Introducing: The 30 Minute Manager Series on MProTV’s Retention Report

Register now for this FREE series! 12 p.m. Eastern on the 3rd Thursday of the month

 

July 19 – How the Maintenance Team Will Save Your Summer

The summer months can cause a priority tug of war between turning units and addressing service requests. Learn strategies for maintaining balance between the two needs that not only benefit existing and new residents, but office and maintenance team members too!

August 16 – Move-In Magic

New residents begin to make their lease renewal decision within the first hours and days of moving in. Learn the keys to a perfect or near-perfect move-in experience that sets the stage for lease renewal from Day 1.

September 20 – The Top 5 Ways You Can Impact Lease Renewals

What has the greatest impact on resident loyalty? Here’s the latest data on what matters most to residents when they are making their lease renewal decision and what you can do to impact that decision.

October 18 – Generating Gratitude on Your Online Ratings

How to maximize positive comments and scores on your rating and review sites, keeping in mind that online reputation begins with your onsite reputation.

November 15 – Leasing Agent: Stand Out! Get Noticed!

An insider’s look on how to reach your full potential in the eyes of your prospects and your company, including, how to connect with prospects/new residents/existing residents, how to win points with the maintenance team, and how to impress your supervisor!

December 20 – Weighing the Value of Resident Events

Do an internet search for “Resident Retention” and you’ll find hundreds ideas for resident events and activities. But what impact do these really have on resident loyalty? Learn what matters most to residents when they are making their lease renewal decision!

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REACH FOR THE STARS ACCELERATED LEASING AND RENEWAL PROGRAM

Contributed by Amy Alred, CLASS and the Leasing Workshop

This is a super program/policy that is guaranteed to increase your numbers!  Create a daily call in sheet listing all employees responsible for leasing on your site or all sites within your portfolio.  Your call in sheet should include seven days a week and a specific goal each employee is challenged and empowered to meet weekly.  You can also incorporate your resident renewal goals on this call in sheet.  Next work with every employee individually to develop a daily leasing and renewal goal and mark this on the call in sheet.  Now it is time to implement your program for successful leasing.  Target a specific time for employees to call in and report their accomplishments from the day before. Leasing Specialists from our company our responsible for calling in to our National Training Director every day before they start their day.

 

The objective for having our Leasing Specialist call in is to:

 

  1. As an off site management team, we know on a daily basis what our leasing numbers are from every property we are working on.
  2. We listen to the tone and attitude of our leasing specialists.  If they had a super successful day, we are able to congratulate them on the spot and share their accomplishments with every one in the home office. If they had a challenge or tougher day, we are able to work with them and pump them up before they start their day.
  3. Calling in is a very PROACTIVE approach to monitoring your company’s leasing activity.
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY. Your employees will be motivated and expected to play their “A” game every day.

 

A weekly flyer to goes to every employee responsible for leasing.  This is a colorful and cute flyer we produce and mail on Fridays.  It lists the top three Leasing Specialists.  Our team loves these, and a lot of them save them in their “me” files.  The flyer helps others to step up to the plate and lease, lease, lease.

 

Our company has been doing this for 19 years.  The cost is less than $25 a month plus time of the person who takes the calls. It works!  You have to have someone in authority and who is a very good performance coach to take the calls EVERY morning.  I have been doing this for five years, even when I am traveling or on personal time and I can say it definitely drives our business to hit our company’s performance benchmarks month after month and year after year.

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Activities and Events Can Provide Leasing Support


Who gets invited to management-sponsored special events and routine activities?

  • The residents
  • Adult guests of residents
  • Business and industry contacts: human resource people, corporate VIPs, department heads, relocation agents
  • Prospects and their guests
  • Community-relations people: local government, neighborhood press, officials in community services such as fire, police, schools, etc.

 

Invitations should be tasteful and well thought-out, but they need not always be in writing or printed.  A handwritten note on letterhead is a nice touch, but telephone calls can also be an effective way for leasing agents to encourage prospects to meet residents and other prospects or to sample the community in advance of making a decision.  The leasing agent needs to arrange to meet the prospect at the door at a given time, with the intention of introducing that person around to select residents, other prospects, etc.  Leasing professionals should be relied upon to host functions and cause guests to feel welcomed and comfortable.  Leasing agents and management staff should greet residents warmly, treat their guests like royalty, and perform introduce them to other residents and guests.
Invitations and follow-up contacts with business and industry should be a bit more businesslike, but still warm and caring.  The invitation by mail, hand-delivery, or phone should be appealing enough to be memorable.  The department head or the personnel director of a targeted area employer might not be personally interested in attending your function—but a secretary or clerk in that department might, and that may be all it takes to get a referral.  If no one shows, and you continue to mail invites and then call for RSVP, you still will be making an impression upon someone if you do so often enough to be recognized and remembered.  Make it a good and elevating experience for the person who opens the mail or answers the telephone call.  Then, your name and that of your community will pop into his or her mind when an employee or candidate solicits apartment information.  You just don’t know where things will lead.

 

You may also just happen to have one of those treasured secretaries, clerks, or department heads living in your community, and never have realized what benefits they can provide.  Look over your resident list and see who would be in a position of influence to possibly refer someone or to feed you leads about who will be transferring into town and when.

Who Coordinates Activities and Events? How to Fund Them?

Of course, the manager is responsible for all community affairs, but the likely candidate to coordinate the advance promotion and execute the event would be your leasing team.
Promoting these activities and events interfaces well with an outreach program conducted by leasing professionals.  You never can tell who might enjoy an aerobics class, Monday night football potluck supper, or crafts show.  The power of suggestion is mighty surprising.
There are some overused budgets from which you might borrow funding: newspaper, resident referral payments, and rental concessions.  Many and varied events can, and should, be paid for by the attendees.  You don’t have to offer activities for free; all you must do to warrant paid attendance is to plan and manage the activity well enough that it’s worth more to the prospective attendees than what you’re charging.  People really want to feel excited about their free time, and hopeful that it will meet some of their needs.  Maybe all you’re doing is providing a place to hold certain classes for a three-week or six-week period: Self defense, Oriental cooking, crafts, astrology, better English grammar for business, how to prepare taxes, clogging, flower arranging, or whatever is offered elsewhere.  It could be exposing your community in a positive way, with a minimum effort on your part.

 

12-Month Calendar Example and Ideas

Get a 12-month calendar that has blank spaces for every day of the month and the entire month on one page.  Page-at-a-glance viewing is helpful to the planning process in order to make sure the schedule, expenses, and activity variation have balance and meet your target market objectives.
Obtain a list of all the important dates for the calendar year in which you are working.  Make sure you have some veneration days for all walks of life and all religious persuasions that could relate to your anticipated profile.
Obtain a list of “crazy” holidays and celebrations around the world.  These are available in the public library.  Partial lists are exhibited here as an example.  The lists may be holidays, or even a birthday list of notables, living or dead.  It’s fun to brainstorm when you have information before you.  For example, communities with many small children might promote a Saturday afternoon celebration of Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday on April 2.  Pay a drama student to do readings and animate the children’s literature.  You might get some good mileage out of this type of program promotionally, even if very few children actually attend.  Take close-up photos in place of group shots when the group is small.  Or celebrate Orville Wright’s birthday on August 19, with an outdoor cookout and kite-flying contest (adults or children).  Or pay a fee to the local jump school and have them do a flyover and jump at your property, if you have enough grassy area to land.  Or have a model plane contest, or arrange helicopter rides through your local airport. If you have an upper-end community, how about a Beethoven Tree-Trimming Party on December 16, Beethoven’s birthday, to put a new twist on Christmas celebrations.
In the calendar examples provided, there is generally a routine event each month, which runs with seasons and moods, and a special event each month.  These routine and special events deliberately change profiles for reasons already explained.

 

Synopsis
Use the power of your imagination to create a groundswell of excitement.  Put a twist of creativity into every event to make it outstanding enough for everyone involved to talk it up—both before and after the event.  It isn’t easy to be memorable in this time of heightened competition.  Your creativity can make the difference.  But make a difference in measured doses.  Too ambitious a program will wear you down and diminish your effectiveness level.  For the first year, try just two or three ideas and work out the kinks, get accustomed to the pace of promotion.  It’s very different than direct advertising.  But whatever you do, look carefully at each event and see how you can get more mileage out of it than you thought possible previously.  There is no better resident-retention opportunity than causing residents to have fun and derive real enjoyment from where they live.  If the community is an integral part of their social structure, they won’t want to let go very easily.
Home can be more than a nice place to live—it can be a lifestyle!

 

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Increasing NOI and Asset Value – The Case for Attention to Retention

Article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of the National Apartment Association’s UNITS magazine.


By Doug Miller and Jen Piccotti


Attention to retention has increased as the rental pool has gotten smaller and smaller, as competitive housing has become more prevalent (condos, single family homes), as units are sitting vacant longer, and as concessions have grown.   Because there are not as many prospective residents entering the front door and the costs associated with every move-out has grown to astronomical levels, owners and managers have become more and more focused on how each team member can personally “close the back door” to protect cash flow, net operating income (NOI) and asset value.  To understand the critical impact of resident retention and the significant influence team members can have, one must understand the role of NOI and cap rates on asset value.

Why are NOI and Asset Value So Important?

NOI and increasing asset value are the reasons someone acquires multifamily assets.  That is why it is critical for everyone, from leasing consultants and maintenance techs on-site…all the way up the organization…to not simply understand what NOI and cap rates are, but to also know the significant impact both have on asset values.

Definition and Impact of NOI and Operating Expenses:

Let’s start with some definitions*:

  • NOI is Gross Operating Income minus Operating Expenses.
  • Gross Operating Income is Gross Scheduled Income (assumes 100% occupied, 100% collected) minus vacancy, concessions and credit loss allowances.
  • Operating Expenses are the costs necessary to insure the ability to generate income.  This includes utilities, supplies, property management, repairs, maintenance, and turnover costs – and every move out saved eliminates these latter costs!  Items not included are loan payments (may need a mortgage to buy, but not to operate), depreciation, and capital expenditures.

So, NOI is used to assess the value of assets: market value is driven by the income stream (NOI).  Today’s challenging marketplace impacts NOI due to reduced demand, higher concessions and increased vacancy loss days.  These costs are eliminated for every move-out that does not occur…so retention makes “dollars and sense” in good times as well as bad!

Definition and Impact of Cap Rates:

Next, we need to understand the definition* and role capitalization rates (cap rates) have on asset values.

  • The capitalization of income is used to estimate the value of an asset.  This assumes that value is related to the ability to generate NOI.
  • Cap rate is the ratio between NOI and present value: Cap Rate = NOI/Present Value.
  • Example: A property with $400,000 NOI that is valued at $6,155,000 means a 6.5% cap rate was used.

Estimating the Value of a Property:

Estimating the value, or what one would pay to acquire the asset, requires flipping the formula noted previously.

  • Value = NOI/Cap Rate.  The projected value is driven by the expected NOI and the buyer’s required cap rate (rate of return).  One buys assets expecting NOI will deliver the desired rate of return (cap rate).
  • If NOI for a property is projected to be $400,000 and a 6.5% rate of return/cap rate is used, the estimated value is $6,155,000.
  • A seller must consider a potential buyer’s other investment options, so attracting buyers requires a property being priced so its cap rate (buyer’s rate of return) is competitive.

Impact of Today’s Increased Cap Rates on Asset Value – An Issue:

Cap rates have increased the last several years due to the challenges of the economy and market conditions…with buyers and lenders expecting a higher rate of return due to increased risk.  What happens to asset values as cap rates increase?

  • Value/sales price drops as the cap rate increases.
  • Example: When the previously noted property with a $400,000 NOI is valued/capitalized using a higher rate of 8%, value drops to $5,000,000 (down from $6,155,000).
  • The reduced value creates challenges for the owner.

Impact of Industry Conditions and Increased Cap Rates on Assets with Maturing Debt:

Due to the economy, industry conditions and the banking crisis/credit shortage, cap rates have increased, so asset values have decreased.  What is the impact on properties with financing that is maturing or about to have interest rates reset?  The following shows the significant impact and why reduced turnover can dramatically impact NOI.

  • $400,000 NOI asset at 6.5% cap rate purchased for $6,155,000.
  • 90% bank loan-to-value means they will loan $5,539,500; the balance is funded by the buyer.
  • THEN cap rates increase since loan originated.
  • An increased cap rate of 8% drops the value to $5,000,000.
  • 90% bank reset/refi loan-to-value means they will loan $4,500,000; the balance has to be funded by the owner.
  • BUT FIRST, the original $5,539,500 loan must be paid off, however with the reset or refi the bank is only willing to finance $4,500,000…so the owner is “upside down” by $1,039,500.
  • SO, the owner must come up with $1,039,500 to erase the “upside down” for this one property!

How can one eliminate the “upside down” or raise the funds needed during challenging economic times when credit is tight?  There are several options to increase NOI:

  • Increase market rents.  Achievable during this horrific recession?
  • Renovate, reposition the property and increase market rents.  Again, achievable during this recession?
  • Slash operating expenses.  Are there any properties that are overstaffed?
  • Or, given that most turnover is controllable and that the cost of each move-out has a huge NOI impact, focus on reducing costly turnover using low cost/no cost retention strategies?

The answer is to focus on retention due to its significant positive impact on NOI and asset values (today as well as during a strong economy!).  To validate this point, how much does turnover cost?  What is its impact on NOI and asset value?

The High Cost of Turnover, the Impact on NOI and the Case for More Attention to Retention:

The cost of turnover has increased due to market conditions.  In addition, not everyone includes all of factors that impact this cost.  When evaluating an individual property’s true turnover costs, one must have a clear picture of the impact each resident’s move-out decision has on the property’s financial well-being:

  • Average market rent
  • Average vacancy loss days
  • Average wages for the leasing team to re-rent the unit
  • Average wages for the maintenance team to turn the unit and make move-in ready
  • Advertising and marketing costs
  • Referral or locator fees
  • Concessions
  • Leasing commission
  • Repair and replacement costs to make the unit move-in ready
Move-Out Cost: Challenging Market Conditions
Assumptions: Average
Average rent* $980.40
Average vacancy loss days 45
Average concessions $823.54
Maintenance tech average hourly $18.32
Maintenance tech average hours to turn a unit 9
Leasing agent average hourly $16.96
Leasing agent average hours to show and rent a unit 10
Calculations:
Vacancy loss $1,471
Concessions* $824
Leasing staff time/cost $170
Marketing/advertising cost/rental (guides, newspaper, internet listing services, other advertising and marketing costs) $356
Resident referral fee / locator or rent.com fee (average) $444
Leasing commission $40
Carpeting cleaning or replacement cost $136
Painting cost $197
Appliance repairs or replacement cost $292
Miscellaneous maintenance costs (parts, etc.) $141
Maintenance staff time/cost $165
Apartment Clean $71
TOTAL $4,305
Source: SatisFacts Research (www.SatisFacts.com)
* Source: Axiometrics (www.axiometrics.com); average asking rent and concessions as of Feb 2010

As an illustration of the impact these costs can have on NOI and asset value, consider a 5000-unit portfolio that is able to reduce resident turnover by 5%.

  • 5,000 units x 5% lower turnover x $4,300/move-out = $1,075,000 increased NOI
  • NOI/ 8 cap rate = $13,437,500 increased value

Turnover presents a tremendous challenge for the industry. According to the NAA Annual Income and Expense survey, the average turnover rate over the last six years has ranged between 55%-62%.  For many industries, having to replace this volume of customers annually would make it nearly impossible to keep the doors open. Service and manufacturing businesses alike rely on repeat business.

In the multifamily industry, repeat business equates to lease renewals.  Our clients have experienced the impact of a greater focus: first year clients often reduce turnover by up to 6%; and, our clients’ average turnover is nearly 10 points below the rates reported in the NAA Annual Income and Expense Report.  The question becomes how does each member of the property team, including office and maintenance associates, personally impact resident retention on a daily basis?

Low/No Cost Best Practices to Reduce Turnover

An Internet search for resident retention ideas will typically result in suggestions of sending residents a birthday card, having a newsletter, throwing pizza parties, and delivering any number of trinkets as a way of expressing gratitude to the resident for choosing that community. After surveying millions of residents, however, there is no data to support that these tactics reduce turnover.

The data does provide very clear focal points that often cost nothing to the property management company but have a direct impact on a resident’s decision to renew their lease – and therefore protect NOI and asset value.  The renewal process begins at move-in and continues through each resident call and email, each work order that is completed and each personal interaction with a team member throughout the life of the residency.

Move-In

It is critical to follow up with every move-in to ensure the resident’s new home is clean and that everything is functioning properly.  According to the SatisFacts Insite™ Index, 26% of new residents experience a non-working fixture or appliance.  First impressions are lasting, and from a resident’s perspective if they discover that basic expectations such as a working stove or bathroom lights working they immediately begin questioning their decision to make this community their home.  In fact, new residents who have an outstanding maintenance issue are one-quarter less likely to renew their lease compared with longer term residents with issues.

Maintenance teams can personally impact this first impression by implementing what Bill Nye refers to as the “look right” inspection process. The process requires the maintenance team member to enter the front door and follow the wall to the right checking every fixture, outlet, bulb, appliance, window, screen, window covering, lock, latch, door, counter top, etc.  Eventually the tech ends up back at the front door, with a thorough inspection completed and deficiencies can be remedied immediately.  While this may add time to the inspection process, it safeguards against new residents walking into problems and causing them to wish they had moved elsewhere. It also reduces the amount of rework the maintenance team will have to come back and do in the inevitable service requests.

Work Orders

It is critical to follow up on every completed work order to ensure it has been completed to the resident’s satisfaction. A SatisFacts correlation analysis reveals that this practice has the second greatest impact on renewal likelihood. Why?

High Priority Maintenance Satisfaction Topics SatisFacts

Index

Maintenance: Follow-up by office staff 41%
Maintenance Staff: Request completed right the first time 80%
Maintenance: Maintenance problem still exists 26%
Score Key:

<3.00 = Red Flag, 3.00 – 3.49 = Warning, 3.50 – 3.99 = Average, 4.00 – 4.49 = Superior, 4.50 – 5.00 = Exceptional

Source: SatisFacts Research

According to the 2009 SatisFacts Index, only 80% of residents’ service requests are completed right the first time, and 26% of residents report a maintenance problem still exists. While some outstanding maintenance issues may be attributed to requests not completed right the first time, some issues may be ones that the resident has not reported. They may be minor issues such as a loose handle on a cupboard or a screen door that no longer slides open easily. Such issues are a daily irritant to the residents, but not severe enough today (in the resident’s mind) to warrant a formal service request. Regardless of the type of outstanding maintenance problem, part of the luxury of living in an apartment community is knowing that someone else is responsible for taking care of the home maintenance. When that luxury becomes a liability, the resident’s perception of value diminishes.  They then begin to wonder if they might have better service (and maintenance) down the road at the competing community – and then they get their renewal letter!

By following up on every completed work order, each office staff team member then ensures the request was completed to the resident’s expectations and also ask, “Is there anything else we can take care of for you?”  This will often prompt the resident to remember some of those “little things” that have been bothering them. While up seven points from the prior year, the current reality is that only 41% of residents receive any kind of follow up.  This means nearly 60% of residents may potentially be stewing about the perceived “bad job” done or “poor condition” of a home for which they are paying hard earned money. Follow-up effort by follow-up effort, value is enhanced when residents can feel confident that their maintenance issues will be resolved effectively and efficiently. And if they are not, they can at least be confident the issues will be quickly and easily resolved when they receive their standard service request follow up call, email or survey.

Responsiveness

Nobody wants to have to work hard to be a customer.  There is nothing more frustrating when a resident has to continue to check in as the staff is not responding to calls and emails.  Therefore, establish a standard that all residents receive a same-day response to any call or email.

The previously noted SatisFacts correlation analysis identified “Prompt response to calls and emails” as the topic that has the greatest impact on renewal likelihood. The issue is not when you are responsive, it’s when you are not.  The last thing any owner needs is for residents leaving because the staff is not delivering the courtesy of responding!  While many property management companies already place this as a priority, the SatisFacts Insite™ Index for the Move-In, Work Order and Pre-Renewal feedback modules clearly shows a negative trend of perceived responsiveness after the initial move-in experience.

This common sentiment is summarized best in this quote from a SatisFacts Annual Resident Satisfaction Survey, “The staff has not been trained in customer service. Only in sales. Once you sign a lease they are unresponsive and indifferent to their customers.”

When asked at specific touch points how satisfied they were with the responsiveness of the office staff, residents responded with the following, with the score dropping over time – from move-in through the term of the lease.  The great news is that once staffs realize how critical responsiveness is…satisfaction and renewal likelihood scores grow, as supported by trends in survey scores.

How satisfied are you with the responsiveness of the office staff? Insite ™ Index
Insite ™ Move In touchpoint 4.40
Insite ™ Work Order touchpoint 4.34
Insite ™ Pre-Renewal touchpoint 3.61
Score Key:

<3.00 = Red Flag, 3.00 – 3.49 = Warning, 3.50 – 3.99 = Average, 4.00 – 4.49 = Superior, 4.50 – 5.00 = Exceptional

Source: SatisFacts Research

Prospects who have experienced prompt call backs or email responses from their leasing consultant are often surprised to have a markedly different experience once they move in. As they continue their residency, the trend appears to support the perception of residents that the staff is more focused on getting new residents in the door than serving their residents who have already signed the lease.

The office staff can personally change that perception by ensuring that they respond to all resident calls and emails on the same day received.  Even if the resident has asked a question, and the answer isn’t available yet, enormous goodwill is created when the team member returns the call or email to say, “I just wanted to let you know we are still looking into your concern, and we’ll give you a call as soon as we have an answer. I didn’t want you to feel that we’ve forgotten about you!”

The Resulting Impact on NOI and Asset Value

Because of the significant impact reducing costly turnover can have on NOI and asset value, it is critical for property owners and managers to support a focus on service delivery and communication, and make retention at least as important as leasing. Individual team members create the resident experience, and their commitment to service basics throughout the entire resident life cycle has a direct impact on the financial solvency of not only their own property, but the entire company.

The good news is that as each team member implements basic follow-up and response-oriented strategies as a daily standard, turnover will be reduced and owners will be able to see bottom line proof that NOI is being protected and asset value maximized.  Our years of reviewing client performance metrics validate this.

* Definition Source: RealData (www.realdata.com/ls/noi.shtml)

Join multifamily’s resident satisfaction and retention authorities, Doug Miller and Jen Piccotti of SatisFacts.  The absolute most effective thing you can do to keep your efforts on track is to safeguard your most valuable investment: the customers you already have. Given the high cost of turnover and that the majority of turnover is controllable (yes, it is!), that’s why we’ve devoted an entire show to just this aspect of the way we do business today. In each episode, you’ll hear more about what drives retention and learn about best practices that will  improve resident satisfaction and keep them renewing!

Third Thursday of each month

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Doug Miller
Since the mid 1980s Doug Miller, President of SatisFacts Research, has been involved with the marketing, research and training functions for thousands of properties nationwide.  Prior to starting his own businesses in 1996, Miller was Director of Marketing for several national and regional property management firms including NMHC Top 50 Forest City Residential.  Doug is the multifamily industry’s leading authority on resident satisfaction research  and retention – surveying millions of residents over the years to determine what best practices drive satisfaction and retention…and how to use this information to reduce controllable turnover.  Miller received his BSBA from Washington University/St. Louis and MBA from The American University (DC).

MultifamilyproTV Jen Piccotti
VP – Consulting Services Group, has over a decade of resident loyalty and process efficiency experience.  A noted author and keynote speaker in the multifamily industry, she has served as chair of the Service Quality Division for the American Society for Quality (ASQ), and has been MC for their Annual Service Quality Conference for several years running.  Previously, Jen was Quality Manager for a privately held property management company in Southern California where she oversaw the quality assurance program, including loyalty programs, work-time studies, process improvement initiatives, QA training and organizational communication. Jen received her undergraduate degree from Boise State, and holds a Master of Science – Quality Assurance from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

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A Love Story

Multifamily TV

With all the efforts by the public to avoid advertising and sales from DVRs, no call lists and spam blockers; how should we approach leasing an apartment and positioning our product in this new era? We need to switch our focus from “all about me” to celebrating LIFE at our communities with word of mouth (WOM) marketing, and start talking about what people LOVE about their life. Take the emphasis off the commercial details about the floor plan and have a testimonial from a resident sharing what they love about living there. We have to get away from data and numbers like “2-bedroom, 2-bath, 879 square feet…” and start sharing word of mouth testimonies about how people enjoy privacy, space, life, love, entertaining friends and quiet evenings at home in this well-thought-out space. It’s all about the “story” of life … not the commercial description of the product!

In their book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, authors Rick Levine, Christopher Locke and Doc Searls identify important market observations needed to change our perspective on product positioning. We have to understand that the Internet has broken down mass marketing into individual conversations. Companies need to create intimate relationships through meaningful language. The more commercial you sound the less the public will listen. Unless you use an authentic human voice, your message simply becomes a part of all the noise that no one wants to hear. If you are old enough to remember when “Amazon” was just a river, you may need to update your product positioning strategy in order to be “heard” by the NOW generation.

How can you speak in an authentic voice and engage your residents to share Word of Mouth recommendations? Use the philosophy taught by the Word of Mouth Association – “Don’t tell … Do ask.” Don’t tell people about your product in commercial language; but ask your residents to share their experience from an honest human perspective.

Begin to develop your WOM strategy by setting your intention on writing a love story about life at your property. Interviewing your last 10 residents who rented and find out why they chose your property. What do they LOVE about your area? What is their favorite nearby restaurant? What businesses do they frequent the most? Where do they like to spend their free time? This becomes the WOM content from which you will build your “authentic voice”.  Have your team develop a list of “Reasons Why People LOVE Living Here,” generated from resident interviews. I call it the Love List! This list should share not just your pool, floor plan, amenities, great service, online rental payment and other things provided by the company – share the reasons that go beyond you!

Redefine your WOM marketing by sharing “what you get as a resident of our community” according to the entire experience of the life they will enjoy. Engage your resident’s to use digital video or still camera to capture the essence of life around your community.  Search Google neighborhood area information to obtain lists and locations that you may be unfamiliar with. Begin in Google maps with your address and then search area retail, restaurants, park and recreation and more.

The complete WOM “Life” experience of your resident may include sports centers, activities, bowling, movies, theaters, swimming, golf courses, driving range, goofy golf, recreation centers, parks, jogging trails, play grounds, lakes, water sports, water parks, amusement parks, training centers, recreation lessons – dive center, museums, antique stores, boutiques, shopping malls, coffee shops, ice cream shops, churches, hooka bars, tubing hills, climbing walls, skate parks, tennis courts, racquetball, basketball courts, dirt bike trails, bike trails, dog parks, game rooms, spas, dance clubs, sports bars, sporting arenas and more!  FIND EVERYTHING! Take a drive down every street, go into every store, find every secret your area holds and share it. Capture it in still life pictures and video!

IDEA: We recently created a cool “I LOVE this” graphic that can be printed on 8.5″ x 11″ glossy cardstock paper in full color. Cut out the heart for your residents and have them take it and a camera or flip video to record them selves grinning big, holding the sign with their favorite cup of coffee! The sign is like a built-in talking cloud and the message with a few words is powerful. Ask them to take a picture with the sign on their favorite trail with their dog, playing at their favorite park or reading a book in their secret place. Use the photos and videos to enhance your WOM marketing.  Place this special group of photos to into a Shutterfly “LOVE Story” book and show your future residents a powerful visual of everything they will LOVE about living in your community with the shinning faces of your happy residents smiling back at them!!! When you have this, you have harnessed the power of the authentic voice of the consumer in word of mouth marketing! To answer the question “How do I sell in an anti-advertising age?” Resident testimonials and word of mouth marketing! No need to bore people pointing out the obvious facts, just share “a love story” about life and all the reasons people love living there. Without conventional selling, you just might increase your persuasive power and leasing success!

Build a LOVE List with all the reasons why your residents love their home …

Then write the perfect Love Story!

Don’t Miss Toni’s Shows on MproTV

Multifamily TVToni Blake is an international speaker, author and comedienne. Having invested more than 28 years of her life in multifamily housing, she tours over 50 cities each year inspiring thousands of industry professionals. As an author, Toni’s expertise has been published in over 36 trade magazines across the country. She was selected by the National Apartment Association as one of the industry’s “Marketing Gurus” and is recognized for her research and innovative concepts in customer service, sales, and marketing. Toni was honored at the very first Multifamily PRO “People’s Choice Awards” winning awards for Educational Excellence, Imagination and Innovation. Utilizing her multi-lingual talents, Toni was a featured speaker at the 2006 ISTA Conference in Kassel Germany, presenting IN GERMAN to an audience of over 260 German multifamily professionals. She is the president of TotallyToni.com and lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two stepdaughters.

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