Marketing with mobile media, especially Apple iPhone apps, has become the trendiest digital-marketing technique around, and one that drives business. Take apartments.com for example, one business for which the latest mobile technology is paying major dividends.
Say you are out and about on the weekend, looking for a new apartment in a particular neighborhood you’ve had your eye on. You could look through the newspaper classified ads or look at local real estate sites on the Internet and print them out. Or you can enter a neighborhood’s ZIP code into the apartments.com iPhone app, and via global positioning technology you will receive a map highlighting available apartments by specific address, and contact information to learn more about the listings and floor plans. Walkthrough video tours bring the apartments to life and can help searchers whittle down the ones they need to see in person. Customized searches allow renters to search by number of bedrooms and bathrooms, rent cost, pet policies, parking, and other details.
With online trends reinventing the way renters access data online, apartments.com, a unit of Chicago-based Classified Ventures, which employs around 300 people, has been challenged with incorporating the most relevant, productive means of reaching renters and driving leads to its advertisers. The real estate industry, particularly the rental business, has aggressively embraced mobile technology as a means of reaching renters anywhere and everywhere. It is also a busy time for the apartment-leasing business, as more and more Americans choose renting (or are forced to rent) in these troubled times.
The free app, available via the Apple iTunes Store, is only the most recent addition to apartments.com’s impressive, growing stable of mobile products. The company launched a mobile Web site last year that is now reaching nearly 40 million mobile users. It also utilizes service from mobile phone partners Send2Phone and Text4Info, whereby a mobile user can get apartment information via text message.
“It is absolutely possible for small business to leverage mobile technology in support of their business goals at very reasonable investment levels,” says Tim Grace, senior manager of consumer products for apartments.com. “SMS/text message campaigns can be run very cheaply and can develop excellent return on investment.” He also points to free services that will take a Web site or a blog and optimize it for viewing on mobile devices. And businesses might also think about how they can leverage existing popular mobile platforms such as Foursquare, a location-based mobile app that lets users inform people on their network where they are. “Those types of apps offer great opportunities for small businesses to engage with customers,” Grace says.
While mobile has worked seamlessly for apartments.com, Grace says there are several questions a business should address before jumping into the space:
- What are you trying to achieve? “What is the strategic advantage? From there, you can figure out all your available options. For us, experimenting with as many channels as possible makes sense; it’s a perfect fit for our business,” Grace says.
- Does it work for your customer base? “What about your audience makes mobile a good fit?” asks Grace. “If your customer base is heavily skewed toward those without the latest mobile devices or who are heavily into texting only, it might not make sense. For others, an iPhone app could be the perfect thing.”
- Are you willing to commit the resources? Determine whether you will need to partner with someone to build an app or if you would like to work with existing mobile platforms.
- Do you have the right partner to help you consider your mobile options and develop the right products to boost your business? “Identify what you need; and something to definitely not overlook is finding the right partner to get you there,” says Grace. “We have a fair amount of mobile expertise here, but even so we benefit from the expertise of our partners. We partnered with Interactive Mediums in the development of our iPhone app. There are so many folks out there specializing in different verticals.”
Apartments.com, which facilitates the relationship between the leasor and the leasee, has seen an explosion in incremental leads driven by the mobile products, Grace says. While he points out that the iPhone app was developed for a “not insignificant amount” of money, businesses can get into the mobile space for much less.