Don’t Forget the Parents

by Katie Sloan

Paying careful attention to parents can make all the difference in leasing.

Danny SouleWith all the talk about marketing and leasing to college students, we often find that a critical decision-maker is left out of the sales process. I’m talking about the parents. You know, the folks who are actually writing the rent check? While the property must first appeal to the student in order to have any hope of procuring a lease, we often underestimate the influence that a parent can have in the decision-making process. This is especially so if we are looking to maximize rents, and the price point is going to be a key issue.

Before we explore some ways of marketing to parents, we first need to understand the basic dynamics of buying behavior. When two parties are considering a purchase, one typically finds that the party who initially identifies the product will take a pro-purchase stance, while the party who was not present during the initial inquiry will often play devil’s advocate. This is true in most cases, whether it’s the wife who first viewed the apartment and the husband must now be convinced, or the senior citizen who identifies a 55+ community but must now talk it over with skeptical children. In other words, don’t just focus on the person who made the initial inquiry. It is often more important to sell to the party who was not present when the property was first viewed.

As the student housing industry continues to mature, most CMOs are aware of the need for a robust, year-round marketing program. Targeting students used to begin in January and end in May. Today’s student properties incorporate resident functions, social media, Web presence, reputation management and traditional marketing strategies into a 12-month program geared at building a sense of community and a recognizable brand. While these robust programs can make identifying the source of traffic and quantifying the ROI on marketing spends very difficult, it also means that prospective residents are very familiar with our properties by the time the leasing season gets cranked up. But how do we sell the property to the parents? Below are three ways that you can target this all-important decision maker and ensure that he or she is happy to pay the rent each month!

Get parent testimonials during lease renewals or lease signings. Offer a free Starbucks card to any parent who provides feedback via e-mail or on a review site regarding the ease of move-in, convenience of rent payment or overall satisfaction with the operations of the office. It is not just the younger generations who value the feedback of their peers!

Get their e-mail address. Have your CA’s acquire the parents’ e-mail addresses on the phone or during the initial tour. If received on the phone, send the parent an e-mail and CC the student. (CC’ing the student is very important, as Generation Y is not fond of any lack of transparency and will want to be privy to the conversation). The e-mail should be short and personal. It should explain that their son or daughter has contacted the property and you are writing to simply introduce yourself. It should include pictures, floor plans and pricing as well as an attachment with some testimonials from both residents and their parents. It should conclude by providing a good contact number and an invitation to either call or visit the property if they have any questions. Finally, include a coupon for a free coffee or sandwich from a local restaurant or coffee shop for the next time they are in town. With the click of a mouse you will become the parent’s first choice. This will help overcome any price objections by demonstrating value and customer service.

Direct Mail. As the postal service continues to scale back operations and mail volume declines, direct mail is becoming a viable marketing source for the older generations. Have a direct mail piece drop during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays while the children are at home. Direct it to the parents, and it may become the catalyst for a dialogue between parent and student about their housing plans for the following year.

Make no mistake, if the student does not consider your community as a housing option, any of the above suggestions will be futile. However, marketing to parents can be an extremely effective complement to your existing student-focused strategies. Parents can’t make the sale, but if they are not on board, they can certainly break it.

 — Danny Soule is the managing director of Atlanta-based CLASS Leasing, an apartment leasing and marketing firm that works with several student housing properties across the country, with a high concentration of clients in Texas.

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