Advice from a Top Student Housing Manager: Integrated Marketing

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At Campus Advantage, our approach to marketing truly sets us apart from others in the student housing industry and makes us a top student housing manager. With our marketing agency partner, Catalyst, we have access to full-service, integrated communications expertise, all under one roof, allowing for a more sophisticated, strategic and results-driven approach to attracting and retaining students. Catalyst provides integrated marketing expertise to both new acquisitions, developments, and existing properties with the crucial purpose of driving leads for new leasing opportunities, as well as helping to retain residents.

Catalyst achieves its purpose in three distinct ways:

  1. Branding new developments / rebranding acquisitions.
  2. Utilizing integrated marketing.
  3. Researching and testing new approaches and tactics to stay ahead of the curve.

Branding new developments / rebranding acquisitions.

By using research to better understand each property’s market, Campus Advantage provides branding and rebranding services that are unique to and resonant with each individual property. It’s common in the student housing industry to take a “best in class” approach — discovering a strategy that works well with one property and applying it across all subsequent properties. Catalyst does the exact opposite: considering a “best in class” approach while taking into account market-specific trends and consistently analyzing the competition, Catalyst brands properties with the needs and desires of students in that specific location in mind. It’s only after gaining first-hand knowledge of the residents, the asset and the host institution that we are ready to establish the brand, develop brand standards and, finally, develop a website – the digital equivalent of hanging out an “open for business” sign.

To gain a deep understanding the market and the property to inform future branding, targeting and marketing budget needs, the process begins with a review of the property owner’s market study data, which includes information about student demographics, campus trends (i.e. live-on requirements) and comparables. Catalyst then builds upon that information through a series of additional marketing-specific research inputs:

  • Digital / offline marketing review of the top four to five in-market comparables
  • A reputation study to gauge current perception surrounding the newly acquired property and top competitors
  • A brand questionnaire completed by the acquisition (as applicable) and leasing teams to understand what they have heard and seen in the market.
  • Online research to determine how the target demographics are searching for housing information, where they are moving from (city, state), and which platforms they are using
  • Ongoing research around generations to stay abreast of how each generation seeks information and uses online media
  • On-site review of the property and its surroundings, touring the university and going to local hot spots to solidify understanding of the property’s “personality”

All of this research combines to give Catalyst an unparalleled knowledge of the students, residents, property and host institution, equaling branding efforts with a bull’s-eye focus.

For a rebranding project, Catalyst implements various exercises to determine the brand’s look and feel and updates existing messaging while re-invigorating any current collateral, like the property’s website. Catalyst then works with the site staff to create a rebrand reveal event that highlights capital improvement plans (if applicable), special offers, new team members, etc. through an integrated marketing campaign. Finally, integrated marketing and digital strategies are developed for the remainder of the year to continue driving new interest and renewals.

Utilizing integrated marketing.

Integrated marketing communications, the seamless integration of communications across multiple channels, was identified by Catalyst as a major opportunity for Campus Advantage’s student housing portfolio early on. While integrated marketing communications has been utilized in other fields for years, student housing has traditionally kept marketing efforts in silos — one contact for collateral, a second for search marketing, a third for digital advertising, etc. Seeing that a property would be more attractive to students if promoted through a combination of advertising, marketing and search techniques — and that budgets should be planned in unison across all potential marketing channels to ensure proper prioritization — Catalyst joined Campus Advantage to provide full-service communications to all of its properties, aiding in retention and new lease-ups.

Integrated communications tactics are leveraged for both portfolio-wide promotions and property-specific campaigns. Portfolio-wide, campaigns are launched around key moments in the student housing calendar that are consistent across markets, such as move in, fall resident appreciation, and holiday-timed renewal offers. Portfolio-wide campaigns offer a marketing cost savings for each property in the Campus Advantage portfolio, as the cost of planning and designing the campaigns is shared among multiple individual properties.

However, these broad campaigns are augmented by property / market-specific campaigns that take into account a property’s unique differentiators and local market considerations, as mentioned above. This strategic approach has helped Campus Advantage achieve a 96.7% portfolio occupancy and a 5.4% effective rental rate increase.

Testing new approaches and tactics to stay ahead of the curve.

“Best in class” student housing marketing alters by degrees every year, based on changes in students’ technology usage, media habits, etc. To remain best in class, Catalyst places an emphasis on staying up-to-date on the lifestyle trends that affect marketing to younger audiences and edits strategies accordingly — while keeping best practices in mind. Analyzing generational research, Catalyst determines each year what marketing and advertising opportunities will work best based on how current student populations express themselves and communicate. This determines both the appropriate platform and the messages used.

As student housing becomes more and more competitive, it’s becoming increasingly important to pay close attention to what’s going on in the market to remain resonant with students. Changing needs year-to-year means that more than a standard approach is needed: attracting and retaining students requires precision and a strategy that is attuned to their specific needs.

In short, that sentiment defines the strategy behind our marketing method as a top student housing manager: unique, targeted and so much more than a standard approach. Using a combination of research, integrated marketing communications methods and distinct rebranding efforts, Catalyst consistently generates new leads to allow for high rent rates.