In one of the most spirited sessions at the 2014 NMCH OpTech Conference & Expositions, four marketing pros divided into two teams to debate a handful of the industry’s most pressing marketing issues. Teams used placards and boxing gloves, engaged in some good, old-fashioned trash talking and even delivered mimosas to the audience to try to win favor.
Virginia Love, vice president of leasing and marketing for Waterton Associates and Jennifer Staciokas, senior vice president of marketing and training at Pinnacle, were pitted against Greg Benson, senior director of property marketing for Greystar Real Estate Partners and Kevin Thompson, senior vice president of marketing at Bell Partners for a classic girls-versus-guys faceoff. Alexandra Jackiw, president of Milhaus Management served as referee-er, moderator-for the session.
Here’s a look at the issues, the positions and a summary of each team’s arguments.
Question 1: Is social media worth the investment?
YES: The girls team answered the question with a resounding “heck, yeah!” and cited a litany of factoids about the growing numbers of people engaged in social media. The idea is that apartment firms need to be where their customers are-and that’s increasingly on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Moreover, some companies are starting to be able to attribute social media to specific leads and leases. However, the one caveat, said Staciokas is that an apartment firm’s social activity needs to be about their customers not the company.
NO: The guys team argued that social media offered too little measurable ROI, as leads were difficult if impossible to track. Moreover, residents were engaged in social media platforms such as SnapChat that had little relevance for apartment firms and showed little need to for their communities to have an active presence on many of those platforms. In fact, the guys argued, the 2013 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Survey showed that 70 percent of residents did not expect their community to have a community-specific Facebook page.
Question 2: Are green community investments worth it?
YES: Again citing the 2013 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Survey, which showed that 71 percent of respondents had interest in some level of green design and/or practices in their communities, the guys said they believed green was the way to go. Not only is it the right thing to do, but “people are willing to participate if we can make it easy to participate and we show them how they can save money,” said Benson. Beyond just meeting resident expectations, the team also argued that green principles can offer many benefits to the apartment firm, including favorable access to land as a developer, tax savings, utility savings and an opportunity to build and rehab less expensively than traditional construction.
NO: The girls team argued that it’s difficult to prove that green investments and amenities translate to higher rents, so, therefore, the investment doesn’t render well. “Customers really care about the environment-until they have to pay for it,” explained Love. Moreover, many of the certification programs, such as LEED, are expensive and require continual recertification.
Question 3: Are call centers worth the investment?
YES: The ladies team advocated strongly for the use of call centers, noting that the average community misses between 50 percent and 60 percent of incoming calls each day. More concerning is that 40 percent of missed calls are during office hours, as on-site staff is attending to incoming prospects, daily operational activities and resident needs. That adds up to a lot of missed opportunities with prospects, when you consider 70 percent of calls answered are prospects looking for information and wanting to schedule tours. Plus, call centers allows communities to address calls coming in after hours and also offer the ability to have people who can communicate in as many as six or eight foreign languages.
NO: For the guys team, call centers are expensive and can generate administrative hassles like billing disputes and scheduling issues. Moreover, apartment firms end up flipping the coin on their customer service experiences because it’s difficult to ensure consistency and quality of responses. “A typical 300-unit community will spend roughly $15,000 a year on call centers,” said Thompson. “What else could you do with that money?”
Question 4: What is the
best lead generation payment model?
(This was a lightning round question that required each marketing pro to formulate an individual answer.)
SUBSCRIPTION: Love argued that the average cost per lease in a subscription model ends up lower than in a pay-per-lease model, which could cost four times as much. Moreover, she said prospects and residents lease and renew quicker under this model and the set price makes it easier for marketing teams to budget and forecast while eliminating discrepancies over where a lead originated.
PAY PER TOUR: Benson believed that the strength of this model was that it provides a balance of responsibility between an operator and service provider and holds the provider responsible for generating quality leads. “It’s their job to deliver people to you and your job to convert them,” he said.
PAY FOR PERFORMANCE: Thompson called this model the “pay for success” model, because the operator only pays when the community wins. This keeps costs reasonable at roughly $350 to $400 per lease compared with more than $1,000 per lease for a traditional ILS model.
PAY PER LEAD: Stachiokas said this was the industry’s most trusted model because it effectively puts the operator in the driver’s seat, allowing him/her to dial up or down marketing efforts to generate the right amount leads. The end result is that firms don’t overspend on advertising.
The audience crowned the girls team as debate champions. Do you agree?