Last modified on March 23rd, 2021
By Paul Bergeron
It goes without saying that the pandemic was a world-changing event. Very soon, however, the phrase “because of Covid” will practically be removed from the conversations of apartment operators. As the industry moves into prime leasing season and reflects on the past year — when communities had to scramble to survive, stay safe and pivot – several apartment marketers shared their lessons learned and hopes for the future.
There will be some “good riddance,” but also some “good experiences” learned. Technology has certainly changed – doesn’t it always? – and adaptive property management companies are now embracing “the new” while they wonder what will happen to “the old.”
Here are some of their reflections on what the year of the pandemic has taught them, and what they anticipate moving forward.
Acknowledging people and teams who stepped up boldly
Property management leaders and marketers are tipping their hats to the amazing effort of team members who made such a difference during these unprecedented times.
Shane Gillman, Vice President of Marketing at Gates Hudson, Fairfax, says, “Our ‘people’ are exceptional. Without their hard work, resilience and dedication, none of our successes during the past year would have been possible. Take care of your people and everything else will fall into place.”
Tony Sousa, Regional Manager at Embrey Management in San Antonio says “some associates perform better in crisis, while others shrink back. You want the courageous ones on your teams.”
“Our properties led in March/April of 2020, and we plan to lead again in reopening and making progress back to normal, ahead of the pack.”
Maintaining strong relationships with residents, prospects, and staff
While technology maximizes the employee and resident experience, It’s important not to forget that the nature of property management is “face-to face.” Technology is a supplemental — but very powerful — tool. Dana Pate Senior Director of Marketing, RangeWater, Atlanta, said her teams have done all they could to maintain a “true, interpersonal connection” with residents, prospects and staff members.
“We continue to work to ensure that our prospects, residents and even our team members, continue to feel the human element even during our drive to incorporate more technology,” she says.
“The efficiencies of introducing tools like AI and self-guided tours into the leasing process cannot be ignored, but a true interpersonal connection can never be replaced. Instead of using these tools to lessen staff, we’re repurposing time they’d generally be using to complete basic tasks to more experiential services our RangeWater team delivers so well. Because of this, we’ve seen an increase in ratings and reviews among our communities.”
Embracing change, and technology
Elaine De Lude, Vice President, LIVEbe, Washington, D.C., says “keeping your marketing teams nimble is paramount.”
The biggest takeaway from Covid-19 for Karen Kossow, Marketing Director, Paradigm, Arlington, Va., is the “understanding that we all need to be able to pivot quickly and to be open to doing things that are outside of our comfort zones in order to be able to continue to do business under difficult circumstances.”
Technology will likely make things easier this year. Companies are implementing artificial intelligence, process automation, marketing intelligence platforms and prospective resident tour options such as self-guided tours so they can execute more efficiently.
De Lude says that “partnering with supplier partner companies investing heavily in research & development enables easier adaptation to changing times, and the chance to adjust quickly and lead organizations with forward-thinkers. You need to make sure that your industry partners and your companies are ready for what comes next in tech. For us, we are trying to determine the best way to keep our high touch customer approach while leveraging self-guided tours.”
Making the most of data to outperform in marketing
RangeWater has always leveraged data to better inform its marketing strategies, Pate says. “The impact of 2020 has just put a magnifying glass to those efforts. The challenge is in exploring more efficient and cost-effective tactics that are easy to beta and even easier to roll-out.”
“If last year has taught us anything, it’s that the longer you sit idle, the less relevant you become. Acting quickly as a unified force has played out incredibly well for us. Mistakes will be made, of course, but innovation requires a bit of risk to deserve a reward.”
The post-pandemic world will see changes in marketing goals and strategy, many say.
“Contrived messages and optic based messaging – people are tired of,” Sousa says. “They want authentic effort and true steps to keep them safe and informed. Because Covid-19 became so political, customers are worn out from the political spin, they value directness and authenticity more than ever.”
Gillman says that during Covid-19, he greatly reduced his national marketing campaigns and focused on local. “Additionally, our company became hyper-focused on resident retention and communication,” he says. “We’re starting to see national search pick back up, and with the country’s employment situation improving, this is a positive sign. And with vaccinations rolling out quickly, we feel good about the future.”
At Paradigm, Kossow says that “having gone through a long period of time where leads were so much lower than normal, everyone now will realize how important each and every lead is and maintain the same focus on individual leads (as we see more visit us in-person) as what developed during the dry times.”
Kossow says the pandemic spurred Paradigm to tackle some things that she knew it needed, and to start them a bit earlier.
“Some things we did last year and more we’ve been able to get budgeted for this year despite the fact that we were challenged to cut budgets in many areas,” she says, citing enhanced interactive site maps, tools to assist with video tours, reallocating dollars into our paid search spend, live video tours and deployment of bot technology, as examples.”
“Based on our reporting, some competitors dropped spends for a period of time, which allowed us to get more ‘bang for our buck’ and at least get in front of people in advance of their serious searching,” Kossow says. “This put us in a good position when people started leasing again. Although we’re not back to where we want to be from an economic standpoint, we do have a number of communities who are now largely recovered from an occupancy standpoint. It’s obviously still a challenge, but I do feel like we were positioned well because we didn’t pull back.”
Learning through experience
It has been a very difficult year, but at the same time it has been a highly illuminating and educational experience, on both a personal and professional level. We are all stronger and wiser having gone through it, together.
Here’s to better and brighter days.
Editor’s Note: The perspectives expressed in this article are those of the author and individuals interviewed. For resources and information to support your business as you respond and adapt to the constantly changing pandemic situation, please see our Covid-19 resource center.