Dallas, Texas — When it comes to attracting the attention of students — and, more specifically, Generation Z — maintaining a positive and unique social media and digital marketing presence is critical. Most owners and operators of student housing today are pushing marketing dollars towards creating a digital brand in hopes of attracting a greater number of lease conversions. As an owner or operator, how do you allocate the right amount of funding to this segment of the business? And how do you know if it’s actually working?
A panel of owners, operators and digital marketing strategists weighed in on this topic during the session, “How to Convince Owners/Operators to Allocate Budget to Social Media and Digital Marketing & How to Report and Validate Results and Maximize Conversions,” at the second annual LeaseCon: A Social Media, Digital & Traditional Marketing Boot Camp, held at The Westin Galleria in Dallas in September.
Achieving optimal digital marketing results begins with transparent data on what works, and what doesn’t. “It’s really important to choose a digital marketing partner that is going to be as transparent as possible,” says Brian Garrigan, head of sales for the central U.S. at Simpli.fi. “A lot of organizations will truncate data. We work on multiple programs where we’re measuring what it costs to drive a user from one location to a specific asset and we can break that cost-per-visit down. That intelligence gives us the ability to figure out if we’re doing a good job with digital marketing and what specific reinvestment strategy should be taken to drive more lease conversions.”
As an owner, having an in-house account executive assigned to keeping up with and understanding marketing data as it comes in weekly can lead to greater success. “We’ve been asking our teams to pair an account executive with the reporting, so rather than having a static report hit our inbox on a weekly basis, we’re pairing that with someone inside who can help us understand what is going well and be able to answer questions just like a financial review,” says Alex Candia, director at Kayne Anderson Real Estate Advisors. “We want to dig deeper and we really want to uncover if there’s something going well, why are we not allocating more spending to it, and if there’s something going poorly, why are we not being overly critical of that.”
“Data allows you to do better at the end of the day,” says Garrigan. “If you’re not being overly critical, you’re not going to have the best campaign that you can have. As an owner or operator, you need to sit down and hold yourself accountable when you’re looking at that data, too.”
On the operations side, making sure the data you’re sending to the owner makes sense can go a long way in terms of having everyone on the same page when deciding what changes or additions need to be made on the marketing front.
“Historically, the data has always come from the agency to the owner, but we’re taking a more proactive approach,” says Joe Goodwin, senior vice president of Asset Living. “I think that sometimes longer isn’t better when presenting data, and being very direct and reporting on the meaningful points is important. It’s our job to make sure everyone understands what the data is pointing to. One simple thing that we’re adding to our reports is a list of definitions. It might sound silly, but it has helped out a lot.”
“I think education is key to the ownership groups,” agrees Patrick Flaherty, senior vice president at Blue Vista. “We sit down with our partner (Peak Campus) once a year and they lay out what information we are going to receive, what the information means and which part of the data we should pay attention to. As an operator, you want to take control of the conversation and help the ownership group understand what the data means.”
The definition for what a successful marketing plan looks like is different for every company. When looking to implement a new marketing strategy, it is critical that everyone on your team has the same goal in mind. “Everyone understanding how you’re measuring information is critical,” says Maria Filippone, director of marketing at Peak Campus. “Are you worried about the cost-per-click? Are you worried about conversions? And what does a conversion mean to you — is it someone visiting the website and clicking apply now? Is it someone completing a form fill? Or physically coming into the office and signing a lease? It’s important to be on the same page, and it’s also important to have tools in place to track your originating lead source.”
“There are so many owners that we talk to that are financially minded,” says Billy Wilkinson, CEO of Threshold. “When you take data, it’s always helpful to have comparisons, especially in an industry like student housing, which is so seasonal and cyclical. You can’t compare August to March. You have to look at year-over-year in the same month. Location is also important — Tuscaloosa is different from Orlando, which is different from Austin. We find that when you can benchmark information, it’s great to show everyone with regards to reporting.”
— Katie Sloan
InterFace Conference Group is a division of France Media Inc., which publishes Student Housing Business. To sign up for updates on next year’s LeaseCon, visit www.interfaceconferencegroup.com/subscribe.