450 Sinclair St. Reno, NV 89501

Craigslist is dead. This is how to fill units in 2021.

Let me start with this: Our team knows digital marketing. 

At TRU Venture Marketing (Lease Engine’s Parent Company), we worked with the latest and greatest companies in property tech -- a space that is riddled with noise. Real estate agents and investors are some of the most sold to people in the country. To say that this career is the path to “Passive Income” couldn’t be further from the truth. Real estate professionals are inundated with ads, sales emails, brochures, phone calls, and yes, in person visits from sales people. Yet, we had the job of getting products in front of agents and investors. In order for us to help our clients stand out, we had to be different -- we had to be better. 

And so, at TRU, we came up with a handful of tools and strategies to sell to this market, and did all we could to master them. Eventually we did. 

But... we’re admittedly new to the Multifamily space. 

And when we took on our first project in this space, we were surprised. It seemed to us that marketing in the multifamily space was 10 years behind.

It seemed that zillow, apartments.com, and craigslist listings were the preferred methods of marketing. With a goal of filling units in the short term - this works well enough. But with little focus on long term brand equity, or the development of reliable lead gen channels for both good and bad times, this strategy leaves a lot on the table. 

Our first project in multifamily opened our eyes.  

In pre-covid times, a busy market and high demand meant marketing for student housing could be left on the backburner. But in 2020, many California schools made announcements that in person classes would no longer be required. This was bad news for anyone in student housing. 

We got involved when an investor in one of our tech focused clients saw the signs of the times and called us in for additional marketing support. With time running short, they asked us for support in filling units as fast as possible. 

So we did what we knew best - we dug deep into their market and existing campaigns, then came up with a few strategies to scale things up for the Fall 2020 semester. We created a marketing booster campaign where we combined highly targeted Facebook and Google ads to give their existing effort an additional kick. We implemented analytics to track ad performance so we could focus spend where it mattered. 

To put it simply, they managed appfolio listings, and we came in with a few jars of special sauce to make everything better. We didn’t follow a cookie cutter playbook - we listened to our client, got to know their unique housing portfolio, and built a custom messaging playbook and a unique set of creative ads to boot. 

The results? 

90%+ occupancy rates during one of the biggest down years in student housing history. Meanwhile, their competition averaged 80% in the same market. 

In this unique situation, supply outweighed demand, and so the deck was stacked against everyone in the market. When this is the case, the players who get their name out most are going to win. Win-win opportunities don’t present themselves in multifamily during a downturn -- it’s winner take all. 

Round 2: 

In 2021, thinking we’d face similar issues, we built a sleek website for the management company and doubled down on our marketing strategy from the year before. 

This time, we hit 100% occupancy on rentable units by May of 2021 for the Fall Semester. We cut the retainer two months short because we ran out of work.  

The combination of improved Branding, a better website, tighter analytics, and a series of proven ads was a hands-down winner.

So what worked so well? 

Highly personalized modern marketing. Don’t get me wrong - the portfolio manager we worked with did a great job. He was tenacious, agile and moved quickly. But adding the extra kick of modern marketing drove traffic to the site. Traffic that turned into leads; leads that turned into customers. The best part? It was traffic that the management company owned -- they weren’t dependent on Zillow, apartments.com, facebook marketplace, or worse still… craigslist. 

People searching for apartments were distracted. They loved to search, but not to act. We knew that if we were to win, we’d have to target them wherever they were. Whether they were actively searching for a unit or not, we found ways to get in front of them. 

  • Facebook ads
  • Instagram stories 
  • Display ads 
  • Google ads 
  • Google search 
  • Landing pages that held owned listings. 

In a competitive market, it takes more effort to come out ahead. When your competition is using zillow and apartments.com to drive traffic to their site, the best way to outpace them is to do that and more. 

We weren’t the only ones doing marketing in the space: 

Property managers and multifamily investors are some of the hardest working folks we’ve worked with. Everyone in this space does some kind of marketing. Some even do it very well. The challenge is that many don’t, and most who do are leaving it to a third party firm that doesn’t take time to understand a brand, or it gets passed to the marketing intern with little experience on the platform. 

The status quo is to put listings up and wait. And if a unit gets filled in 3 weeks it’s acceptable. The reality is that 3 weeks of vacancy is expensive. 

The true cost of lazy marketing: 

To shave a week off of average time of vacancy can make major impacts to the bottom line. If we’re looking at a 200 unit new build with a $2,000 monthly rent, every week we take off average vacancy contributes $100,000 in revenue. 

Not to mention, the knee jerk reaction of cutting rates to fill units is a surefire way to eat into your margins. 

Lastly, the post it and leave it approach does nothing to build a long term relationship with your tenants. The brand equity goes to the platform you’re paying for (i.e. zillow, apartments.com, or craigslist). 

When we put money into these platforms, we are giving away our power over user acquisition. When tenants are asked where they found an apartment, we want them to say the name of your firm -- not craigslist or zillow. 

Building a brand, creating a presence for your management firm, and communicating with your tenants is how to make that happen. 

At the end of the day, tenants who feel like they know who they are working with are more likely to stick around and recommend your properties to their friends. 

It’s time to play offense

Property managers with the best marketing will take the day - especially when it comes to building long term, sustainable business models that aren’t dependent on craigslist or apartments.com. The lazy approach can get you through the good times, but as soon as tides turn, and there is competition in the market, you’re at risk. Why not become resilient now while we’re still swimming strong.  

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