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Monday, August 20, 2012

Student Housing Leasing Offices: Great Venue for Interactive

Over the last decade, student housing has undergone a significant transformation.  Back in the day, universities (both public and private) housed almost all students on campus -- in dormitories and houses.  Married and graduate student housing demand emerged in the 50's and 60's; university-built apartment complexes met this need.  In the early/mid 70's, universities started adding apartment complexes designed for undergraduate students to meet demand for "non-traditional" housing.

Student Housing: Interactive Kiosks Meet Leasing Office Demands
Now, we've seen the transition towards private companies providing housing for all student groups.  Many institutions built and/or remodeled their traditional offerings around the Baby Boomer growth period.  Now, their complexes are aging and "in competition" with housing choices offered off-campus.  While "power houses" such as Harvard and Stanford might not find this an issue, Bill Bayless, CEO at REIT American Campus Communities, notes in Builder"Colleges and universities, in order to recruit and retain students, need market-based solutions acceptable to today's customers."

Market-based solutions allow colleges/universities to allocate their ever-tighter budget dollars to their core mission: education.  As student "consumers" look for housing options, many schools find themselves unable and/or unwilling to compete.  Yet, housing is critical to the institutions's marketability.  Tom Trubiana, Chief Investment Officer at REIT EdR says, "Schools are looking for solutions to fulfill their commitment to students.  They're looking to the private sector, which can go out to the capital markets and raise funds."

As a result of this change, "student housing" is seeing the addition of features and amenities typically associated with "market" housing.  Mike Harnett, Pulte's chief investment officer, suggests "resort-style student housing" is becoming the norm -- and this is similar to housing provided by Pulte in its Del Webb communities. “It’s about high-touch, hospitality, and lifestyle,” he says.

The leasing process is somewhat unique in this market niche.  Students might reserve popular locations a year (or more) in advance.  At the same time, there's a tremendous "rush" at certain times in the year.  Just as complexes are changing, the leasing office must adapt, as well.  We're seeing the addition of interactive touchscreen kiosks and tablets to provide a quick overview of what's available to lease (and when), property highlights and surrounding local "hot spots" including dining, shopping and hotels for parents to use when visiting!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Marketing Housing to Millennials? Product Info as Key

No doubt, you've run across an article or two (maybe twenty??) about marketing to Millennials.  Sometimes referred to as Generation Y or the Echo Boomers, Millennials are the demographic group following Generation X.  Born somewhere between the late 70's and early 2000's, members of this generation are known for their increased use and familiarity with communications, media and digital technologies.
CPS' interactive touchscreen: information, authenticity, quality

Although not large as the Baby Boom generation, Millennials are a significant part of today's economy -- which makes sense as they're in their prime "purchasing" years.  As a result, all sorts of marketing types are joining Millennial parents in trying to determine what influences their decisions

Pamela Marsh and Erin Bilezikjian-Johnson (referred to as M and BJ hereinafter) were interviewed for an Advertising Age article regarding Millennial "shopping habits." There were several interesting comments that are worth considering if you are related to a homebuilder or multifamily marketing team.  Then, it might be worth evaluating how your marketing approach meets the Millennial's "shopping" process.

First, M and BJ note there is the myth of Millennial "impulsiveness" regarding decisions.  Their analysis suggests the reverse, "Millennials spend time and effort researching products and services."  Millennials read reviews, talk to people and place a tremendous amount of value in shared information, experiences and references (frequently, via social media). 

This result suggests providing information is a critical marketing objective as is encouraging sharing and making acquisition of shared experiences and materials part of your marketing process. 

Second, look back to the first comment and revisit the concept of shared: Millennials "helicopter" each other; they tell stories about their experiences, provide details about prices and  highlight both good and bad purchases.  And, most of the time, they're using technology to helicopter.

This suggests facilitating stories is a great marketing process -- visually encouraginh your prospects and buyers to re-visit your sales/leasing centers, providing a "gathering" piece of technology such as a touchscreen to encourage conversation about the experience of living there and making purchases, and making sure you've maximized your social media presence in terms of story-telling.

Finally, even though Millennials are very tech-savvy, they're open to having relationships with brands.  However, the brand needs to meet several key criteria, according to M and BJ, including authenticity, affordability and quality.

How are you demonstrating these Millennial-critical qualities in your marketing program?  Take a look at the Whole Foods Market Customer Comment Board (above); they're using an interactive touchscreen system to solicit comments, provide a calendar of events and display the week's current specials (that's authenticity, affordability and quality -- at a touch!).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Shopping & Queues: It's All About Customer Satisfaction

Pete Abila is on point in his May 14, 2012 blog, "What might seem like an obscure topic is actually one in which we are all affected: The Science of Lines."

Everyone has heard the horrors of DMV, airport, Christmas and amusement park lines.  They're long, they're boring, they close just before you get to the end!   We've probably all asked the question, "Isn't there something that can be done to improve this situation?"

QuikLine installation underway: Whole Foods 57th Street NYC
And, from the store/park/agency perspective, the "line" experience (or the "front") is crucial to customer satisfaction levels regarding their entire experience.  In other words, it doesn't matter (or matters less) that you found the bargain of the century if the check-out experience was lousy; the ride might be unbelievable but the entrance system was confusing get the idea. 

Progressive Grocer sums it up pretty well, "75% of shoppers said a positive experience at the front of the supermarket makes their overall opinion of the store 'much better'."

That's a pretty significant number: 75% have a better shopping experience when the checkout process is perceived as good.  Another interesting comment is concern about check out time is so strong that many shoppers, upon entering, will glance at the front and base their shopping experience (time and related $$) on line conditions. 

Sometimes shoppers will "balk" after looking at lines (leaving the experience without a purchase) while some may wait in line for awhile and then leave without finalizing their purchase.  These behaviors are particularly bad news for a retailer: they were not only able to entice a shopper into their store (which took advertising, marketing, location and all sorts of other retail and financial components) but the shopper made positive purchase decisions only to lose the revenue because of a perceived (or actual) wait.

You're no doubt asking, "This should be a no brainer: why isn't the "front" experience better?"  There are several elements to this discussion and they range from mathematical and economics models to psychology:

(1) The tradeoff between cost and service in the "front" experience.  One might suggest a new cashier whenever someone new arrives to check out but..that's really not a reasonable solution given any sort of "cost/benefit" analysis.  There are ways to improve the equation, however!

(2) There are opportunities to implement queue management systems that notify shoppers when a new line is available, direct shoppers to the next available line and clearly identify closed registers.  These systems reduce many of the negatives associated with waiting such as the "unfair" line, questions about which line is faster, etc.

CPS' QuikLine provides all of those features with an administrative process allowing store employees to quickly/easily open new registers, assign registers to "express" categories and create messages.

QuikLine helps resolve a number of shopper "behavioral" concerns about waiting: "unfair" lines (e.g., "Why don't they handle returns in a special area?"); waiting seems longer longer when the end result is unknown ("I can't even see all the lines; some are around the corner or hidden") and "group" waiting's appeal ("I'd rather wait in a single line and know what to expect").

(3) The "wait experience" is capable of moving beyond "clock watching" when process improvements are made.  Why not make the waiting experience informative and/or a revenue opportunity?  It is possible to make a wait feel shorter by providing easy-to pickup items next to the line or running informative video, for example. There will be an immediate impact on both customer satisfaction and revenue!