Businesses create personas to place the consumer at the center of decision-making. Customer personas work when designing products and services, yet do they still serve a purpose in marketing and sales?
Marketing, the process of identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customers’ needs and wants, essentially matches what you’re selling to the people looking to buy. On a fundamental level, we all share the same basic needs and wants. Moving beyond the basics of buyer personas opens up a world of possibilities.
With everyone as a potential customer, creating personas may help marketing feel more manageable. Putting a face, age, and fictional name to your customers’ traits, personality characteristics, and pain points kicks off your digital strategy, but then what? Where do you go from there? Customer personas, in theory, work to attract leads, yet treating each customer in a generalized manner may actually move your brand further away from connecting with prospects.
Technology now provides valuable information beyond the type of customer interested in your brand (married with two kids and a mortgage); it delivers details on their online behavior (searching for distressed dining room tables to seat 10).
With the right software and CRM, collecting valuable online data generates insight into the customers’ specific needs and wants. Real information, captured in real-time, directly from the people interested in your products. From there, you can use the data to personalize the follow-up and lead-nurture process for more prospect engagement and brand loyalty.
More than Just a Customer Persona
Technology allows for a deeper understanding of consumers. Not only do you learn more about your customers through their actions, but you can also create a better experience online to stand out from the competition. Give website visitors the opportunity to interact with your brand, while also providing the information they need.
Understand what customers want while shopping. Offer interactive engagement opportunities like quizzes and assessments, live chat or online financing pre-qualification. Even better, with AI-driven software you can ensure your website remembers the customer’s previous visit, suggesting options and incentives based on prior behavior. These personalized, guided interactions will shape how the customer views your brand and build a feeling of welcome and value.
Buyer personas may attract shoppers to your website, but leverage personalization to move them along the customer journey toward a purchase.
Customer Data Helps You to Focus on Personalization
Not only does personalization benefit your customer, but it also translates into customizing your company’s operations. Your customers’ behavior and data should drive your business decisions.
If your target consumers continually search for specific products or services you don’t currently offer or do offer but don’t prominently market, demand exists and justifies expanding your offerings or adjusting your ad and website copy to meet the need. If prospects routinely drop off the website after reviewing pricing on your website, it may be time to run some competitive intelligence.
Analyze and use data from your CRM to help your sales team nurture leads and convert them into sales. Generate automated and personalized emails with AI-driven technology to get shoppers back to your website or in the door. Track the average number of touches necessary to result in a purchase, and adjust your approach based on the analytics.
It may feel counterintuitive to rely on technology to build personal relationships and really get to know your customers, yet with more than 80% of shoppers beginning their shopping journey online, the power of personalization makes it possible — and imperative.
Learn more about PERQ and schedule a demo.
In the season opener of The Bridge, co-hosts Andy Medley and Muhammad Yasin sit down (a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic) with Matt Weirich, CEO and co-founder of Realync, and Jordan Easley, their Director of Operations. The pair at Realync, a multifamily video leasing and engagement solution that enables leasing teams, talk about a topic that is now top of mind for many businesses: “How do I connect with rental prospects when they can’t visit in-person?”
Video touring, whether it be pre-recorded or live, gives a human interaction that static images can’t compete with. “A video can be used to establish that first connection between a rental property and a consumer who’s looking for a new place to live,” says Weirich. “Video tours allow these consumers to experience a space on their own time and to see the exact unit they could be living.”
If you want to learn more about how Realync is bridging the gap by using video touring, check out Season 2, Episode 1 of The Bridge podcast now. The Bridge season 2 is available wherever you get your podcasts including, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast and Spotify. You can see all of the episodes, on your podcast app of choice, by visiting this link.
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Gayle Elliott is thrilled to be named the winner of the $25,000 FATWIN Sweepstakes sponsored by PERQ. Elliott of Gladys, Virginia, was presented with a ceremonial check at Schewels Home on March 4. She was randomly selected from a pool of nearly 996,000 people who registered for the sweepstakes in 2019 on websites that leverage PERQ software. The clients, like Schewels, use PERQ to improve the consumer shopping experience online.
Photos by Scott Allen | Matt Schewel of Schewels Home (left) and Zach Naylor-Cook, a client success manager at PERQ (far right), presented Gayle Elliott with the $25K check in Lynchburg, Virginia. Gayle’s daughter Britny Clark joined her to celebrate.
How Elliott Won
Gayle says she’s been shopping at Schewels for years, buying a swivel chair most recently, and fell in love with a tall table on the store’s website. During her website visit, Gayle clicked on a link to enter the FATWIN sweepstakes and entered her information.
“I got one email and a few phone calls to say I’d won,” Gayle says. “First, I thought this is a scam. Things like this don’t happen to me. I called the store and said that I was getting calls from this lady saying I won this sweepstake. The woman who answered told me to hold and a man got on the phone. When I started to explain why I was calling, he stopped me and said ‘Are you Gayle Elliott? Congratulations, you won!’”
Matt Schewel, director of store operations at Schewels, says this is a great moment for the business. Schewels Home was founded in 1897 and has been owned by the family for five generations. “We’re so excited for Gayle and for our whole company to be part of this life-changing event,” Schewel says.
“I went from thinking this couldn’t be real to ‘this really is real!’” Gayle adds. “I’m very excited and very thankful for this opportunity.”
Plans for the Sweepstakes Money
Gayle says she plans to buy a Zero-Turn lawnmower, a new clothes dryer and the table she had been eyeing on Schewels’ website. “I kicked myself for not getting it,” she says. She expects some of the money to go toward her daughter Britny Clark’s wedding.
Gayle has this advice for anyone asked to enter a sweepstakes when visiting a website. “I can tell you I’ve never won anything like this before, but I kept putting in for them,” she says. “Keep doing it! There is that one chance of winning and it could be you, so just fill it out!”
The S.M.A.R.T. acronym first surfaced nearly 40 years ago and caught on as an efficient and intelligent method for setting business goals. For companies to successfully achieve those goals, they first needed to define them in ways that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Over the decades, the mnemonic concept evolved to make the goal-setting process more applicable to the digital domain most businesses operate in today, but the fundamental idea remains the same. You can’t achieve a goal that isn’t well-defined and based on quantitative benchmarks.
We’ve modified the acronym to focus on S.M.A.R.T marketing and digital advertising. Using online data collected through AI-driven technology, we help clients increase overall profit by providing marketing intelligence insights and improving online performance. Here’s our S.M.A.R.T. marketing formula for building a successful digital strategy and how some companies implement the tactic to achieve their goals.
S: See Which Advertising Channels Drive the Most Leads, Sales
Visibility into digital advertising results remains a challenge for many companies, particularly those relying solely on Google Analytics and similar free tools. While Google can give you a broad overview of web traffic and channel performance for Google Ads, even the enterprise version doesn’t take into account multiple visits by the same shopper on several devices as it only measures anonymous traffic.
Use software that identifies each individual consumer who visits and engages on your website, then tracks that user across multiple digital platforms for multi-touch attribution. That way, you can eliminate the massive amounts of duplicate data often generated by a single consumer revisiting the website on different days from different devices, like on a tablet at home, on a desktop at work, then on a mobile smartphone in the car.
By utilizing a marketing cloud and CRM that centralizes and analyzes all data streaming in for a company, including point of sale, you can follow a lead to fruition and tie online leads to in-person sales. With smart marketing, you can clearly see which combination of digital advertising and marketing drives the most leads and sales will give you accurate ROI results, which will help you prioritize spending and set more precise goals.
“I think the ultimate metric that matters is what money hits the front counter,” says Joey Gunn, Vice President at Knight Furniture & Mattress. “Obviously, the metric we’d all like to see get better is the close ratio, right?”
M: Make Smart Marketing Decisions Based on Consumer Insights
The consumer data collected on a client’s website as shoppers engage with AI-driven interactive content, such as quizzes and customized calls to action, generate valuable customer journey profiles. By examining the data, you can reach your smart marketing objectives and discover what the majority of your customers say they value most in their shopping experience and find ways to cater to those specific demands.
Do shoppers at one location place price over convenience, whereas another store or property encounters more leads looking for luxury? Do most of them own pets or have kids, or are the consumers in your market suddenly looking to downsize?
“That type of data definitely helps in making more informed decisions for marketing and when planning for capital improvements for the property,” says Lisa Harris, Regional Manager at Texas-based W3 Luxury Living.
With such detailed data and consumer insights, your marketing team gains marketing intelligence that not only identifies trends specific to your online audience, but also how to best attract and serve your customers. If most people select upgraded appliances as their top priority when researching on the website, make sure photos and relevant content featuring those products surface first on the website. Also make them a focus in your company’s digital advertising and social media strategy.
A: Analyze Data to Cut or Reallocate Spend and Increase Channel Performance
Data should lie at the very core of every business decision and goal you set when defining your smart marketing objectives. And, remember, analytics is never a one-and-done task.
“Every advertising funnel needs perfect tracking,” says Ivan Barratt, Founder and CEO at Barratt Asset Management in Indianapolis. “That is what’s a little frustrating in multifamily, and I see it’s coming along, but other industries are doing this so much better.”
Barratt says channel attribution is what lacked from their data results until they employed AI technology on the property websites. “That’s what has always been missing, the ability to assign dollar values to each of those channels and see what the cost is, the ROI.”
Barratt meets with his executive team at least weekly to review the company’s data and performance across the portfolio. They compare online conversion ratios, look at how many prospects contacted each property, and reveal the number of tours booked and leases signed in the past week.
“The way I’ve been able to scale this business effectively is, of course, it first takes great people,” Barratt says. “But, you must constantly be on the search for great technology and tools that help them do their job better.”
To keep up with the ever-changing digital world, your business must constantly reevaluate the online data streaming in from various places and be prepared to make a shift if something isn’t working or set higher goals if you blow past established benchmarks.
Website technology that features AI and marketing intelligence capabilities, when all tied to a marketing cloud, deliver real-time results and can automatically adjust digital advertising campaign spends based on performance. Some companies dive even further into the results, changing the ad language to include trending keywords, and identifying other ways to improve SEO and channel performance.
“We use the psychographic information we gather from the engagement pieces on our website, almost dynamically, on a monthly basis,” says Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing at Mission Rock Residential, which oversees more than 105 apartment communities across the U.S. “We evaluate those insights, and then we’re able to tweak and optimize our SEO strategy, and maybe even change the content within our different advertising sources.”
While data can help you make predictions and set projections, it’s just as important to view the outcome of previous decisions. Hindsight is 20-20, so use those lessons and occasionally review past data results to see how far you’ve come and what you may have missed in the moment.
“We take a look backwards and evaluate the efficacy of each of our advertising efforts, to see which channel is generating the most cost-effective cost per lease,” Eppsteiner says of her department’s budget review process.
R: Reach Website Visitors in a Meaningful Way to Build Brand Trust
Let’s talk about the other major component of our S.M.A.R.T. marketing goals for digital success: the consumers behind the data. More specifically, how you can give your customers a better online experience to increase lead-to-sale conversions — which is the ultimate goal.
The online competition is fierce these days with eCommerce staying strong, so you need to be at the top of your game when deciding on technology investments to improve customer service and the overall online experience with the brand. To find a winning combination, revisit the original S.M.A.R.T. goal philosophy and employ technology solutions that deliver specific data and measurable ROI.
“It’s a constantly moving target these days,” Barratt says. “Residents are all online. They all have smartphones, and they’re using that as a tool to narrow down their search before they ever get off the couch or leave the office. So, how do you provide some sort of sticky experience when they land on your website? How do you keep their focus there?”
“They may be interested in 20 or 30 apartment communities — how do you remain at the top of that list?” Barratt continues. “In our business, the average lead is like the half life of a fruit fly. You’ve got to get them quick, or they move on.”
Connecting with customers starts on the website, where more than 80% of shoppers begin research for big-ticket purchases. Give them the information they seek, on their own time and in various smart platforms, to serve up the kind of online experience traditionally found on giant eCommerce websites.
From chat-to-text tools and interactive quizzes that match them with their ideal products to realistic virtual tours, smaller companies can now successfully access sophisticated technology once only available to corporations with deep pockets and a huge marketing team. Barratt says customizing his website experience with AI-driven website conversion software makes it more compelling for consumers to use.
“That’s what excites me right now. This kind of technology gives young companies like ours an opportunity to get out ahead and find great new tools,” Barratt says. “We can’t sit on our laurels.”
T: Train Your Sales Team to Manage Leads Better to Increase Sales
Follow up an engaging web experience with personalized, timely emails or texts geared toward that shopper’s personal interests and online research to build brand loyalty and persuade that customer to come in for a visit in person. With a website connected to an AI-driven marketing cloud, you can automate that process to make the lead follow-up process more efficient and effective.
“I want that email to be waiting for them if they’re not quite ready to buy,” Gunn says. “It’s a tool to give the customer the confidence to continue on with the purchase. Realistically, the real benefit to our website is the support it gives the brick-and-mortar store.”
Almost any salesperson can increase their performance when given detailed customer journeys on specific shoppers who’ve already had several touchpoints with the company online, delivered into a connected CRM system that prioritizes hot leads and shows every interaction with a customer. However, it takes proper training and staff buy-in to make it perform as well as promised.
Gunn says a good closing ratio for his salespeople is 30% and that the best sales staff work on getting that remaining 70% back in the door. “The way they earn the right to do that is establishing the relationship. That relationship probably started online, the way the customers are shopping now,” he says. “So, those follow-up emails and phone calls to the customer are super important. We’re not in an environment right now where we can take that data and be lazy with it, because the customer will punish you for that.”
Walk your team through any new technology to help them become a smart marketer in the sales process and explain exactly how they can use the tools to increase conversions by improving lead follow-up. Regularly review data with them to highlight the numbers that matter most to your company and track performance of both the technology and your employees. With a trained team equipped with the right technology, you can increase the satisfaction of the staff, your customers and boost your bottom line. Sounds like a S.M.A.R.T. marketing strategy.
As we head into the final quarter of the year, regional property managers and their marketing department colleagues are already concentrating on next year as they finalize their digital marketing budget property management and set goals for multifamily budget season.
We asked three experienced thought leaders in the multifamily industry what essentials they recommend including in a digital marketing multifamily budget for a property management company, as well as some insights into their overall budgeting process. Here’s their best advice to help with how to create a property budget:
Hindsight is 2020 During Budget Season
As Vice President of Marketing at Denver-based Mission Rock Residential, Marcella Eppsteiner oversees the marketing plan for 107 multifamily apartment communities. With such a large portfolio, she applies a precise formula to evaluate the company’s performance for the previous year and forecast what to prioritize when updating the annual marketing for property management budget.
“We first examine historical factors, so we’ll kind of look backwards and evaluate the efficacy of each of our advertising efforts, and which [lead source] generated the most effective cost-per-lease,” Eppsteiner says. “We see what worked and what hasn’t, and also evaluate our sales over the past year. How have our email sales vs. call sales vs. in-person sales stacked up to our overall organizational benchmarks and industry benchmarks?”
Evaluate Market Conditions for Multifamily Budget Planning
After reviewing past performance, Eppsteiner and her marketing team of six then turn to current construction and future projects coming down the pipeline, along with any market changes on the horizon.
“We’ll look at those factors and determine, OK, if we continued all of the effective advertising and that was it, could it get us through what’s happening in the local economy,” Eppsteiner says. “If the answer’s yes, then that’s kind of our starting methodology. If the answer is no, then we’ll start taking a look at how we can optimize that strategy.”
Cut Your Marketing Budget Last
For Chris Berry, Senior Regional Manager at First Communities in Atlanta, Georgia, nothing’s more frustrating than a property owner who wants to slash the multifamily marketing budget.
“Marketing should not be the first thing that you cut. I think you get more bang for your buck if you spend more on marketing,” Berry says. “I try to train the clients and asset manager, and I fight back. I tell them, ‘You cannot have this small of a marketing budget. Otherwise, I fear you will not be successful.’”
Berry emphasizes the importance of looking at how all of the digital marketing pieces work together to get results, instead of focusing on each strategy as an independent part of the budgeting puzzle. He says once all forces work cohesively to get positive results and you’ve reached maximum potential, then it’s OK to peel back on spending — but just a little bit.
Analyze Data and Vendor Performance
Bigger property management companies can negotiate better contract terms and deals with vendors based on volume. Budget season is the prime time to reevaluate the details of every partnership and contract to see if there’s room to save money or increase effectiveness.
When considering new digital marketing technologies or advertising channels, analyze the property’s current data to verify a vendor’s past performance and use those analytics as a bargaining chip as you renew agreements for the coming year. Set performance incentives and seek trial periods for untested methods you may want to cancel or scale down as results roll in.
“Large communities, because we’re big enough to have a national contract, we’re not locked into the standard 12- or 24-month advertising contracts that some smaller properties are forced into,” Berry says. “A little 100-unit property makes it so tough on the marketing budget. I’ve got a couple of those in my portfolio and there’s just no room to add anything.”
Berry says when times get tough, it’s time to spend more on marketing instead of less.
“On some of our advertising, we don’t cancel, we just ease back,” Berry adds. “Then, when good times turn tough, we round it up and get the platinum or premium package.”
Data reporting looms large in the decision-making process for Mary Herrold, Senior Director of Marketing at Redwood Residential, which is based in Chicago and manages multifamily communities in six states.
“I always opt for business models and partners with ‘pay for performance’ because, to me, that’s a fair exchange,” Herrold says. “I’m not a fan of the fixed-cost model.”
Investment in New Technology is Essential
In mid-2018, Redwood Residential added PERQ Web Conversion to the property websites, making 2019 its first full year using the AI-driven software that delivers in-depth analytics on individual prospects and tracks multi-touch attribution.
Herrold merges PERQ’s data and her own analytics research to produce marketing intelligence insights that Redwood uses to determine the effectiveness and cost of each digital marketing effort in relation to each other. Like Berry, it’s important to Herrold to know, for example, how Pay Per Click and PERQ enhance one another to drive conversions.
“I will say this, I would not cut PERQ from my budget now that I have it. It’s never going on my chopping block,” Herrold says. “Unless somebody comes up with a better mousetrap, it would be a foolish thing to undo.”
Berry agrees PERQ’s performance speaks for itself when evaluating the year’s data and results. “We’re noticing an up-tick in closing ratios and our authenticity is up,” Berry says. “All I can say is I’m not increasing my spend with ILS.”
When it comes to specific marketing spend essentials, Eppsteiner says her budget includes money for the property website, national strategic campaigns and partnerships, digital advertising, and internet listing services.
Over the past few budget cycles, Mission Rock Residential added PERQ’s software and virtual tours to the property website, which she calls “a game changer” for her sales team.
“I would say what we, as the marketing team, try to do during budget season is zoom out,” Eppsteiner says. “Take a look at the industry as a whole and ask ourselves how our strategies can be even more innovative than our competitors. We really try to evaluate the existing innovation in the industry, but also up-and-coming technologies.”
Additional Multifamily Resources
There was a time when multifamily communities could still rely on a simple “Contact Us” website lead form, or force prospects to pick up the phone or send an email if they’re interested in touring the property. That approach often results in a lot of back-and-forth communication on what kind of floor plan the renter wants, any special needs or amenity requirements, and available dates and times that work for both the prospect and leasing specialist.
More than 80% of prospects start their apartment search online by typing something similar to apartments for lease near me into Google, according to data analyzed for PERQ’s new Multifamily Field Guide. They’ll go to apartments.com or zillow before the property website. They spend up to three months narrowing down what one or two properties they will visit in person before signing a lease.
Capitalize on that vast amount of time prospects spend researching communities online, and make it simple for those prospects to take the next step in the leasing process. Follow these five tips to collect higher quality leads and book more property tours:
1. Turn Your Website Into a Leasing Consultant
Meet apartment rental leads where they’re shopping and serve them the information they seek in one convenient place, such as how much money they should budget for utilities and rent and the quality of restaurants in the neighborhood.
In return, your property gathers quality personal data on each lead that can make converting them into a lease much easier when it comes time for a tour. You’ll already know what they’re looking for, and they’ll already have a good idea of what they want. It’s much more detailed lead information than the name, phone number and email address properties receive from standard static forms or internet listings.
“I consider our website a leasing consultant,” says Mary Herrold, Senior Director of Marketing at Redwood Residential, which uses PERQ on all of its multifamily community websites to collect, analyze and convert online leads. “Just like a live human leasing consultant, it needs to do its job. It needs to convert.”
PERQ’s AI Leasing Assistant delivers prospects with interactive online experiences to help them narrow down the perfect apartment to call home, offers 24/7 support with an AI chatbot, and an online scheduling tool for booking tours.
Herrold says she uses PERQ to train new apartment rental agent or when onboarding a new property, telling them to pay attention to the questions the AI software asks and in what order, then mimic that lead nurturing process when talking to a prospect on the phone or in person.
2. Bridge the Gap Between Renter Leads and Tours
“Since the beginning of time in the multifamily industry, there’s been a gap between lead and tour,” Herrold says. “The lead-to-tour cavern has always presented a challenge.”
Herrold credits the online scheduler tool with building a bridge to successfully traverse that costly cavern. “PERQ increases the momentum,” she says. “The commitments that are made along the experiences, they’re small commitments, but they lead up to an ultimate commitment. So, little yeses mean a big yes, and that’s the main goal.”
She says before the online option, even if a lead to agreed to an appointment, prospects often didn’t take the next step to actually schedule the tour or failed to keep their scheduled appointment with a leasing specialist.
When prospects engage with the AI-driven interactive experiences on a property website, they invest their valuable time and personal data. According to PERQ data, that makes them statistically more likely to pick that community as the one or two apartments they’ll visit in person.
Because they’ve already dedicated so much of their focus to the brand, made the no-pressure appointment on their own, and volunteered their name and information, they’re also more likely to honor an appointment they make to tour the property.
3. Prompt More Prospects to Book Tours
If a prospective renter searches for their new apartment home at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night, you want to give them the option to schedule a tour without picking up the phone or waiting for an email response the next day. By adding an interactive calendar tool on the website that allows consumers to schedule a tour at their convenience, a community can compel more prospects to book an appointment at the property.
For PERQ multifamily clients, 15% of online leads captured by our Web Conversion Technology schedule a tour on the property website after engaging with the interactive experiences to learn more about the community.
It’s the convenience and instant gratification of booking right then that drives prospects to take the next step in the leasing process, whenever they’re ready to move forward and tour the community in person.
4. Focus on Quality Leads for Best Lead Nurture
In our experience working with PERQ clients and studying industry data, high-quality traffic gives properties a higher probability of conversion. Collecting more detailed and robust lead information increases the likelihood those online leads will convert into signed leases.
From an efficiency standpoint, leasing agents should spend their time engaging and following up with quality leads that can convert, as opposed to chasing unqualified leads that take up more time.
Properties can use a CRM to sort and prioritize leads based on when they say they’re ready to buy.
5. Measure Online Traffic & Lead Conversions
A multifamily community can increase the quality of their online traffic by measuring the sources they utilize to drive traffic. Google Analytics is a helpful tool for analyzing your traffic to see which channels drive the most online leads and the most conversions.
When paired with PERQ’s own tracking software, anonymous leads in Google Analytics transform into identifiable leads who can be followed across devices, multiple viewing sessions and different touchpoints on their leasing journey.
It’s important when tracking online traffic to set benchmarks and goals at the beginning, and regularly check the data to ensure things are headed in the right direction. Be prepared to tweak your online approach as you review the results, compare them to the conversion goals you set and measure which traffic source is performing the best.
By investing in AI-driven technology, properties can collect higher quality leads, entice more online prospects to book tours, and convert more leads.
“It’s certainly increasing conversions,” Herrold says.
Additional Multifamily Resources