Over 74,000 consumers perform a Google search per second. That’s a lot of opportunities to improve your property management company’s digital marketing and SEO efforts.
As renters use technology to access the vast amount of information available online to help them find an apartment or condo, an expansive amount of valuable data becomes available to your business. Imagine capturing detailed online data for every potential tenant who visits your property website, any time of the day, every day.
“It has significantly opened our eyes to how many current prospects will be reviewing a single community at one time,” says Caleb Bartlett, Digital Sales & Media Manager at Nolan Real Estate, of the website conversion software the multifamily company added to several property websites. “We see about 150 unique visitors to our individual websites each day, and PERQ has changed how we go about managing all of those qualified leads.”
Use Website Data to Improve SEO Strategy Across Channels
Capitalize on your property’s website data to help your leasing specialists better meet a lead’s needs and enhance prospect engagement, while also gaining insight into what renters in your market are specifically searching for and which trending keywords your SEO team should target on your website, in digital ads, social media and content marketing. By constantly tweaking your SEO strategy based on real-time data, you’ll drive more organic traffic to your website, and improve your search page ranking and visibility.
PERQ assigns a unique ID to online visitors in order for clients to take anonymous Google Analytics data and marry it up to lead and PERQ analytics in order to accomplish the cross channel/device tracking but also to see who is signing a lease at the physical property. This goldmine of information helps property management companies connect the dots between a prospect’s online activities to spot common words, phrases and renter trends that your SEO team or third-party vendor can use to maximize website growth and attract more leads.
Your Market, Customers and Ways to Search Continue to Change
SEO is not a one-and-done type of task; it is an ongoing effort. To add to the dynamic nature of search, Google continually updates its algorithm. In 2018, Google reported 3,234 improvements to its search platform.
Optimizing your website requires continual analyzation and modifications. Data collected from customers’ online behavior using artificial intelligence is automatically analyzed and updated to provide properties with a treasure trove of information to influence search engine optimization.
When stored in a marketing cloud, that data can flow between your property’s various technologies and data collection systems to give you a broader picture of each prospect’s journey and your customer base as a whole.
Trying to anticipate how the market, your prospects or search methods will change or evolve is tricky business, but website data provides a view into what’s popular at the moment. When analyzed alongside big sets of industry data, your property can also make predictions on what’s coming next and make automatic adjustments to your digital marketing accounts.
Audit Online Consumers to Make Better SEO Decisions
Ryan Cox, Digital Marketing Manager at J.C. Hart Company, gives this advice to any property looking to improve their digital marketing: “No. 1, even if you have to hire outside to do so, do a comprehensive online customer audit of your residents and potential residents. Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.”
He urges property management companies to examine customers’ purchasing habits, styles, likes and dislikes. “Just because you have a budget, doesn’t mean you’re spending it effectively,” Cox says. “If you’re just throwing money at [digital advertising], and spraying and praying, you’re doing it wrong.”
Texting customers became a business norm almost overnight, with more consumers than ever saying they prefer a text over a phone call. When PERQ recently surveyed thousands of home furnishing shoppers searching retail store websites, 13.5% picked text messaging as their preferred method of contact and only 7.5% chose phone calls as their top choice.
Email remained the clear winner, with 79% of online furniture shoppers choosing that option in PERQ’s survey. However, digital marketing experts predict marketing emails will soon saturate consumers’ inboxes and spur a surge in the use of text messaging to reach leads. Text is already proving to be more effective than emails.
Recent marketing studies estimate that at a 90% open rate, SMS (short message service) performs nearly 5 times better than B2C emails, which average around a 20% open rate. Those same studies found text messages sent to customers get 7.5 times more responses than emails, with a 45% response rate for SMS versus 6% for email.
A couple of years ago, it seemed intrusive if a salesperson texted you. By being one of the first in your market to offer SMS, online chat or text conversations, your home furnishings store can capitalize on this accelerating texting trend, making it easier for customers to immediately connect with your knowledgeable staff and quickly convert into an in-store sale.
“Monitoring and engaging through text requires a resource investment for retailers, but the choice is either to engage it or make peace with the fact you’ll lose that customer to a competitor who is willing to invest in it,” says Dave Weiss, Marketing Manager at Sherman’s, a furniture retailer in central Illinois who uses a variety of text messaging platforms to communicate with customers.
If you already talk to your customers via text or plan to add the option in the near future, here are 3 tips to make sure you are effective as possible when communicating with text messaging.
1. Don’t Assume All Shoppers Prefer Text Messages
While texting is blowing up in the world of digital marketing and B2C communication, not all consumers prefer text over email and telephone, and some only like it for certain parts of the sales process, like setting up a delivery. Don’t make assumptions and start sending unsolicited text messages to every lead you get.
Shoppers Adam and Angela Wire say they personally prefer to shop local at a store that specializes in what they’re seeking and rarely buy from generalized online e-commerce sites like Amazon. Born at the tailend of Generation X, which witnessed the digital revolution and remember a time without smartphones, internet and home computers, they’re the shoppers in their late 30s and early 40s who straddle the technology divide and still find value in simpler sales methods. They still start their search for big-ticket items online, narrowing down their options before visiting a handful of retailers to make a final decision.
The Indianapolis couple recently bought a new couch, recliner and dining room set. “We looked at options online beforehand, comparing various local furniture stores. I always do this for larger items like a car or appliances,” Adam says. “We communicated with the furniture store on delivery set-up via text message and that went well, but I’m only OK with that if I tell a retailer to communicate with me via text. I have no desire for a company to ever try to sell me anything or initiate conversation with me through texting unless I ask them to do so.”
Weiss advises retailers to follow that same philosophy. “At this time, we don’t use text as a promotional outbound vehicle like we use email,” he says. “Texting is far more personal and disruptive, so we view it as more of an inbound lead channel or for customer service inquiries.”
2. Ask Online Shoppers Which Communication Method They Prefer
Start where shoppers start, online. By integrating AI software on your website, you can discreetly ask online shoppers which communication mode they prefer along with other personal information your sales associates can use to better nurture and convert the lead.
Find out how they prefer to communicate with your sales team, and respect their response by using that mode when initiating the initial contact with an online lead. “It’s our responsibility as retailers to adapt to however customers wish to communicate with us, and they have certainly shown that text is now a preferred channel,” Weiss says. “More broadly, I don’t think texting is great for all customers, but there are many who find it the most convenient way to get quick answers to simple questions.”
Sherman’s uses a mix of web chat, Google text through mobile listings, and Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers who initiate contact through those inbound streams. “We text review invites after delivery, and see a much higher response rate with text than we used to with email alone,” Weiss says. “Many customers choose to keep that review invite text thread open and ask follow-up questions after the sale.”
3. Use Marketing Automation and Templates for Text Nurture
John Neal Jr., Vice President at Neal’s Furniture in Oklahoma, says his stores also experience a much higher customer interaction rate when utilizing text messages as opposed to emails and phone calls, and successfully convert many of their text leads into store sales.
“A text message does not demand your attention so it’s naturally less obtrusive than a phone call, but still just as personal. A customer can respond if and when they decide to,” says Neal Jr. “A sales associate has the added benefit of tracking past conversations and referencing them as needed.”
Neal’s Furniture developed templated responses for responding to specific kinds of customer text messages and simply add a new template if they encounter a new scenario without a proper response saved in the system. “That automation allows for quick and efficient responses, while not demanding much time or mental strain,” says Neal Jr. “If we receive a message after hours, the customer will receive an automated message letting them know we are closed and that we will get back with them as soon as possible.”
His staff can see incoming customer texts from their phones, and can even choose to respond to a request when the store is closed. A Neal sales associate recently converted an online lead into an in-store sale in less than 24 hours by immediately responding to a consumer’s question sent by text message after hours on a Sunday.
“As a whole, text message conversations used for follow-ups and initial conversations have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” says Neal Jr. “Conversations, pictures, receipts, quotes, reviews, emojis, etc. can be sent directly to the device that the customer uses all day and lives in their pocket! Why wouldn’t that be the way businesses talk to their customers?”
AI technology continues to change how multifamily properties conduct business, both internally to track leads and analyze data and externally to communicate with rental prospects, but the successful launch of one technology often presents a whole new set of challenges.
Before rolling out an AI-powered solution to capture more online leads or improve digital advertising results, a property management company must first ensure it can properly nurture that influx of leads without burdening an already taxed team of leasing specialists. They’re often the first and only people whose prospects interact with one-on-one when seriously considering an apartment option, so it’s best to use their talents and time wisely.
“Property staff is always busy, and most always behind on something,” says Keir Schutte, owner of KP Consulting Services, which works with multifamily companies to achieve a variety of business goals. “Sadly, as much as everyone complains about occupancy, lead management always seems to need improvement. I think that it’s important to automate anything you can for your properties.”
Artificial intelligence automates the lead nurture process on a property’s website by guiding a prospective renter through the online research phase while collecting their lead information as they engage with the website’s interactive tools to learn more about the community. AI technology can then take the lead nurturing process one step further by utilizing the captured data to automatically communicate with prospects and nurture online leads across multiple channels, such as email and texting.
More Prospect Data Drives More Personalized Approach
An AI-powered lead nurture solution uses a prospect’s own profile data to personalize all digital communication, using their name and remembering them every time they engage with a property, and serving up email and text content that’s customized to their unique preferences and search behavior. A lead nurture campaign can include dozens of different email or text templates and more than 100 different workflow triggers to deliver a truly personalized approach.
AI technology tracks users across platforms to deliver a cohesive consumer experience that makes prospects feel like the property staff already knows them and saves them time as they narrow down where they want to live. They’re never forced to start their search from scratch, and leasing specialists know so much about them before they ever show up for a property tour.
“By using AI, you are making sure the customer is acknowledged immediately, for one,” Schutte says of the benefits of employing an AI-driven lead nurture technology. “In addition, you keep the customer engaged and they’re able to find out more information.”
The goal of the lead nurture content is to drive prospects back to the property website to re-engage with the online tools or book a tour through an online scheduler, which ultimately results in more tours, more return website visitors, and more website engagement to increase online lead to lease conversions.
Target Leads in Different Stages of Renter Journey
The majority of online leads aren’t quite ready to rent, and those leads at the bottom of the prospect funnel who want to sign a lease now can cost the most to target through digital advertising. An AI-powered lead nurture solution reduces a multifamily company’s dependency on leasing agents to follow up on every lead when it first comes in.
By collecting detailed lead data on every prospect who interacts on the property website, your leasing staff can easily segment leads and focus energy on the renters ready to rent right now while the AI technology automatically nurtures those prospects who are still months away from moving. It also means leasing specialists can adjust messaging and their approach based on which phase of the renter journey a prospect indicates they’re in.
Build Relationships with Prospects through AI Lead Nurture
While it may seem counterintuitive to use technology to build authentic relationships with customers, AI is the piece that makes it possible to enhance a prospect’s experience with your property management team — even before talking to anyone in the leasing office. You’ve given them the information they were seeking online, continued to touch base through technology as they research their options, and your leasing staff knows everything they want in a property when they finally reach out to take a tour or sign a lease.
“It allows us to offer an enhanced experience for the customer and provides us with the data of those interactions to help our teams ensure a better experience,” says Jenny Richard, Director of Marketing at Gene B. Glick Company, one of the largest privately held real estate management and development firms in the U.S. “It aids our teams in moving away from collecting customer information in a ‘checklist’ approach, and instead allows the team members to already have this information and utilize it in a conversational way to make a connection.”
While it’s a common belief in the multifamily industry that property websites don’t directly drive leads, many property management companies have transformed their websites into their No. 1 leasing tool by adding AI technology and marketing automation to the online mix.
“We consider the property website as a primary leasing tool,” says Jenny Richard, Director of Marketing at Gene B. Glick Company, which manages multifamily rental communities in 13 states.
“We know prospective renters are completing their apartment research online and making decisions about where they want to live well in advance of speaking to anyone on the leasing team,” Richard says. “That means we must provide the best online experience and ensure we are offering the most up-to-date information regarding pricing and availability, as well as what’s in and around our community.”
Add AI on Multifamily Website to Capture Online Leads
AI and marketing automation allows your website to guide the prospect automatically through the leasing process, collecting their data as they interact with engaging online tools, quizzes and calculators to help them figure out the best rental community for them. That puts properties that utilize AI light years ahead of their competitors who present cumbersome, boring websites that look more like a static brochure and oddly similar to one another.
Nolan Real Estate implemented AI technology on several of its multifamily property websites because the company considers the website its No. 1 leasing tool. “No question about it,” says Caleb Bartlett, Nolan’s Digital Sales & Media Manager. “We have structured our entire digital strategy for our leads to touch our website as the first point of contact. In short, it is becoming 100% prospect engagement.”
Digital Marketing Cloud Unites Data for Automatic Lead Nurture
Easy to implement on an existing website, AI-driven technology can also be used to power an integrated digital marketing cloud to better leverage the website data and convert more online leads by helping the prospect along and providing leasing offices with in-depth insights into each person’s leasing journey.
Through the cloud, companies can tap into the centralized consumer data to automatically nurture online leads in email and text campaigns, personalized with content and incentives related to their current search.
The content drives the consumer back to the website to schedule a tour or engage with more of the interactive website research tools, such as a quiz to match them with nearby activities they indicate as important, a pre-qualify loan assessment to give them a head start on the leasing process, or a calendar where they can instantly schedule a tour of the property.
Cloud Computing Helps Leasing Consultants Connect with Renters
A marketing cloud gives companies a way to track a prospect throughout the entire renter journey, taking into account all of the various digital and offline touchpoints to deliver detailed consumer information to leasing consultants. That information allows them to make an immediate connection to a prospect when meeting in person for a tour or following up with an email, call or text.
“Finding the connectivity between what they want in a home and the desired lifestyle they are looking for is essential to making a connection and converting to an appointment,” Richard says. “Our website is key in capturing this experience, and providing those experiences in a way that lets our leasing team members receive information about what’s important to each prospective renter, which allows them to build relationships.”
Target Your Ideal Renter Online with AI-Driven Insights
Companies also gain insight into the exact ROI of each digital channel, broken down into cost per lease and per lead. With AI-driven technology on a website, those numbers show a significant improvement over traditional lead generation solutions commonly used in the multifamily industry.
The business data can be analyzed in conjunction with big sets of data stored in the cloud that come from similar stores. Using machine learning, cloud software can use those millions of data points to compute a property’s “ideal prospect” and configure details on the type of person most likely to rent at that property based on the processed data as well as the best ways to target those particular prospects.
Convert Prospects with Convenient Online Experience
Since The Worthing Companies added interactive AI software to a dozen of its property websites, the average time a visitor spends researching on those websites has jumped from 2-3 minutes up to 7-8 minutes. “It’s crazy the traffic that we’re getting off this, and it’s driving people to stay on the website longer,” says Trent Jones, Regional Marketing & Training Director at The Worthing Companies.
Jones says the engaging website leads them through the process, making it such an enjoyable and helpful experience that prospects don’t feel the need to branch out and look elsewhere for a place to live.
“We’re getting tons of leasing off of it,” Jones says. “By the time they talk to a leasing agent, the website has answered all of their questions. When they get here, it’s usually just a tour and then a done deal. Some of them even lease online without coming to tour.”
[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Consumers’ insatiable appetite for instant information and on-demand access to expert advice requires companies to constantly evaluate how well each of their digital marketing channels serve those needs and at what cost.
“There are a lot of ways to waste money,” says Justin Bowen at The Great American Home Store, a furniture and mattress retailer with several stores in Tennessee and Mississippi. As their Web Content Manager for the past five years, he says the store has pretty much tried all of the main marketing and advertising avenues, learning valuable lessons along the way.
The digital marketing domain continues to rapidly change as technology improves, giving companies a plethora of online marketing options to consider and data to manage all at once. Digital marketing strategies that don’t keep pace with these changes tend to go stale fast.
As Bowen puts it, what worked in the past won’t work now. Your audience changed, the way they consume information and communicate changed, and how they decide what to buy changed.
I asked Bowen and a host of other PERQ clients, partners and digital marketing experts what do’s and don’ts they’ve learned through their online experience and put together this three-part blog series full of digital marketing tips. See firsthand what’s worked well for them, what advice they give other business leaders, and how they’ve improved the way they manage digital marketing. Let’s start this series with marketing management.
Follow the Sales Data & ROI
Tying a marketing campaign to an actual sale used to be a pipe dream for most industries. Marketing agencies and PPC vendors can tell you how much organic traffic visited the website and time spent on site, or how many people clicked your digital ad, shared your social post or saw it on their newsfeed, but they can’t connect revenue with online leads. Many don’t even deliver specific leads and only track anonymous traffic, leaving you to simply hope the consumer reaches out or comes to visit in person after encountering your brand online.
“There are more and more ways to track down a lead to a real sale becoming available,” Bowen says. “You have to do your due diligence. Make sure you have a way to measure any digital marketing you try. Hold your advertising accountable, set up metrics, and ask vendors point-blank what they can do to get you as close to tracking actual leads to sales as possible.”
Once you know exactly what digital advertising efforts end in a lease or sale, your marketing department can use that data to start targeting customers with messaging and platforms most likely to convert, as well as use the analytics reports to better manage your digital marketing channels based on what’s working and what’s not giving you a good return on your investment.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image=”29445″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” qode_css_animation=””][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Marketing Automation to Improve Customer Experience
Today’s consumer desires an easy shopping experience, starting online and seamlessly flowing into an in-person interaction. They prefer personalized emails and texts, and love websites that seem to know exactly what they’re looking for before they know.
Sound like way too much for your sales team to handle, at least effectively? Marketing automation can make managing all of your digital marketing channels much easier, and works around the clock to move leads closer to a conversion before they ever reach out to a real person at your retail store or leasing office.
“The multifamily industry is continuing to evolve and improve the approach, as well as giving more focus to the customers’ digital experience,” says Jenny Richard, Director of Marketing at Gene B. Glick Company, which manages rental communities in 13 states. She says that while other industries have long provided consumers with a “tailored online experience” that offers real-time availability, pricing and specials, property management companies are only beginning to play this highly personalized digital game.
You can easily add AI technology to your website to automatically guide prospects along the consumer journey with interactive, engaging tools and content that’s tailored to their search. Not only does it make it easier for consumers to do their own research and take immediate action, it also gathers quality lead data from those visitors.
“We have found the appointment setting-feature is excellent and provides the customer the best opportunity to immediately schedule a tour of the community while finishing up their research on our property website,” Richard says. “Our website now allows us to offer an enhanced experience for the customer, and provides us with the data on those interactions to help our teams ensure a better experience.”
Richard says Glick’s leasing consultants use consumer profile data to connect with individual prospects in a conversational way, versus collecting information in a checklist approach that’s impersonal.
Bowen agrees that current marketing trends call for a personalized approach. “It’s all about individualized service — all sales are going toward conversational,” he says. “You have to have the tools in place to know where the customer is at in the sales process though. You really need as much data as possible to know where they’re at and what they want, or you can’t really talk one-on-one otherwise.”
Digital Marketing Cloud Centralizes Data, Automates Lead Nurture
A marketing cloud offers one of the most powerful technology tools for companies looking to better manage digital marketing, as well as automate much of the lead nurture process through email and text messaging. By centralizing data across all digital platforms and integrating it with revenue reports, a cloud solution gives companies a holistic view of their online advertising and marketing ROI, in-depth consumer profile information and detailed analytics that factor in every touchpoint.
On the flip side, customers receive customized information to move them along the sales funnel until they’re ready to commit to your company in a digital format they prefer, leaving your sales teams with more time to better engage those leads who are ready to buy or lease.
“The time to start is now,” Bowen says of text messaging and other innovative marketing technologies now available to smaller retailers and privately held companies. “People already prefer [communicating in a digital format] but most of your competition isn’t doing it, so it’s a prime opportunity.
“The technology is already there. It takes getting people in the organization out of their comfort zone, getting real buy-in from the sales team, and forging new processes for communication,” Bowen says. “Automation is helpful to fill in the gaps around a very knowledgeable staff, which is what makes us different than the bigger companies or some of our local competitors.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]You save your photos and computer data to a cloud, but do you know how a marketing cloud works? More importantly, do you truly understand the value a marketing cloud can add to a local retail business? Most likely not. It’s technology not commonly utilized in the home furnishings industry for a variety of reasons.
A quality marketing cloud solution delivers actionable data, predictions and tracks ROI for every lead and marketing source, which is why most Fortune 500 companies rely on a cloud to build comprehensive, targeted digital advertising strategies.
Until recently, there’s never been a cloud solution built specifically for home furnishing retailers, and corporate cloud services remain prohibitive to local brick-and-mortar stores. Generalized marketing clouds require considerable technology resources and marketing staff to manage, and often cost too much to purchase and maintain for independent home furnishing stores.
Technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning make an economical and more effective cloud solution possible for retail stores. While it may sound complicated, a marketing cloud can streamline your business processes and increase profits. Let us break it down.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image=”29385″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” qode_css_animation=””][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
What is a Marketing Cloud?
A marketing cloud connects various digital tools and resources as a way to centralize data storage and automatically process the information. When aligned with a retailer’s objectives, a marketing cloud stores and analyzes data points collected from various touch points throughout a shopper’s journey to purchase, from the store website and showroom to digital advertising and social media.
That consumer data, when processed through the power of the cloud’s integrated technologies, allows stores to track leads and conversions across channels, evaluate sales and advertising performance down to the dollar, as well as deliver a personalized, connected experience for customers. The cloud gives retailers the technological tools to automatically nurture digital leads, and gives a salesperson detailed information to better assist the customer using a personal touch.
“The amount of data we’re capturing, that’s the real strength of the PERQ technology,” says Ed Massood, owner of Home Inspirations Thomasville in New Jersey. “Then, we’re using that data to follow up and retarget leads through things like email nurturing.”
Tying research, data and lead nurture tools together allows retailers to leverage their store’s best assets, the physical showroom and their staff, to start building digital relationships before customers visit in person.
“The marketing cloud is designed to power the consumer experience from digital to in-person, which enables stores to bring their strongest fist into the fight against Amazon and Wayfair,” says PERQ co-founder Scott Hill. “It’s your salespeople, your stores, your physical inventory. By bridging this digital to in-person experience, you’ll make it a more convenient, easier shopping experience for customers.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Additional Home Furnishings Resources