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Revenue, Not Fans. How To Jumpstart Your Digital Strategy In 2016

Alex Middel
December 1, 2015

Are you in the business of making money or making friends?

Because in the digital marketing world, they aren’t always the same thing.

Putting tactics-first might help generate more Facebook fans, but it’s rarely going to create a meaningful (and repeatable) stream of new renters.

In this article, we’ll examine how to avoid the all-too-common digital marketing “fails”, why it’s important to measure your progress using actionable metrics, how to reach renters before they even set foot on your property, and what makes an online presence that will draw potential customers in.

Why Digital Marketing Commonly Fails (And How to Prevent It)

Unfortunately, digital marketing efforts are destined to fail when tactics are prioritized over strategies.

A perfect example?

The average large company has 178 social media accounts, according to an Altimeter report from a few years ago.

Companies Average an Overwhelming Number of Corporate-Owned Accounts

How about another?

One guy lost $600,000 on Facebook ads because he was primarily targeting fans, not revenue.

 $600,000 Facebook Disaster

Companies that convert social media engagement into revenue are companies who have their digital marketing strategy - the big picture - in place.

Instead of basing everything around a comprehensive strategy designed to hit your objectives, many savvy developers or management teams often skip right to the tactical approaches, attempting to win over potential clients with promotional offers and shiny new websites.

Here’s what happens:

A website will be created, but no one manages it. So when people send an inquiry, less than half receive a response within 24 hours, if at all.

Unit availability and pricing is also not updated frequently, so prospective renters (as we’ll discuss soon) can’t get an idea of whether they should even visit the property or not.

A Facebook page is spun up to “generate new buzz”, but outside of promotional offers, there isn’t a guiding thought for what the content or engagement is supposed to translate into.

After a few months (or weeks), the Facebook page slowly just dies and becomes a place for negative comments.

User engagement does not end or begin with a FB like, but it will help you determine where to focus your efforts (and when).

But first, we need to understand how consumer behavior has evolved as a result of the internet.

How to Reach Renters in the “Zero Moment of Truth”

The savviest consumers (i.e. renters) today instantly know whether to buy, pass, or hold off before making a key decision - all thanks to Yelp, the Apple App Store, Google’s Zagat ratings, Amazon reviews, and every other review-based site or application.

This age of radical transparency as Jason Calacanis calls it, means that in today’s market, companies have nowhere to hide.

Most renters will know almost everything about your property before calling or even setting foot on site.

They’ll have already researched the reviews and seen the major complaints with property management. They’ll be aware of the floor plans and available pricing. And they’ll also know how your property stacks up against others in the market, based on amenities, pricing, and more.

These “innovators” and “early adopters”, according to the diffusion of innovations, are hyperactive consumers that will set the tone and trends for everyone else to follow.

 Diffusion of Innovations

The good news, though, is that these are also some of the most profitable and influential consumers... if you’re able to address them properly.

In the past, the most crucial moment for a potential buyer was known as the “First Moment of Truth” (FMOT) - when a customer sees a physical product and makes a purchasing decision.

However, the evolution of consumer behavior, combined with the new technology options and platforms, has given rise to the “Zero Moment of Truth” (as dubbed by Google).

 Zero Moment of Truth

The “Zero Moment of Truth” (ZMOT) refers to the moment a user goes online to research a product, deciding whether or not to purchase it.

This means that today’s biggest marketing and promotion challenge takes place way before people drive by your property.

For example, if someone was looking for a new apartment in any major market, starting with little knowledge of specific properties, they’d probably google something similar to “[city] + apartments”. And here’s what they’d see:

 Google Apartment Search

The majority of organic search results contain these powerful aggregator and review sites, including popular ILS brands such as, Trulia, Zillow,,, and more.

What you don’t see, are individual properties or development groups. (Unless you look at the paid results at the top or far right of the page.)

The trouble with that strategy, despite the relative ease with tracking results, is that ~85% of listings are organic (not paid). And the distribution of clicks (i.e. people clicking on organic results instead of paid) are also overwhelmingly favors organic listings.

Share of listings by type & organic clicks by rank

Because potential customers are already interacting with their available choices online, having a strong online presence for your company and properties to reach consumers faster is absolutely crucial to success.

But once you start getting everything set-up and established, the trick is to make sure you’re focusing on actionable metrics as opposed to vanity ones.

Vanity Metrics vs. Actionable Metrics

Not all information is created equal. Especially when it comes to measuring the progress of your marketing campaigns.

In order to gauge the success of a strategy, you need to understand the difference between vanity metrics and actionable metrics.

 Vanity Metrics vs Actionable Metrics

Vanity Metrics include Facebook likes, registered users, and raw page views. Vanity metrics are a sign of traction, but not a sign of engagement - they show that a user may be aware of your company or brand or property, but does not show that they are engaged with it.

Actionable Metrics include active users, user engagement, revenue and profits. They are found in the retention of a customer, purchasing of products and services, and repeat usage.

Facebook is a great example of a company that measured their success using actionable metrics. Early on, Facebook reported daily users (as opposed total users) and shared how quickly they took over an entire campus (not just that they did).

When creating a digital marketing strategy, your objectives need to be rooted in actionable metrics to help you (a) choose the right tactics, and then (b) execute properly to bring in more new renters (while keeping old ones around longer too).

Social media, websites, and blogs can be effective.

How many “likes” and page views you have will help you as you move forward in your marketing strategy. But it is important to view them for what they are, not for what they could be.

Viewing FB likes and page views as success often causes businesses to stop short of true customer engagement. And generating any real money.

Here’s what you should be doing instead.

Step #1. Craft Realistic Customer Personas

Get crystal clear on who your customer is, what drives or motivates them, and who influences them.

Companies are great at discussing a customer’s demographics.  If you’re lacking in this area, then one amazing tool is PRIZM from Nielsen. By entering a zip code, you’re able to get a quick snapshot of the area’s income levels and behavior.

 Nielsen PRIZM dashboard

Beyond demographics though, the key information you need to uncover is purchasing motivations.

What are these people interested in?

What drives them?  

These could be tangible things (like certain property features), or intangible ones (like a certain lifestyle).

Step #2. Revamp Your Website

Once you know who your customer is and what motives them, you can begin to shape your website or hub of digital activities to cater specifically to them.

Steve Jobs said that design is how something works (not just what it looks like). And the same is true for websites, which should be built with interaction in mind.

Yes, your traditional media or offline advertisers can create some jaw-droppingly beautiful works of art. But unfortunately, beauty is only skin deep online.

The true success of a website deals more with how they’re going to find specific bits of information (depending on where they’re at in the buying cycle), with how users are going to flow through these pages, and ultimately how you’re going to get (willingly) their contact information.

The customer experience online, when trying to view unit floorplans, availability, images and walkthrough, needs to be seamless and consistent across every single device. And there needs to be systems and workflows set-up to process incoming leads quickly, so that people get instant responses and are immediately graded or passed through to leasing agents.

This example from Savvy Pandy (via Clickz) is an excellent overview:

 Customer Buying Cycle

Lacking the ability to deliver on these key things will make any dollars spent on promotion almost meaningless.

Step #3. Distribution Channels

Only after getting your customer personas figured out, and upgrading your digital infrastructure, can you begin to pick distribution channels or worry about optimizing for this “zero moment of truth”.

While a potential renter will begin their online research months in advance, when it comes time to make a decision the process happens fairly quickly.

It is absolutely crucial that you have resources available for those in the researching phase AND consistent (but not spam-y) updates on social media platforms for those who may see a property and be ready to pounce.

For example, you can separate each social media platform and use each for a different purpose (again, all depending on who your customers are and what they’re already doing in these places):

  • Twitter:  brand/company recognition and traditional or local media
  • Facebook:  interact with current renters to keep them engaged (and around longer!)
  • Pinterest:  connect with potential renters/buyers via their own interests: nesting, diy home improvement projects, etc.
  • Instagram:  engage potential customers by posting about upcoming open-houses, events, and new properties.

Here’s another example, from Business2Community:

Distribution Channels screenshot

A key part to prioritizing all of the distribution channels at your disposal is by understanding (a) who you’re trying to reach, (b) what the proper messaging should be, and then (c) having somewhere compelling to direct them (so you can deliver on that promise).

Only the Beginning

If things haven’t worked out like you thought they should, it’s often worthwhile to simply hit “pause” on your current approach.

Especially at year end so you can prepare properly for the next.

If you begin using social media platforms and digital ads before you truly know your customer, and before you have an effective, up-to-date, well-managed website in place, all of your hard work (and money) spent on ads, “likes”, and more won’t truly pay off.

Online, friends and fans are nice. But they’re only the beginning.

Next year, let’s turn those into prospects and renters.

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