Q&A with Lincoln: COVID Marketing Insights for Multifamily

by LCP360, on Nov 2, 2020 8:30:00 AM

The 2020 pandemic has truly reshaped how multifamily professionals operate. Now more than ever, renters are turning to digital tools like virtual tours, video and photography to help make their rental decisions in a pandemic.

To gather some COVID marketing insight, we talked with some skilled marketing pros from Lincoln Property Company at their 2020 LPC Collective. These marketing leaders have each faced similar challenges during COVID-19 and have learned how to quickly adapt to new digital strategies.

Read our Q&A with Lincoln to get the latest COVID marketing insights directly from the pros.

Q: Could you give us some insight on how you and Lincoln reacted to changes as it pertains to renters and residents during their home search?

A: Morgan Stolle (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

I think the biggest thing that we realized when this pandemic hit was that we were missing a lot of key features and tools for the virtual world. The biggest thing was websites and functionality of that. A lot of us are on template websites just due to budgets and things like that, so we really try to voice the need for “why do we need a custom website?”

Then also photos; videos are such a big deal now. The virtual tours are also such a huge component to it. Being able to walk people through that adventure of “here’s your coffee bar, here’s the lounge, here’s the gym, here’s all the fun things you can do!”

A: Allayna Butler (Regional Marketing Director, Dallas-Fort Worth):

Lincoln has really had its creative thinking cap on and thinking outside of the box. All of our properties have YouTube videos now. No one ever thought of that! Having a virtual tour that someone can go through and click through each room, you know, owners weren’t really thinking about that stuff. It was an extra thing. Now it’s a necessity - we actually have to have that. I think all of our properties have it now, and it really has shed some light on, “okay, we can’t just rely on someone coming in off the street…” We need to put ourselves out there, we need to make ourselves different and stand out. It’s been fun and we’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time.

A: Irini Boeder (Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Midwest Region):

As soon as COVID kind of hit, everyone’s world was immediately flipped upside down. Everything shut down, and we wanted to from a business standpoint, make sure that we continued all of the services that we could in the best way possible.

So we shut down our offices, they were all closed, and we really had to shift very quickly. For our region, we immediately implemented video tours. We with LCP360 had done a lot of the 3D walk-through tours and had them; some were on the websites and some were on the Google My Business listings. We very quickly did a full audit of every single one of our properties to better understand who’s missing what assets on their website, and what else do we need to implement? How do we make that accessible, how do we put it at the front of the website? We know that is the first thing people are looking for when they are looking for an apartment. We just didn’t want disruption to the process. Even though COVID hit, people were still looking for homes, and it was such an essential and integral part of life, that that still continued.

A: Laura Rosey Gibelli (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

We had to completely shift our focus to complete digital strategies, just because we were quarantined for a time, and Lincoln did an incredible job with a response and providing not only us, but onsite teams with the information we needed to successfully showcase our properties the way we wanted online. We wanted to make sure we were still connecting to our renters, and of course it’s difficult to have it only digital, but we were provided with everything we possibly needed, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to continue to succeed with our properties. Personally I felt cared for and safe, but I also felt prepared in response to the circumstances.

A: Cadence Champ (Regional Marketing Director, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions):

I think for everyone it was an overnight change, and fortunately Lincoln as a company was really quick to respond. We almost immediately had everyone working from home, and that meant making sure our online presence was not only the best it could be, but a little bit different than normal because we weren't seeing people face-to-face, so we really had to learn how to make connections quickly with people to show them our properties, tell them what makes us the best, and secure those leases. Photography, online, and our websites became more of a focus than ever, making sure everything looked exactly the way it should, we were putting our best face forward, and that we were connecting with everyone personally while not being right in front of them.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you and your team faced, and how did you overcome that?

A: Irini Boeder (Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Midwest Region):

I think the biggest challenge was training our teams on how to completely change how they lease apartments. We got our typical requests for people that wanted to learn about the homes without coming in and taking a tour, but the majority of our leasing activity was done in person, so I think the biggest challenge for us immediately was training our teams and making them feel comfortable with the new process, ensuring they had all the right technology, and making sure they knew how to lease from home. Making sure they had all the right tools at their fingertips and getting them comfortable with it, there was a lot of coaching and a lot of guiding them to make them feel comfortable and secure in this new process we had rolling out very quickly.

A: Laura Rosey Gibelli (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

The biggest challenge that I found was making sure all of our properties were fully prepared to have an online presence. Some of our properties did have virtual tours before, and I think before it almost seemed like a luxury to have virtual 360 tours as supplemental to the virtual leasing process, versus after everything that happened with the uncertainty, it almost became a necessity. That was the biggest challenge, making sure our teams were prepared, and that even if we were unable to have 360 tours that our teams knew how to make videos on their own. I’m sure other regional marketing directors told you, we made YouTube videos mandatory, and it’s been so much fun training them and them being able to showcase their properties on their own.

Q: You’ve seen that COVID-19 has helped bring attention to the effectiveness of virtual tours and videos. What benefits have you experienced with your virtual assets? What was your experience with these assets before COVID-19?

A: Cadence Champ (Regional Marketing Director, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions):

I think one of our basics we’ve done for a while are virtual tours on our website that are self-guided that you can click through and see the spaces. How that changed was getting people to see that and take that to a one-on-one virtual experience, so you can really say as you’re walking them through the spaces you know, “here’s the kitchen, do you like to cook?” and depending on their answer, catering your sales around that. So that’s been tricky, but I think that our team really grasped that pretty quickly, and it’s nothing we haven’t been doing in person, it’s nothing we haven’t been training on, it’s how to personalize the tour and getting to know what your prospects want to see, but now it’s just making sure we translate that initial experience into one that people feel comfortable with. I think a key element of that has been taking various tools, not only ones that we’ve learned to use, but what is the prospect comfortable with.

A: Irini Boeder (Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Midwest Region):

It’s interesting because when we dived into this COVID environment and quickly realized how important the digital assets were, it was kind of a mixed bag of which digital assets were implemented at which properties, and I think before COVID it was one of those “nice to have” categories, it would be a great bonus, and then it quickly became a necessity.

A: Morgan Stolle (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

I think that we really realized there was a lot of opportunity for us to evolve and extend our leasing capability. As effective as it is to sit down with someone and show them the apartment, you can’t always do that. There are so many people that are stuck at their jobs for 12-15 hours a day and don’t have time to view an apartment. There are so many hurdles that, you know, maybe it’s that one person can go see it, but their roommate can’t—there are so many different things and I think that’s really shown itself through. Not only has COVID revamped us and made us become more flexible, but it’s made us realize that there were a lot of things we missed in the beginning.

A: Laura Rosey Gibelli (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

I think the biggest benefit of 360 tours is the fact that they’re so interactive, and people are relying on technology more and more. It gives our prospective residents the opportunity to go on our website, explore our floor plans, and see our amenities, either before they get to the door or if they are unable to come to our property in-person. It’s either the driving force for the reason they’re going to lease now, or it’s supplemental, so it’s great to see them utilizing it. Something I’ve noticed as a marketing director is that people are spending more time on our website, so that means they’re liking what they see. Especially when we do have the virtual tours, our bounce rates have decreased - which is something marketing directors love to see - we love to see prospects are spending more time on our websites and that the information they are receiving is actually useful.

Q: When thinking about these virtual tours and virtual assets for apartments, is there a key feature you find most important as a marketer?

A: Laura Rosey Gibelli (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

Yeah, I think the key feature is the fact that it’s interactive, so our prospects are able to go look at the virtual tours and hone in on what they’re interested in. It’s not only efficient, but it’s time saving—if they’re more interested in the amenities than they are in the floor plans, then they find what’s most important to them.

A: Irini Boeder (Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Midwest Region):

I think the biggest feature is giving people the choice. We service and house people from all different walks of life, and I think that meeting them where they are today is super important, and I think that is providing people the choice that they want. Some people are more comfortable now coming in and taking a tour in-person, whereas other people are not, and this whole environment has allowed us to provide choices for people.

Q: How have you adjusted your strategy over the past 5-6 months as lockdowns have lifted and we’ve adjusted into our “new normal”?

A: Cadence Champ (Regional Marketing Director, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions):

I was thinking about when you go look at a really high-end luxury car, I feel like the old sales experience was being in the passenger seat and going for a test drive together, and when you’re selling luxury these days, people want to have that experience on their own sometimes and feel the freedom to be in that space, whether a vehicle or an apartment.

A: Allayna Butler (Regional Marketing Director, Dallas-Fort Worth):

I feel like we’ve really emphasized that you need to have that in-person customer service come through a computer or come through a phone. That has been the biggest thing I will say that we’ve really adjusted. Ultimately we are in the customer service industry, and this is their home, so we want to make sure they know we care about them. The first impression, whether that’s through the phone, over email, or if you’re doing a virtual tour with them, walking them through an apartment, you really need that customer service aspect and you need them to know you care about helping them find their home and that they’re not just another number to you—they’re a human being that you actually care about.

A: Morgan Stolle (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

Honestly I’m going to keep all of it, when it comes to the virtual tours aspect. I think it’s done so well that even though we are kind of going back to normal, our new normal has some sort of COVID and pandemic twist to it a little bit, I mean I don’t feel comfortable going out without a mask on. I think that’s all going to stay, none of it is going away, and when we sat down to do budgets for 2021 we really urged ownership, if you don’t have a 360 tour, you need a 360 tour. If you don’t have virtual staging for photos but you have a class B asset and can’t afford a model you need to at least do this instead—you know, just giving them suggestions, because people still aren’t comfortable. So let’s keep it in place, it’s not going to hurt us, it’s just another tool in our toolbox.

Q: In the next 5 years, how do you envision the renter journey?

A: Allayna Butler (Regional Marketing Director, Dallas-Fort Worth):

Five years from now, I mean, I never imagined we’d be in the world we are today, heavily relying on virtual tools. We’ve always just relied on on-site staff and face-to-face interaction, and now it’s not going anywhere, people have adapted to it, they like it, and I only see it escalating from here. Hopefully there will be different avenues, or something more interactive, and who knows with technology, it grows so fast. There’s no way we’re ever going back to the way we were, I just don’t see it. Now that we’ve had a taste of it, it’s only going to further develop.

A: Laura Rosey Gibelli (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

I see us relying on technology more than ever before, and this is something my coworkers and I have discussed over and over, this is something we can invest in now and it’s going to be useful in the future.

A: Irini Boeder (Assistant Vice President - Marketing, Midwest Region):

You know, when I think of some of the technology that was already on the cusp of being out into our world, I think of the walkthrough tours, I think of walkthrough renderings, but I also think of smart home technology and self guided tours. I think from a renters perspective, in the next 5 years, they could be able to schedule an appointment, get all of the information that they want through an AI tool, come in and take a self guided tour, apply online, and pretty much do everything without having contact with anybody if they don’t want it.

A: Morgan Stolle (Regional Marketing Director, Southwest Region):

The world can’t stop, we still have to keep running business, we still have to engage in person with people, but I think that over the next 5 years we’ll really see that a lot of these things can be done virtually - as seen right now. We can do these things without showing our faces, but at the same time, we don’t want to do that. So I think the next 5 years is going to figure out how we’re going to be able to blend the two together and create a seamless experience for the renter.

Watch the full LCP360 Master Class, Own Your Digital Ass(ets), from 2020's LPC Collective.

Topics:Multifamily

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