. You can’t use your playbook if you have created barriers that keep your residents from complaining.

So, make sure that you have open lines of communication. Office hours should be available where real attention can be given. E-mail and instant messaging should be encouraged, and rapid response times should be guaranteed. (This has the extra benefit of removing some of the added emotion of a face-to-face meeting, but only if it is does not become another source of resident frustration!)

Do you have a complaint solution playbook? How could yours be better?

This is the final installment in our Handling Resident Complaints series. If you missed the others, catch up here: 
Part 1: Get Excited For Complaints!
Part 2: Crush Those Complaints
Part 3: The Complaints You Cannot Solve
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