August 11, 2022

To lease up in a crowded rental market, AMLI turned to mover insights

If there is one thing renters love, it’s a brand-spanking-new property. Prospective renters tend to favor newer units over older ones because they’re more likely to have the latest amenities and fixtures. Packages delivered to your door? Sign me up. Silent, in-unit washer and dryer? Don’t mind if I do. The same enthusiasm is rare for older buildings, which are – unfairly, in many cases – seen as outmoded.

National residential luxury rental company AMLI had its work cut out for it to improve perceptions of its older Austin properties to completely fill the leases.

While the company had gotten into the Austin market early through a mix of property acquisition and new construction, the rental market had become extremely crowded by 2020. Further, those properties bought or built in the early 2010s were now seven to ten years old. 

To attract renter interest to these units, AMLI began working with Audience Town in 2021, when the company had 10 properties to rent in Dallas and 13 to rent in Austin, Texas. The chief KPI for this campaign was web traffic to regional sites, using a tactic that AMLI had rarely used before: programmatic advertising.

A long customer journey meets an unexpected tactic

The home journey takes several months, and renting is no exception. Performance marketing for residential rentals is tricky, because the consumer journey is long and winding. As such, AMLI usually chose to deploy display advertising as a branding strategy, rather than a down funnel strategy. 

Display ad creative was typical for residential rentals, glossy property photos and a general branding message for the region’s properties. Ads drove visitors to Dallas and Austin regional sites. Once there, visitors are encouraged to create accounts and fill in “guests cards,” or a request to see properties. 

The company had done wide-net display advertising before, but had not experimented with targeting and scale. Test efforts with other companies did not impress for a few reasons.

“I have seen other media companies claim that they have that ability,” said Alexandra Westermann, former regional marketing director for AMLI’s Austin, Dallas and Houston properties.

But more concerning, they weren’t transparent about their audience data. “The ones that I tried were just some media conglomerate,” added Westermann. “I don't know where they were really getting this audience, but it had an extremely high bounce rate, which of course you would expect with display ads. We didn't see many people coming to the website with it. It was just very odd.”

Pixels unearth an important insight

Thanks to its analysis of the home journey, Audience Town was confident that it could reach people in the market to rent.

To start, Audience Town took the initial step of putting tags on the company’s site to generate a detailed analytics report, so AMLI could gather information on the people visiting the site. This allowed for ad retargeting and surfaced an important insight to boot: visitors to the site weren’t just coming from the targeted metro regions. They were also coming from areas like Columbus, Ohio and other northern cities, where people are increasingly leaving cold winters and high rents for sunbelt living – with Texas being the number one state Americans are moving to, according to Forbes

As a result, the campaign was able to prospect in market renters, retarget its visitors and expand its targeting to other regions.

Audience Town also advised AMLI to expand its targeting beyond people exhibiting rental behavior to those who seem to be looking to buy a home. With housing inventory tight and prices high, many home buyers rent first and buy later. Millennials make up a large portion of this cohort, as rising home prices make it difficult to save for a down payment, according to the National Association of Realtors

Results and a rollout

During the first month of the campaign, web traffic increased month over month by 40%. “I looked at all of our other regions and no other region was experiencing growth like that,” said Westermann. 

“It was pretty cost effective, because we had all the properties split the cost.” 

Due to increased web traffic, other AMLI regions began to follow Westermann’s lead. “Audience Town’s results were strong enough that all of my [regional] counterparts rolled out campaigns with Audience Town this year. We all had that much belief in the product.”