The Marketing Paper Chase

In the fall of 2009, I approached my new job as a marketing director for a multifamily property management company as though I had been charged with singlehandedly removing any and all printed marketing collateral from our properties.  More than six years later, marketing in multifamily is much closer to being completely paperless.

However, with some trepidation, I have come to accept what many of my colleagues back then believed: There is a place for paper in multifamily marketing.  The key to utilizing printed materials is understanding where, when and why they work.

We already know that most people begin their apartment search online. So what we are really looking at in terms of the feasibility and necessity of incorporating printed collateral into an effective marketing plan is the impact that each piece has on the decision-making process.

Here are some questions that will help determine the right way to include print in a property’s marketing strategy:

Should marketing dollars be spent on a print ad, or should that money go toward a greater online presence?

Will a printed brochure help a prospect remember a property better than a digital brochure?

What about promotional items?

For our clients at 13 After, we consider not only how prospects are finding apartments, but how they are reminded of the properties they put on their short list.

Consider print ads. We tell our clients: If you have a property that shows a clear ROI on a print publication ad, keep the ad.  Chances are, that means that your property is in a niche market, or there is a publication for your submarket that is widely regarded as having insider information for the end user.  Campus newspapers are a great example of print advertising that still works.

In any other scenario, a property still placing print ads is throwing money away. Printed ads offer limited information about properties and usually just a few photos. Prospective renters don’t find them particularly helpful.

Online ads and property websites, though, offer a wealth of information with multiple photos and floor plans.  Well known ILS companies like Apartment Guide and Apartment Finder have seen this coming for some time and have shifted their packages to offer either no print or print on a much more limited scope — and for very little money.  With the digital presence that has established via some memorable ad campaigns, a lot of apartment shoppers are now conditioned to have a site like this one bookmarked throughout their search; and they may rely on it almost entirely.

What about a property brochure? We answer this question differently for our clients. We know that a printed brochure plays an effective role during the decision-making process.  Consider a renter who visits five properties during a search.  If four properties offer a digital brochure and the fifth leaves a lasting impression by handing out an attractive, well-organized printed brochure, that renter has only one property to take home. An effective brochure is a tangible reminder of the property. A digital brochure may not be referenced again. For our money, the best way to handle brochures is to have both a printed and a digital version.

We also encourage our clients to continue to use promotional items. Many have gotten away from them, questioning the ROI,  but we believe they provide one more piece of the closing puzzle.

The most important thing is to do something memorable.  For one client who wanted to use coasters as promotional collateral, we came up with a different approach. Rather than using coasters distributed in partnership with local bars or restaurants, the property is giving them out  directly to prospects who tour.  Each prospect receives a set of four coasters, branded with the property logo and tagline and including drink recipes the prospects are likely to want to hold on to. This is a reminder of the property every time they are used.

We operate in a digital world, but well-rounded marketing plans should include print collateral used strategically.  Even as a virtual agency, we still use print collateral ourselves.  In fact, one of the comments we receive most often is, “We love your business card.  So cool!”

About the Author: Dean Boswell