Multifamily Marketing Meets AI

At the center of all these automated offerings is a recognition of the unique roles that artificial intelligence plays.

This article was originally published by Multi-Housing News’ Gabriel Frank

In the vast, saturated landscape of multifamily marketing products and solutions, the ability to both stand out and deliver the best results to clients and renters go hand-in-hand. At the forefront of such services is a leveraging of automation and artificial intelligence that extends beyond the simple chatbots that a prospect might see on a given community’s website. Recently, such systems have extended into nearly all aspects of the marketing process, from email blasts and virtual leasing assistants to ILS pages, CRM platforms and even copywriting and content creation.

At the center of all these automated offerings is a recognition of the unique roles that artificial intelligence plays. It offers potential for innovation and an ability to allow communities and operators to maximize meaningful online engagements and improve lead conversions.

Communication is key

In using AI-based systems and services for multifamily marketing, you need to be aware of where, when and how leads find and interact with the community and understand that actual engagement might be infrequent. “The visitor has to hit the website first, and they have to elect to engage,” Paul Yount, industry principal at Yardi, explained to Multi-Housing News. “There’s a fairly large segment of the population that doesn’t want to engage with a chatbot; they know it’s a machine, and they think that it won’t be helpful.”

Overall, the quality and reliability of leads matters infinitely more than the number of engagements, something facilitated by an acute use of automation. The Yardi Marketing Solutions Suite focuses on AI that features active, engaging responses, such as automated email responses, phone calls and optimizations of ILS platforms. “You really have to go beyond the chat for both business and operation efficiency and make sure that you’re getting consumers from all those different channels,” he detailed. “The volume of chat is notably lower than email and web leads…much lower than phone calls, emails and potentially [text-based] leads.” Consequently, such engagements significantly enhance lead quality and potential.

Faizan Ali Khan, founder & CEO of LetHub, a provider of AI-based leasing assistance software, has observed such trends directly, and has reduced the cause of such an issue to something even simpler than the medium of engagement: a lack of convenience, and too many repetitive tasks for humans. “The top three problems property managers face in converting leads are after-hours inquiries, incomplete applications and a high volume of inquiries,” he explained. “There is one factor at the root of these problems: ineffective communication.” Communication is much more effective when the provider is simultaneously attentive and engaging—something humans are not always capable of achieving.

The importance of using automation as a tool to find the leads is demonstrated by Fogelman Properties’ use of Yardi’s ChatIQ bot. With this technology they communicate with a high volume of leads, which allows them to fine-tune Fogelman’s approach to reaching them. “Analyzing our communication touchpoints directly resulted in being able to modernize the prospect experience,” Kim Young, vice president of Shared Services, Fogelman Properties, explained. “AI Technology has allowed us to nurture our leads and convert at a high level while simultaneously saving time.”

Similarly, such an idea has motivated the goals of LetHub’s proprietary AI, River, meant to serve as what Khan calls a “natural communication partner,” as opposed to a robotic “decision tree,” one that can meaningfully engage and nurture leads. The assistant can answer questions, screen applicants, schedule tours and even follow up an additional time before the tour.

There are even more active roles that AI can play in the near future, extending into content creation. Yount sees AI as playing roles beyond chat bots, for example, writing copy and even autonomously posting to interest-generating blogs and social media. In effect, it becomes circular marketing. “You can actually create that marketing content that generates the lead that the bot then responds to,” he said.

A customizable campaign

AI can be a tool that shapes engagement platforms at almost every stage of the marketing process. Still, an acute awareness of both its capabilities and shortcomings is important for maximizing its potential. Munish Ghandi, founder & CEO of Hyly.AI, a developer and provider of automated multifamily marketing, sees AI in isolation as “brittle,” and not individually reliable for the goals of any multifamily marketing campaign, yet versatile in its ability to be customized for virtually any aspect of the outreach and engagement processes. “It’s a platform, not a point solution, because it comes at every part of the journey,” he said.

Ghandi feels the technology should take a “human plus AI approach,” where automation is integrated into every phase of a marketing or resident engagement campaign, from the email sent after filling out a contact form, all the way to the generation of move-in checklists. Though this can vary by company, the theme remains the same: Increase the number and rate of conversions through a nurturing, nuanced engagement, which retains the human aspects of communication. As such, Ghandi cautions against delegating every aspect of marketing and renter engagement to it: “Don’t just blindly trust it,” he said. “Ask it, ‘Are you going to increase my conversion velocity, my conversion percentage and my contact scheduling?’”

Adopting this mindset, you can set up your AI to assist residents by having the system send out surveys to collect feedback and to help with the renewal process. It can also help with prospects by collecting referrals, notifying them about open houses and scheduling property tours.

Ghandi attests to this citing the discrepancy in tour scheduling times between a community that has an automated scheduling assistant (an important part of the lead conversion process), and one that does not. “If you don’t have one, it takes five days; if you have a contact scheduler in place, it takes .21 days,” he said. “That’s an extra five days of rent in your system.”

With such optimizations comes a distinct competitive advantage. And given the nature of the leasing and marketing landscape, this is even more important. “Whether they discover it for themselves or when their competitors overtake them, property managers are embroiled in an artificial intelligence landscape,” Khan emphasized. Ghandi agrees that the value of any system within its ability to stand out is directly proportional to the amount of care put into the process. “If a company has spent a lot of time developing the processes, they will have a competitive advantage,” he said.

Filling in the gaps

In addition to its potential to expedite and optimize a multifamily marketing campaign and to improve lead and resident experiences, automation has the potential to ease many of the more material burdens that a property marketing or leasing team may face. According to Yount, many prospective leads are slipping through the cracks just because their initial queries were never responded to through the channels they had used. “Nobody says, ‘If only we had more leads!” he said. “(Typically), you don’t have a lead quantity problem; you have a lead quality and qualifying problem, one where the leasing team simply can’t handle all the inbound communication.”

AI has been able to ease these burdens, due to its inherently adaptable nature with respect to marketing. For Brock MacLean, executive vice president & chief revenue officer at LeaseHawk, a provider of virtual leasing, the 24/7 availability of AI within the company’s ACE Virtual Leasing Assistant solutions has allowed companies to bridge staffing-related marketing gaps they may have previously faced by answering calls and texts, following up with contacts, scheduling tours and serving as a liaison with property management teams. “We’re seeing that AI finds itself in the resident experience as well,” MacLean said. “The workload for leasing staff is as pertinent for today’s resident as it is for prospects.”

Consequently, it’s important to model a system based on what makes the most sense for the company and for the potential renters. “(AI is) a natural progression in the way today’s prospect goes through their self-discovery and decision strategies,” MacLean said. “It widens that net and creates a wealth of options for today’s prospect to communicate [in the way] they’re most comfortable. Lean into it and have it there because it’s only going to be more impactful because of the overall success of your portfolio.”