It’s the holy grail of marketing — proven ROI. Less than a decade ago, proving that marketing provides a direct and real return on investment was next to impossible.
Marketers relied on arbitrary numbers like impressions and made mathematical leaps to determine the impact marketing had on sales. The result was the reputation of being a cost center that could only try to justify its own existence.
That may be a thing of the past thanks to marketing automation, according to the panelists on The Art and Science of Marketing Automation session at NMHC OPTECH 2016. While marketing automation has existed for more than a decade, there is little trace of its use in the multifamily industry, creating an opportunity for marketers throughout the industry.
“With marketing automation, marketers have the ability to track back ROI on their marketing investments,” said Jennifer Anderson, digital marketing manager for RentPath, who has launched marketing automation at RentPath and at companies in several different industries. “Apartment marketers who implement it will be able prove and improve their impact on revenue.”
In addition to transforming the perception of marketing from cost center to revenue driver, marketing automation has the potential to provide another valuable benefit: A foundation that makes scaling marketing easy. Marketing automation automates marketing tasks such as sending emails, making social media posts and posting blogs.
“Today’s multifamily marketing communications stack is a little daunting. We have limited people, limited budgets and limited time,” said Beth Tuttle, national vice president of marketing for Dallas-based owner/operator LMC. ”I’m lucky that I have a very big team, but we still do not have enough time. Part of the problem is that with individual community brands, we don’t have the kind of marketing budgets that consumer brands have to manage all of the channels.”
If organized correctly, marketing automation can nurture leads that aren’t ready to purchase up to the point of purchase, drive new leads through thought leadership content and assist in renewing leases. Unfortunately, there are a number of myths about marketing automation that limit its use and effectiveness.
The three major myths, according to Anderson, are that marketing automation is only an email delivery tool, that it’s just a marketing tool and that it’s a nice to have.
“You can facilitate email and you should but if you only use it as an email tool, you’re not going to see an ROI on your investment,” Anderson said. “It is a marketing tool, but the benefits are on the sales side. Your leasing teams are the ones who are set up to benefit from this technology.”
Leasing teams would benefit because marketing automation would create a steadier stream of hot leads and nurture cold leads through automated marketing processes. That would give leasing agents more time to spend on closing leases rather than following up on leads that aren’t ready to lease, according to Anderson.
Ryan Perez, vice president of marketing for CF Real Estate Services, added that marketing automation could present a real opportunity to differentiate an owner/operator from its competitors.
“Marketing automation creates an opportunity for owners and operators to interface with their customers differently,” added Ryan Perez, vice president of marketing for CF Real Estate Services. “You can provide a different experience from first touch point all the way through to the lease process. Whoever figures out how to be first to market with this will benefit greatly.”
Figuring it out, however, isn’t going to be easy. There are a number of steps owner/operators have to take before implementing marketing automation, starting with getting the right marketers on the team.
“You need to build a team that has digital competency and an understanding of the technology you’re going to employ,” Anderson said. “They have to be strong in operations, strong in technology, strong in analytics and able to message to the audience appropriately.”
Second, apartment marketers need to work with IT to evaluate their technology infrastructure and make sure processes are following best practices. Finally, according to Anderson, they need to evaluate vendors and choose a software platform. This includes foundational elements such as a customer relationship management system.
“If you don’t have a CRM, you can’t do marketing automation,” Perez said. “We’ve selected a CRM partner and have five properties in beta right now and will be rolling the rest of the system out soon. But what I’ve found is that we’re not the only company that is just now implementing a CRM.”
It isn’t going to be easy, but the marketer who uses marketing automation to prove and improve revenue will earn a significant competitive advantage.