Student housing providers get creative in attracting today's student renters.
When it comes to leasing an off-campus apartment, students today are savvier than ever. Many have smart phones that give them the ability to instantly access information about a property. Students can search a variety of websites for peer reviews of a community. They also consider themselves immune to market ploys and well informed of their options. Student housing providers are aware of this and are using a variety of innovative ways to attract students to their communities and get them to sign on the dotted line.
Successfully marketing to students can begin before they even step foot on campus. Campus Living Villages has harnessed the power of the new Apple iPad to bring all of its leasing information to one convenient location. At housing fairs, leasing agents can show pictures, videos, floor plans, walkthroughs as well as the property’s website and Facebook page from a single location. If students like the community, the lease application is pre-loaded onto the tablet for ready reference.
“The best thing you got before [the iPad] was a digital picture frame flipping through photos. Maybe you could put a laptop up,” says Natalie Teinert, interactive and creative director for Campus Living Villages.
“Especially on its launch, the iPad was so new that students wanted to touch it. They wanted to play with it. So, it drives traffic itself. Then, we get to distribute our information during that process.”
When it came time for the company to re-launch its property websites, Campus Living Villages made sure the new sites could be viewed with iPads and other mobile devices. In addition, the company has more of its information and services available online including online leasing software for current residents. With students on mobile devices for more and more of their day, Campus Living Villages wanted to make sure its online presence was cutting edge.
“For our market, it’s where students are. It’s what they understand,” Teinert says. “They fill out FAFSA forms online; they’re filling out all their university information online; they’re selecting their classes online. It just makes sense that when they are choosing their housing, they are going to choose to do that online as well.
It was this same line of thinking that led to Asset Campus Housing developing its student housing app for the iPhone.
“All of our student workers are always playing with their phones,” says Joe Goodwin, vice president of marketing for Asset Campus Housing. “It’s a technology that we haven’t looked into doing before, just because of the cost associated with doing it. Once we started doing more research — conducting surveys at our properties — we thought developing the app would be a good idea.”
Version 1.0 of the app contains features for both prospective residents and current residents. Those looking to lease at an Asset Campus Housing property are able to select a property by state and school, look at floor plans and photos, and contact the property for more information or to lease. Current residents have the ability to pay rent and submit maintenance requests from their phones. According to Goodwin, the app has been downloaded thousands of times and has a rating of 4.5 out of five stars in the Apple iTunes Store. While the app is only available for Apple products right now, Goodwin mentioned the company’s next step included developing an app for other operating systems. It also is developing version 2.0 of the Apple app, which will contain even more features.
Last year, Campus Advantage launched a program that got people talking about its apartment communities. The company created a branded mascot program to help raise awareness for its communities. The first mascot, Copa the Parrot, was rolled out at Cabana Beach in Gainesville, Florida. Part of the strategy of building brand recognition for the parrot involved guerilla marketing — the mascot would walk and drive around campus as well as show up at restaurants.
“Our biggest benefit is we have instant name recognition,” says Casey Van Zandt, vice president of leasing and marketing for Campus Advantage. She adds that many of her company’s competitors are stuck in a rut of marketing in the traditional ways such as having people on campus hand out flyers. “But if we walk on campus with a huge parrot, and it’s handing out flyers, taking photos and having a dance contest in the middle of the quad, that sets us apart.”
Campus Advantage also sought to keep their mascot brand fresh on students’ minds when they were away from campus. During spring break, the company sent Bob Moose, its mascot for Campus Lodge in Tampa, Florida, to nearby Clearwater, where many students spend spring break. Van Zandt says that the image of a person in a moose costume walking down a beach is definitely the sort of thing students remember when it comes time to look for new housing.
The company recently took over 4050 Lofts, a student housing community also located in Tampa. It gave the community a turtle mascot and has seen increased traffic. The same can be said for other communities in the company’s portfolio that have a mascot.
“It’s not going to just be because of our mascot, but we believe that when we look at traffic numbers for the past years and compare it to the current year, when we first launched the mascot program, we see increased traffic.
The mascots also have their very own social media presence. In addition to community Facebook pages, each community’s mascot has its own separate page. The mascots develop personalities and even interact with mascots from other Campus Advantage communities. The mascots were key in the branding of the company’s social media themed move-in day this past fall semester, which provided a way to raise awareness of the community’s social media presence to new residents.
This is only one component of Campus Advantage’s social media platform. In addition to each community having its own Facebook page, Campus Advantage maintains a Twitter account at @CAonDuty. Several communities have videos online providing virtual tours. The goal of all of these efforts, however, is to sell students on the experience of living at a Campus Advantage community.
“We’re not putting up things like ‘We’ve lowered our rent’ or ‘We have a renewal special,’” Van Zandt says. “We try to focus on the lifestyle and selling what the community is going to offer beyond the apartment complex.”
To Jason Sherman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Aspen Heights, a marketing strategy is not effective if it is not clear what the student is getting for his or her money. Aspen Heights focuses on developing cottage-style housing communities. Students generally pay more to live in these communities than in traditional apartment complexes, so Sherman’s company must make sure students realize the benefits of living in an Aspen Heights community.
“You have to have a specific value proposition,” he says. “It has to be clear, concise and compelling.”
When the company first launched in 2006, it noticed that students were having a hard time connecting the fact that Aspen Heights contained houses instead of apartments. Sherman admits the value proposition was not clear, So his staff tweaked the marketing strategy, and now Aspen Heights clearly markets the benefits of cottage living to students — the amenities of an apartment community with the larger space and privacy of a house.
Aspen Heights gets this message out by individually tailoring its marketing to the demographics of each of its communities. Sherman says the biggest mistake an operator can make is taking a “one size fits all” approach to marketing. On some campuses traditional student newspapers are a strong marketing option. In others, few read the paper. Some communities respond well to radio spots, while the idea would not be effective in others.
“We have a reputation in all of our properties that we really listen and hear what students want and respond to that. There’s a sense we’re really in touch with them,” Sherman says.
Once prospective residents decide to visit the community, Aspen Heights continues its marketing strategy by having them greeted by a trained sales staff. The training process is intensive and makes sure anyone employed in the sales office knows the best closing techniques and how to manage the leasing pipeline.
“We treat them like they are a true sales staff rather than a bunch of kids that are pointing out the obvious things about the product,” Sherman says.
He adds that the sales staff is trained to deal with the multiple decision makers — the student and the parents as well as multiple roommates — and to pitch to each one differently. Students also have different buying criteria than traditional multifamily renters, and the sales staff needs to cater its pitch to that. Sherman also emphasized treating students like adults when marketing to them. You get respect by giving respect, Sherman says.
— Coleman Wood