I’ve never met a self-storage owner who doesn’t want to increase the profitability of his business. Generating sales leads is a great way to do that. For facilities in lease-up, more leads mean more rentals and higher occupancy. For stabilized properties, they mean greater demand and higher rental rates.
The trouble is there are many lead-generation methods out there and numerous suppliers to assist in their execution. The price range is equally broad. Following is guidance on choosing the best marketing for your self-storage operation’s needs and budget. This isn’t an exhaustive list of options but a discussion of campaign types that have worked well for the facilities my company oversees.
To understand lead generation, you must first appreciate the process your potential customers go through when they make a purchase decision. It has three phases:
- Awareness: They become aware of your product or service.
- Consideration: They’ve decided to purchase the type of product or service you offer. Now, they consider whether to buy from your business.
- Purchase: They buy!
I categorize lead-generation campaigns into two categories that align with these phases: awareness (phase one) and conversion (phases two and three). Let’s look at them in more detail.
An awareness campaign helps generate demand for your products and services and increases brand consciousness. It’s part of a long-term strategy. It includes things like social media profiles, partnerships with local businesses, billboards, mass mailings, search engine optimization (SEO), press releases and print ads.
These marketing tools alert the viewer to your product or service at a time when he doesn’t have an immediate need for it. They’re helpful in drumming up recognition for a new self-storage property in lease-up. They’re also useful in increasing brand recognition if you operate under a local name. They’re sometimes considered unsuccessful because they aren’t directly tied to unit rentals.
Remember, users in the awareness phase of the buying cycle aren’t ready to make a purchase. The goal of this type of campaign is to generate recognition around your facility or brand, so when the time comes that the user needs storage, your business comes to mind. Typically, when measuring campaign success, facility operators look at the return on investment (ROI)—how many rentals were generated. But an awareness campaign doesn’t work that way. The ROI may appear low, even if it’s working.
Instead of measuring an awareness campaign in rentals, you must look at other metrics. Measuring branded search terms or impressions is a good gauge for success. If a campaign builds facility and brand awareness, there should be an increase in the frequency of your company being searched online, for example.
A conversion campaign has a more favorable ROI because you can see a larger, direct impact. These campaigns target users who are in the consideration or purchase phases of the buying cycle. They already recognize their need for your product or service and are researching more thoroughly. The sales leads from these types of campaigns result in actual unit rentals.
Any pay-per-search effort is an example of a conversion campaign. Think about Groupon, industry aggregators or your facility’s referral program. A 30-day evaluation of any of these campaigns should quickly show you how many leads were generated and how many rentals were completed. The best way to measure the success of conversion campaigns is to use UTM (urchin traffic monitor) codes, tracking numbers and tracking e-mail addresses and match them back to your tenant list. This provides a direct measure of ROI.
A Multi-Pronged Approach
Both types of lead-generation campaigns are important. Awareness campaigns provide touchpoints for future user engagement. Conversion campaigns capture leads when a need for your product or service arises. So, how do you decide where to spend your limited marketing budget?
My recommendation is to use a multiple-pronged approach. The lynch pin to any strategy is a basic awareness of SEO. That should take priority. From there, choose campaigns that align with other goals.
If your self-storage facility is out of the aggressive lease-up stage but struggling to rent that last 10 percent or 15 percent before achieving stabilization, focus 30 percent of your budget on awareness campaigns and the rest on conversion. The awareness portion should be spent creating and maintaining partnerships with businesses in your community. The conversion portion should emphasize pay-per-click as a way to gain first-page placements.
I also encourage you to make sure your business is listed on any sites on which your competitors appear. In the self-storage industry, that means third-party directories.
If your property is in an aggressive lease-up stage, divide your marketing budget 50/50 between awareness and conversion campaigns so you can increase general exposure to your brand through methods like social media, e-mail, even billboards. Facilities in lease-up tend to have larger marketing budgets, which helps. My company, for example, allots $30,000 to $40,000 annually for lease-up marketing.
It Takes Training
The success of any lead-generation campaign, awareness or conversion, relates to the training and commitment of your self-storage team. Converting leads into rentals depends on many factors, including your facility’s phone and e-mail response rate, and the manager’s eagerness to close the sale. If you don’t have an ongoing training program, your lead-generation efforts won’t be as effective. Before you seek to maximize your marketing dollars, invest in staff engagement and education.
Grace Totty is vice president of marketing for self-storage management firm Absolute Storage Management, responsible for all aspects of marketing for the company’s 135-plus properties. She has more than seven years of industry experience and is a frequent speaker at national and state conferences. She’s currently on the board for the Tennessee Self Storage Association. For more information, call 901.737.7336, extension 705; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.