By:  Megan Orser, Paige Perry and Dawn Ford, the Smart Girls of Smart Apartment Solutions

For many years, the fear of outreach marketing has caused those in the apartment industry to refer to outreach marketing as a four-letter word.  We budget for outreach marketing but can anyone say they have seen direct benefits from their communities outreach efforts?   When we ask clients and colleagues what their true feelings are on conducting outreach (and this goes for industries outside of multifamily) the facial expression says it all; fear, disgust and downright boredom.

So what is the point of outreach marketing?  Why are we spending time and money on flyers to the local diners, nail salons, and banks?  Truthfully, there is no point.  If this is your game plan regarding outreach marketing then the chances that you will actually see a return on investment is slim to none.  It is imperative to take the time to understand where your prospective residents are coming from and their wants and needs.  What works for one property may not be as effective at another, so identifying the trends is one of the most important aspects.  Another common truth about outreach marketing that it is about establishing synergistic relationships.

Identifying your customer

So how do you identify your target market, their wants, needs, and lifestyles?  The answer is there are several ways to obtain this information and we recommend that you diversify your efforts continually.  A suggestion is to start with your management software; in our industry, we pay big bucks for fancy software but don’t utilize this software to its fullest potential.  Sort your information by employers, past addresses, etc. with a watchful eye for trends.  More common than not, you may be able to tap into a hidden market of prospective residents migrating to your area for various reasons, a shift in employment hiring or socio-economic changes.

Working with two properties in Southwest Florida, we noticed a trend of prospective, current, and past residents moving from various locations in New York City.  Identifying this trend allowed us to dig deeper and utilize appropriate advertising venues to target this niche market.  One of the strategies to achieve promotion was placing a Craig’s list ad in New York.

Another valuable resource to put into your outreach toolbox is a free website, , which we use to get a glimpse into consumer lifestyles of people who live in particular neighborhoods.  Understand while this free glimpse is not a through analytical representation of the cross-segment of a neighborhood, it is an interesting

perspective, by zip code, in broad strokes, of a neighborhood’s buying trends.  With this information, we are able to identify synergies with neighborhood businesses and incorporate this valuable information into our outreach plan and marketing pieces supporting that plan.

Outreach Items that assist in building relationships

After you have a thorough understanding of the demographics of your prospective resident, your next action item is developing promotional items that will promote your business in the best light as well as being memorable enough that people will engage and compel them to keep the item.  One of the most effective outreach items is food.  Rarely have we found anyone that will reject food, and it is typically affordable for most budgets and using a cute play on words like “we chip in” on individual size bags of chips is effective and to the point.

The next step in the outreach process is to create a well thought- out outreach action plan.  This is a little harder than finding the niche markets, because you are categorizing the ideas and planning the when’s and how’s of putting the plan in motion.  Prior to this formalization, you are just looking at great ideas, but writing the plan is how you are making the idea a reality as far as your budget and labor of implementation are concerned.

Some ideas specific to the college crowd might be:

Work with your campus theater and sponsor an opening night of a much anticipated movie premier.  Use facebook, twitter, fraternities, sororities, and student groups to promote and invite students to the premier.  Negotiate an ad spot during the premier.  Consider purchasing reusable drink cups with your community logos; provide that upon presentation of the drink cup that students, for a specified period, can receive drink refills at a discounted price.

In our experience with student communities, you can never go wrong with free food.  Sponsor a pizza party at the campus or even a studying party right before finals. West campus apartments are far away from the main college halls, and college students spend hours hanging out between classes to study and are typically hungry, and unable to go back to their apartment for lunch or dinner.  We recently attended a college housing fair and rented a cotton candy machine with supplies for less than $50.00 and attracted over 170 people to the booth within a three-hour time frame.  The cotton candy machine created a memory point for the community and allowed the students to comfortably approach us and ask questions.  If you are planning to participate in a housing fair at your local college, make sure to have plenty of give aways because that is the expectation of this millennial generation.

Host a week long textbook swap at your community inviting students to swap their textbooks at the beginning and end of the semester.  The is a traveling espresso/ fruit smoothie bar available to provide a smart interactive coffee party and is a fantastic edition to this event.  College students will flock for a chance to exchange their books and treat themselves with a much-needed coffee break.

Send out invitations to college sophomores to attend an open house at your community.  Schedule tour buses to make runs throughout the day with the destination being your apartment community.  Consider hosting the event in November prior to the fall rush.

Partner with a local tanning business and provide make-up remover towelettes with a sticker displaying your community name adhered to the package.

Make a plan and stick to it

One of the last steps in bringing the plan to fruition is implementation.  Many times, we will find that some of the best marketing ideas just sit on the shelves without finding the time to put the plan into action.  Setting the time aside and committing to it is the single most important aspect to making outreach successful.  We find that preparing your outreach items and mapping out your contacts the evening before is the most realistic; complete your outreach efforts before you step a foot in the office.  Usually the minute you step foot into your office you will find yourself consumed.  Pick a day each week and commit to that being your day, or half day, to be out of the office, soon you will find outreach marketing to be a part of your normal routine and you begin realizing the benefits of your outreach efforts.