By John Jordan
No matter the size of your self-storage business, a well-planned marketing budget is essential to maximizing profitability. In an ever-changing advertising world, this can be a tall order. With more options than ever, setting a marketing budget can be complicated. Facility operators often feel like they’re throwing a bunch of small nets into a big ocean. Unfortunately, their nets often come up empty, and they begin to resist trying new things.
This can lead to a form of marketing paralysis and cause operators to fall behind the competition. It can also lead to them offloading their decision-making to a third party. Unfortunately, the advertising industry is chock full of “experts” who’ll jump at the opportunity to manage your marketing dollars, but they frequently lack the desire to truly educate you on spending strategies, the transparency with their margins, and the ability to establish true metrics and accountability for success.
So how can you effectively navigate this evolving advertising world? How can you hold your media more accountable, taking advantage of big and small opportunities while feeling confident that you’re maximizing profitability? Let’s explore five meaningful steps to strategizing your ad spending.
Step 1: Establish Your Goals
Few advertisers can truly state their marketing goals; but without established goals, there’s no way to administer a successful plan. For self-storage, I recommend facility-level goals that are inventory- and availability-based. Operators should understand and factor in historical trends, seasonality, the level of competition for each facility, competitive tendencies, and a variety of other local and property-level factors.
It’s very important that clear metrics for success and failure are established for the entire business as well as individual facilities. Even if your goals initially lack data to support them, it’s better to set an aggressive goal and fail than to set no goals and question your results.
Step 2: Understand and Prioritize Your Needs
Understanding needs—and being able to prioritize them—is often one of the biggest obstacles for operators trying to produce a strategic marketing plan. There’s a clear pecking order for marketing needs. With this in mind, here are some recommendations and tips:
Local listings. These are notoriously a mess within the self-storage industry, yet they represent low-hanging fruit that can produce big-time results. It’s important to address old or duplicate listings, unclaimed listings on critical media (Google, Apple, Bing, Yelp, etc.), incorrect listing information databased with listing aggregators (InfoGroup, Localeze, Axciom), and user-generated content that doesn’t appropriately represent your brand. Ultimately, local listings should be a small part of your overall marketing investment, but they’ll have one of the highest returns on investment.
Website. Equally as important as your local listings is your website. As most companies don’t have the luxury of an in-house Web developer, I suggest finding a partner who can help you build a site that balances a clean and smooth user experience with a technical design that appeals to Google and other search engines.
It’s also important to ensure all paths drive potential customers toward your goals for the site. In self-storage, those goals are typically in the form of calls, online reservations and walk-ins. Don’t forget about existing tenants, and try to make re-occurring transactions (like payments) seamless and pain free.
With most storage companies getting approximately 60 percent of their online traffic from mobile devices, ensuring a quality mobile experience via responsive design is more important than ever. If you’re a mid-size to large operator, or have plans to grow to that size, purchase your website and content-management systems rather than lease them. Leased platforms can have severe marketing limitations and leave you empty-handed if and when you choose to move on to a new provider. Don’t skimp, as maximum flexibility will be integral to your long-term success.
Organic search engine optimization (SEO) and content strategy. Tying in closely with your website is your organic SEO and content strategy. You’ll never meet a Web designer who isn’t a professed “SEO expert,” but I can tell you with 100 percent certainty there are different skill sets. Make sure any external resources you choose can clearly differentiate between their Web and SEO teams. SEO not only encompasses the technical design, upkeep and readability of your site to search engines, it should also incorporate a local-content strategy that speaks to your target customer needs on a market and even facility level.
Tracking and reporting should be the cornerstone of your SEO program, with your specific goals, user events and actions all being rolled into an easily understandable format. Some self-storage businesses can achieve as much as 90 percent of their goals via their organic strategy, so this isn’t an area on which you want to pinch. That said, educate yourself and understand what you’re buying before signing on the dotted line. It’s fairly common for an SEO program to be the second largest investment in a successful marketing program, trailing only paid media.
Paid media. Your fourth priority should be paid media, which play an integral role in the success of a strategic program. A vehicle such as Google pay-per-click advertising is very measurable and can be specifically designed to fill gaps in your current SEO strategy, test new offers, rent hard-to-fill units, and help you own more prominent real estate where consumers are searching. I suggest you manage your paid-media investments based on very specific occupancy-level goals and available inventory.
Be careful not to over use paid media, as it can easily become a crutch and drive up your overall cost per acquisition, decreasing the profitability of your marketing. Tracking is essential and will help you maximize your budget. This is especially important given that paid media will likely be your largest investment area.
Social media. Social media can be a great addition to a successful marketing mix; however, it’s very important that there are defined and clear goals for the dollars you’re spending. If followers and likes aren’t what you seek, then don’t allow those to be the measuring stick for success. Your goals will clearly define how your strategy should be designed and implemented.
Social media can help reinforce your brand identity, establish you as an authority on topics that matter to consumers, drive awareness of your website content, and reinforce your SEO strategy. When used properly, social advertising channels can drive cost-effective leads and increase sales activity.
Brand and review monitoring. Every marketer should devote a portion of his time and budget to brand and review monitoring. Consumers need to know that you care about your customer experience as well as see your responses to positive and negative reviews in a timely manner. It’s equally important that you understand what people are saying about your brand. This doesn’t have to be an enormous time and financial investment, but you can anticipate both growing in direct proportion to your own business growth.
Location-based advertising (LBA). LBA is the newest advertising media format and deserves your budgetary attention. Media companies are spending billions of dollars to combine location services on mobile devices with advertising platforms. The result, they hope, is the delivery of location- and time-relevant marketing messages to consumers at the time they’re most likely to buy. There are so many things developing in the LBA space today that there isn’t enough space in this article to do it justice. For now, just know that it’s time to explore and test different strategies, ensuring you don’t get left behind.
Step 3: Build Internal Buy-In
One of the most critical elements to a successful marketing endeavor is often overlooked and under planned: Building an internal consensus about the needs and goals of the program is essential to any successful marketing campaign. Stakeholders often range beyond the marketing staff to include operational and financial staff as well as ownership—each with their own goals and objectives. Without adequate understanding of how the marketing plan and budget will help them accomplish their individual goals, a tug-of-war often ensues.
Reputable marketing agencies will spend the first two or three conversations with prospective clients educating them. Without a foundational common ground, it’s difficult to gain customer consensus on what will help the company accomplish its goals. I strongly recommend the marketing staff within your organization spend adequate time building common ground.
Step 4: Select the Right Partners for Long-Term Growth
Once your goals have been solidified and your needs determined and prioritized, and you’ve built internal common ground, selecting the right partners should be much easier. Ensure your potential allies have a demonstrable history of helping clients achieve the same or very similar goals to your own. Make certain they have an accountable relationship with their customers, offering tracking expertise and supplying reports that can tell you if your goals are being attained.
Step 5: Develop Internal and External Accountability
Accountability isn’t easy to come by in the advertising world; however, it’s essential to your marketing budget. As a self-storage operator, you’re responsible for answering your phone, promptly responding to customer inquiries, following up on reservations, providing competitive pricing or promotions, and being actively engaged in developing key metrics and goals as well as analyzing results. By the same token, your marketing partners should educate you, provide transparent fees and marketing tactics, establish adequate tracking and reporting on all investments, and ultimately advise you on the right decisions for your business. Developing true accountability should lend itself to more engaged partnerships and better results over the short and long term.
Be strategic and methodical in establishing a marketing budget. By implementing these five steps, your money will be applied effectively and in worthwhile places.John Jordan is a founding partner and vice president at Go Local Interactive, a full-service digital-marketing agency committed to helping regional and national self-storage operators acquire new customers. He’s participated in numerous advertising forums as a speaker and panel participant including self-storage events. He is a board member for Find Local Storage, an industry-owned lead-generation solution. For more information, call 512.779.7698; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.golocalinteractive.com.