In search of that shiny new penny

Over the years, I’ve always felt that industry marketers have always been on the lookout for the shiny new penny. They lift rocks, scrape off the moss, roll it around in their hand, stare at it and hope it’s the next thing that will bring the new residents in. If you think I’m just being curmudgeonly by saying these things, think about the new concepts that have been discussed over the years:

  1. Should you go all in on the ILS’s?
  2. What about SEO?
  3. Are there any more acronyms we can make up?
  4. How do you utilize email drip campaigns?
  5. Is posting to Social Media the answer?
  6. Will I rent more apartments by using Facebook?
  7. What about reviews? Do they matter?
  8. Will Mr. Craiglist change his service again? Can we stop using it and survive?
  9. Should I use a posting tool?
  10. How can I get my agents to answer the phone?

… and on and on and on. The fact is these are merely more tools in the marketing tool belt. Some are way more useful than others, while some have very little usefulness at all.

The conversations in this space over the years have been amazing, educational and fun but there’s a sad truth to face.

They’ve stopped.

I tweeted the other day to everyone, just on that off chance that people were around – maybe to say hi or discuss their shiny new penny.


This post isn’t about my lack of retweets, I didn’t cry myself to sleep or get therapy, I’m good. No, it’s about how there are no shiny pennies anymore. There’s nothing to talk about. We’re talked out. Empty. Vacant. Bored. Are we know it alls who aren’t paying attention while things change around us or have we plateaued or have we simply come to the realization that the old still works well and these other things are secondary? Maybe we all just get it now.

I’ll tell you what, I’d like to throw some things at you, get you to decide whether or not they are worth talking about.

OOOhhh-- beautiful 3D graphs and bars. Blue is clearly the better choice.

OOOhhh– beautiful 3D graphs and bars.

1) Big data is gaining traction in the industry as evidenced by new companies and new software that will create enough vacancy barcharts and line graphs to keep you scrolling for days. How do you see it helping us rent more apartments moving forward? Are there marketing advantages? Are you using some of these new dashboards?

2) Ad remarketing is a cool strategy that we’re seeing more and more of. Sometimes I get embarrassed at the reminders of things I previously searched for. Who’s trying it? Any success?

3) Is checking in dead? Why did Foursquare split their apps? Doesn’t it make us care even less?

4) Your question goes here. Ask it. Let’s answer. Let’s talk.

Let’s find shiny new pennies together. We need to look outside of this industry for inspiration. Just ask ApartmentList. Let’s make a pact that we’ll do that and meet back here next month – to talk about what we found. I know those pennies are out there, we just have to figure out which rock to look under.

Happy renting everyone.

About the author

  • LonaPete

    I feel the same way. I sent out 2 Tweets and 3 private messages asking for feedback on industry conferences… silence. And yes, checking in is dead.

    • It’s just not the same. There’s something missing. The enthusiasm has died. We probably don’t need shiny new pennies but I miss talking about them anyway.

  • stevelefkovits

    Bill, great post. It really got me thinking this morning about shiny new pennies and why “the industry” chases after them. I have a couple of thoughts to bat around:

    I get calls weekly from marketing executives who are trying to solve specific problems that are generated by their corporate structure, budgets, property locations or skill-sets of their teams. Those problems are very diverse. I almost never get a call from a vendor who is trying to solve the problems that the customers are actually experiencing. More and more I see vendor-provided solutions in search of a problem to justify paying for them. In a world where the problems have diversified, I’m not sure that we’re going to see a whole lot of new universal solutions.

    At the same time, the nature of internet marketing is changing. Internet marketing is just marketing now because all marketing is online. The excitement of the internet as a new enabling channel has yielded to the reality that the humdrum aspects of marketing are still there – producing copy, managing graphics, creating offers, targeting marketing, creating campaigns, managing leads – only with dozens of potential channels, the internet has created more possibilities and more work.

    At the same time, many companies have used the end of the recession to re-imagine marketing and make it a more strategic function. And they’re keeping quiet about their proprietary efforts. Some have decided to focus their differentiation on the product they rehab or build. Others are specializing and narrowing their focus to micro-markets where they can excel. Others are using data tools and CRM systems in ways that are years ahead of the rest of the crowd. And they’re not sharing with anyone who hasn’t yet figured that out. They resist the idea that there’s a “we” or an “industry” that they should be discussing anything cutting edge with.

    Last thought – from my perspective the marketing challenge of most multifamily companies is that they’ve become a media company over the past five years. As ad publishers, they have to create stories, imagery, videos, ratings, social presence, events, public relations and client relations that match a brand standard. Marketing departments have become media departments. In my opinion, the biggest reason that there’s no shiny new penny is that the work of a typical marketing department has probably doubled in the past seven years to manage all of the new kinds of media possibilities out there – some of which the marketing person doesn’t control. There’s too much going on for one new thing to be the fad of the year that “everyone” has to pursue. With many channels, many tactics and an evolving set of stories to tell, the challenges of the media company keep changing as the pieces of their solutions interact and deliver results. When no one advertised online, it was easy to advocate for using an ILS as a high-yield, low-cost solution. A company that uses 5 ILSes across 15 markets plus Craigslist may have a media asset management problem, a posting problem, a price distribution problem, a brand messaging challenge….

    Ok, my real last thought. Maybe corporate self-awareness is the new shiny penny. As more companies focus inwardly on their evolving set of challenges and opportunities, they’ll invest more in solving for their own particular needs and the needs of their strategic investment direction and spend less time externally looking for trends. Years ago, Steve Taraborelli at UDR set up his own proprietary ILS that featured just UDR’s properties. He never told anyone and seemingly no one copied him. Steve credited that listings engine with creating millions of dollars in SEO value for UDR at a cost of thousands of dollars plus his allocated salary hours attributed to maintaining it. He solved a particular problem in an innovative way – and never shared his shiny penny.

    My question for you is – what’s the problem you’re having a Maryland Management that needs a new solution? That’s where the shiny pennies are going to come from – sharing your issues with colleagues and potential partners who can help you solve something specific. Happy Friday.

    • Great, great response, Steve, as you bring up many good points. When it comes to sharing problems, there are many with too few solutions. At NAA, we sat around a table discussing updating the ILS and how we can update them easier and in real time. MITS is a slow, outdated, and poor choice and it’s a huge problem industry wide. So many new companies with limited multifamily experience are crowding the space by trying to make the new ILS but I feel that we don’t need more of the same. It’s watered down so much how people find you and has made it much harder to manage.

      My point of the piece was to find out what has shifted with companies over the past few years and your response answers it perfectly. We don’t have to have shiny pennies just for the sake of having them but sometimes they elicit conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have. The dialog is what I’ve found missing. Thanks for your great insight, Steve.

  • Really? I feel like things are really starting to heat up right now–we should get together and hold our own conference, Bill!

    To answer your specific questions–yes, remarketing works, but that’s the tip of the iceberg as to what you can do with Google. There are just so many opportunities right now for doing intelligent, targeted, accountable marketing, but I won’t hijack your post to list them all out.

    I would hesitantly suggest that the biggest problem that we face as an industry is the realization that our business models are fundamentally different from pretty much any other business out there. So, the stuff that works at the grocery store down the street or the ad campaigns from Madison Avenue don’t really apply to us. We breathlessly share articles about stunning success that someone else is having in some other industry, but we don’t pause long enough to ask ourselves, “Would this really work for the apartment industry?”

    When we start to really think about THAT question, that’s when I think this gets to be a ton of fun–even if it’s not quite as sexy as a viral marketing campaign or a big budget branding campaign.

    And if we DON’T answer that question, then I guess I wouldn’t be surprised that people have stopped being interested in even trying to find more shiny pennies. At some point, you have to ask whether any shiny pennies will actually help!

    We should connect you some time. I’d love to pick your brain a little more on what you’re seeing in the industry as a whole from this article. Maybe we can talk about some shiny pennies too. 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting, Jacob. Multifamily has its fair share of challenges much different from the norm, there’s no doubt about that. As I’ve said, we don’t have to have shiny pennies but when we do, it gives us something to talk about and I feel that those conversations are what makes the pennies more valuable. Thanks for sharing your insights and yes, we should connect soon. Let me know when.

  • A few thoughts…

    1) Why are we constantly looking for new pennies? I’m all for staying on top of the latest tools and trends, but I don’t think we’ve come close to mastering the current marketing tools available. Let’s get those shining before we starting collecting new ones we’re not going to spend wisely.

    2) I think this post speaks to a larger industry challenge — too often, marketing is more about going through the motions with the current toolset than it is attempting to create unique positioning in the market. There’s a huge difference between marketing tools and marketing strategies. I think there is a *lot* more we can do to get smarter about messaging, long-term marketing strategies, understanding customer psychology and providing value throughout the entire customer experience — instead of (or in addition to) the quick wins and cutesy gimmicks that often seem to rule the day.

    I don’t say this to diminish the original question. I just think the tools are only one piece of the discussions we should be having to improve as marketers.

    3) Let’s wrap our heads around 1 and 2 as soon as possible, because there are SO MANY incredible possibilities out there for apartment marketers, and the tools just keep getting better by the day. I agree 100% with Jacob that we’re just starting to scratch the surface.

    Bill, since we have @stevelefkovits:disqus here taking notes, what would you want to see in terms of industry dialogue?

  • Donald Davidoff

    As I posted on Steve’s post to LinkedIn, a dull silver dollar is worth a lot more than a shiny new penny.

    I recall an AIM conference a couple of years ago. Lisa T was leading a breakfast round table on new marketing and asked a seasoned veteran what marketing worked best for her. The marketing person hesitated and responded, “Unfortunately it’s still ILS and curb appeal…” I reacted with, “Why is that unfortunate? It’s great that we know what works.” I don’t know this for a fact, but I believe a lot of C-suite execs don’t give marketers respect because we keep chasing the newest thing. We’re like the dog in “Up” distracted by squirrels.

    We keep chasing tools and trends when what we really need to do is get to know our customer. How many marketers have written personae for their resident/prospect base? How many have researched and can articulate (based on researched fact, not anecdotal opinion) how their prospects shop and what they really care about when making a rental decision?

    E-mail remarketing is an “old” tool, yet my company’s research as released in a recent white paper showed only 2 of 31 operators using email drip campaigns. This despite the 2011 Liminal study from Razorfish saying that customers of all ages (even GenY) prefer email to almost all other forms of communication when dealing with companies (note that’s not their friends).

    I think this industry does a much worse job of understanding the process than not paying attention to the tools. Connecting with authentic, compelling narratives that are targeted to your prospects’ actual personae will be much more effective than trying out a new tool.

    jmo (backed by a bit of data)

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