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Is There a Price to Pay for "Too Nice"? You Tell Me!

I feel like I've been in the apartment industry my entire life. And believe me, I'm not complaining. It's a great industry to be a part of; we really are like family. When I speak to newcomers to multifamily, I always tell then that we're ‘huggy'. And we are. Go to any industry event and you'll see a lot more hugs than handshakes. And we've always been that way. But...perhaps all that friendliness isn't always the best when it translates into the way we do business. Maybe there's a price attached to it; ya' think?

Stick with me here. In almost all other industries, companies go for it when they are advertising. They put their product ahead of all others; often in a direct or ‘almost direct' comparison. Look at the picture below and you'll see what I mean:

Now I know that apartments aren't hamburgers. But wow, that ad makes a point, doesn't it? So why haven't we ever seen an ad showing a couch sticking out of an apartment window with a caption saying, "Silly Sofa; That's XYZ Apartments", while the ad goes on to further talk about ABC Apartments larger floor plans. You know why? Because most of the time, we are simply TOO NICE to do that.

In this economy of excessive concessions, ‘resident swapping' (after all, there certainly isn't any job growth so we are definitely picking off other properties' residents), and layoffs trickling down to the site level, why hasn't anyone in our industry just really "gone for it" with their ads and shown their superiority of their product to their competitors? So what if you tick off the staff at a property next door. In the long run, does it really matter? Isn't it more important to take your fiduciary responsibility seriously and lease your apartments even if you hurt some other company's feelings in the process? Or should we stick with what we've always done and avoid direct comparisons? (And I'm not at all suggesting that we use rude or cruel comparisons; I'm simply talking about pointing out competitive advantages your property may have over the competition.)

Next time you're coming up with a new ad campaign, consider relying on your strengths and your competitors weaknesses in creating your message. You just might surprise yourself with the results.

Let me know what you think. And hey, if you like my blog posts here, please visit my own blog site, www.ApartmentMarketingBlog.com, where I post something new just about every day. I also occasionally cross post with this site as well.

I'm looking forward to some spirited discussions.

p.s. We had some interesting back and forth on Twitter today regarding this very subject. No one was willing to take on their competition in their ads. Some were willing to discuss their competitors' weaknesses during their tours, others in their 'in office' leasing displays. But no one had done it in advertising.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Christi!
Thanks for the comments. I totally understand where you are coming from. And while I definitely don't advocate 'slinging mud' I do think it's fine to tout the features and benefits that your community has over another one.

I don't know if a community's strengths and weaknesses always do speak for themselves. And I still don't understand why it's acceptable to talk about our strengths -vs- a competitor in person but not in our advertisements.

I really appreciate you weighing in and hope that we can create a great dialogue on this topic!

Lisa T.

  Lisa Trosien
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I would argue that advertising the weaknesses of your neighboring competitor's property weakens your own property. When people are deciding where to live, location usually trumps everything else, including amenities, size of apartment and value. If your neighbor's apartment community is full, you are going to get some of their spillover. Additionally, by cheapening their perceived value, you are also decreasing your own perceived value - who wants to live near the crappy apartments? My suggestion is to team up with your competitor and share marketing expenses. Perhaps have a joint summer party or both join the same online social network so residents can get to know their neighbors.

  Scott Schneider
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When I was on-site, we got word that there was going to be road construction in front of our competitor that would last for quite some time. I suggested that we send out a mailer to the community with the basic details and then say, "for more information call (our number)". I wasn't sure if I even felt comfortable with that plan, but the decision was made for me as I was told our competitor was owned by the mob.

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great Post!!
I've always dealt with questions and challenges re: our comp's very simply: when they present with a larger rent or security deposit concession, I like to remind my prospects that if they think they're getting a great deal, there's a reason. If a property has to give something away... and I'll let my prospects draw their own conclusions. I always figured that I drew a better crowd when I had an advertised waiting list than when I had free rent.

  Tara Smiley
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My biggest problem with this is that I am advertising my competitor. Now that doesn't mean that this isn't a fantastic idea, just don't use a name. Do a banner like a person who looks like a giant in their tiny apartment with something like "Growing pains stop here" or "A Right Fit Home" ... you get my drift. Homemaking your own banner is really easy, take a couple of photoshop classes and you can save tons of money.

  Vala Vieregg
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Vala, Brent and Scott:

Interesting responses all the way around! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I don't think I've ever seen a party held for two unrelated properties - what a unique idea.

And I had not considered the fact that you were suggesting, somewhat, that prospects visit your competition. Great points of view!

Is anyone actually doing this in their advertising? Or has anyone ever done this? I'd love to hear the actual results, good or bad, if so!

Thanks again for commenting.


  Lisa Trosien
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I take the position that if you have a truly remarkable product being operated by a truly remarkable team then you don't need to be draw attention to the competition. That being said, I would be mindful of the counter attack - for lack of a better way to put it.

I think what Burger King is doing with McDonald's or what Mac is doing with PC takes a very sophisticated level of thinking - thinking that goes beyond the time and the resource of our everyday apartment operator.

That being said, I think some back and forth between the behemoths in the industry; read: EQR vs AIMCO might be fun.

Great post as always LT - always thinking.


  Mike Brewer
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I've been an advocate of this type of advertising for some time, under certain circumstances: (1) when you are clearly superior to a comp, even if your prices are higher; (2) if you are fairly sure your office staff out-performs the other staff in customer service/tours; (3) you are geographically very close. I thought it would happen where I am (Chicago) since big-city people are generally more aggressive anyway. But I've never seen it done this way.

I do agree with Mike Brewer: the average intelligent person cannot cook up this sort of campaign. It needs to be done by someone with strong marketing/advertising experience.

  Chuck Mallory
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I think Vala has a good point in that this is a fundamentally different situation than Burger King vs McDonalds in that everybody already knows that both of these two places exist. You might just be giving more exposure to an unknown community. Also by doing this, you might be giving your competition credibility by accident. You wouldn't make this type of ad for a slum down the street, so you are essentially naming a particular property as your peer, thus a worthy option for your prospect.

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Brent, Mike & Chuck:

Thanks for commenting! I agree wholeheartedly with Mike and Chuck that if a company/property were to try this type of advertising, it would need to be carefully thought out and designed. You *are* walking a fine line here, because it's very clear our industry hasn't ever really embraced this ideology (or at least those who have aren't responding here). And the chance of turning off a potential renter is something you have to consider.

I think you also need to take your demographic into consideration. I think the generation that this style of advertising might resonate the most with would be Gen Y. Ads geared to Gen Y are typically riskier than others and tend to resonate more due to their 'in your face' ideas.

Thanks again for commenting.


  Lisa Trosien
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