Deeper Into The Digital Age
If you ask anyone the definition of marketing, you might get a few different answers. It is defined as the act of promoting and selling your products and services, including doing marketing research and advertising. However, the technical definition doesn’t highlight the importance of your marketing efforts.
For the self-storage industry, which, prior to the digital age, had been marketing using the same techniques for decades, that means each property trying to present itself in a unique way. Candice Puzak, marketing manager for Guardian Storage in Pittsburg, Pa., which has 21 facilities in the Pittsburg region, as well as Denver, Colo., with two more coming this year, asks, “How do you stand out in a category that feels like a lot of the same?”
“Self-storage started with a simple concept: If you build it, they will come,” says Travis Morrow, president of the self-storage division of Strat Property Management in San Diego, Calif. The company manages 65 facilities in the southwest with two in development in 2018. “You took an ad out in the Yellow Pages, and people would come in and rent, and everyone was happy.”
The industry, as well as the marketing techniques have become more sophisticated over the years, says Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training, and developmental services for Universal Storage Group in Atlanta, Ga. The company has over 60 properties and eight in development for the coming year.
“Back in the day, you had the Yellow Pages and direct marketing; and the next wave had managers going out in the community and then doing community events at the sites,” says Ballard. “We’ve continued those things, but in the past few years it’s been about internet and technology and social media.”
Tech 101: Websites, Mobile Technology, And Social Media
Of course, part of any good marketing plan is making sure your market research is current. “In self-storage there is typically a lot of competition in a general area, so it’s important to research that competition and ensure that your marketing stands out to the target audience,” says Sherry Holub, creative director with JVM Design in Roseburg, Ore. “Do you know who your perfect customers really are? Do you have any niche audiences such as antique dealers or people who need to store wine?”
Once you’ve re-identified your target audience, as well as renewed research on your competition, it’s time to look at your current level of marketing, particularly in technology.
Morrow says to know where you’re going with marketing in 2018, you should look at where your operation stands. “If you have a mom-and-pop operation, you still need a functioning website. Your website should at least allow your potential customers to see your pricing and amenities and allow them to book and move in from the website,” Morrow advises. “The last part is easier said than done for small operations, but, in a perfect world, your website should have at least those functions.”
Industry experts all advise smaller operations to drop more expensive advertising and invest in internet advertising, at the very least a user-friendly website. “In 2018, if you still have a Yellow Pages ad, you’re probably not getting a lot of ROI,” says Morrow.
Investing in a good website that makes it easy for your potential customers to use will provide more value to your business in the long run. While building, maintaining, and managing your site will likely be the most expensive piece of your marketing strategy using technology, it’s also important to ensure all your marketing materials match the branding on your website. “Review all of your current printed materials, including your brochures, business cards, fliers, and printed ads, and make sure it has the same branding and message,” says Holub.
Once you’ve invested in a good website, you also need to ensure that it is mobile friendly, meaning it can be accessed from phones and tablets. “According to Google, over 60 percent of all search traffic happens on mobile devices,” says Wes March, director of digital marketing for Solodev, a web design firm in Orlando, Fla. “Ideally, your potential customers can access your available inventory for sizes, pricing, and any special incentives directly from their smartphones without having to call you.”
Ryan Rogers, managing partner for Store Here, an Orange, Calif.-based company with 20 properties, states that two-thirds of their customers come to them through mobile devices. “Having a mobile app is really critical,” says Rogers.
The next priciest piece of your marketing could still be investing in SEO or making sure your website comes to the top of searches when potential customers are looking for specific self-storage in your city. “With the insane amount of Google searches these days for all types of products and services, it’s incredibly important to show up at the top or near the top of the search results,” says Derek Hines, internet marketing specialist for West Coast Self Storage, which has 45 facilities in Washington, Oregon, and California. “By using search engine optimization techniques, a company can position its website ahead of its competitors and get the majority of the visits that results from these searches.”
SEO is somewhat complicated, and it can be an expensive process. Hines suggests that knowing about on-site optimization, which includes creating helpful content on your site with searchable keywords, and off-site optimization, which includes creating articles and back links on other sites, could get you ranked higher. “We think SEO has the best ROI in terms of the payoff it gives us compared with other advertising and marketing techniques,” Hines says.
If you’re a small operation and don’t have the money to invest in advanced technology that will help you compete, Morrow suggests joining a co-op of other small self-storage facilities that helps smaller operators pool resources, such as Storelocal (www.storelocal.com).
Deploy Lower Cost Technology
The wonderful thing about the internet is that it allows the true entrepreneur a lot of freedom with creativity. Many marketing techniques used on the internet don’t cost anything but time. Social media marketing, for example, is a great way to connect with your customers and potential customers; setting up a Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram account, or YouTube channel is free.
Social media marketing will continue to be a trend in 2018, according to industry experts.
What you need to know about social media marketing is that it is a passive marketing experience. Your customers and your potential customers don’t want to be hit over the head with your specials or other advertising. Marketing experts all agree to keep the “social” in social media. Post interesting content or, better yet, photos and videos; that’s what will keep your customers coming back to your page, and that keeps you at the top of their minds.
Kent Lewis, president and founder of Anvil, a marketing firm in Portland, Ore., recommends using these steps to build your audience:
- Build compelling profiles – image, description
- Create content consistently – compelling, unique, relevant
- Amplify reach – optimize, syndicate, and measure
- Expand your network – leverage tools to identify and connect
- Be generous – share valuable content, say thank you to your fans
- Expedite the growth curve – utilize advertising/sponsored posts to increase reach
In 2018, the trend will continue with video production and presentation. “Video is where it’s at,” says Ballard. “That goes further than almost anything.” This might mean shooting video on how to pack a hard to move item, inviting your customers to shoot video of their testimonial about your facility, or presenting entertaining or informative video recapping an event at your facility.
Bill Corbett, Jr., president of Corbett Public Relations in Floral Park, N.Y., says if you’re just getting started with posting video to your social media accounts, you can begin by telling your story and that of your facility. “I advise all my clients to use video to tell their stories. Not only their personal stories, but the story of the facility and their company, answering the question of why they are there and why they do what they do,” says Corbett. “The video should show the facility’s location, its features, the benefits of using that facility including what makes you better than your competitors, safety features and explain how their operation works, the costs, and their differentiators from their competitors. Certainly, cleanliness and lighting are also important factors to show.”
In 2018, what’s old is new again. Don’t discount the original social media marketing, which is blogging. You or one of your employees can blog on your website by posting interesting profiles of some of your customers and businesses that you network with that can be of benefit to your customers (such as moving companies, landscapers, real estate agents, etc.) You can also blog tips about how to pack a box or other helpful advice. Or, take blogging to the next evolutionary level by delving into influencer blogging.
Enlisting influencers doesn’t necessarily mean paying celebrities to blog about your facility. Puzak says Guardian Storage has been working on a pilot program that enlists blogging influencers in different categories to write about a specific Guardian facility. “It’s about third-party validation,” says Puzak. “We are taking advantage of blogging and social media and inviting people into the brand and they are talking about it.”
In its pilot program, Guardian enlisted bloggers from a mommy blogging network, giving free use of a unit for three months and asking them to blog about their experience. “They told us what use they have for it,” says Puzak. “One was storing their guest bedroom furniture, so they could set up a nursery.” The initial pilot included five bloggers for a facility; after the content was pushed out on the blogging network, the facility had three move-ins as a direct result.
“The investment is very scalable,” says Puzak. “There’s only so many ways we can describe our facilities, such as clean and dry units and top of the line security. But if we get someone else talking about it, it heightens the message.” The company thought the initial program was so successful that they plan to expand the reach to empty nester and outdoor enthusiast blogging networks.
Basic social media, with exception to the time investment, is free, but in 2018, to be on top of the curve, you might have to make some investment into Facebook or other social media ads that helps you target your demographic. In addition to investing in bloggers, Puzak says they are investing in video pre-roll, which is the 15-second marketing video that is first presented to people who want to watch a video on YouTube, for example. “You can target your audience,” says Puzak. “It’s not necessarily a direct response, but we are getting a captive audience. It’s an effective way to get our message out.”
Targeted Facebook ads will continue to be important for Universal in 2018. “We can spend $50 to $100 and get incredible reach,” says Ballard, citing one of their stores that caters to luxury car owners. The company spent $100 to reach 30,000 luxury car owners in that market.
Ballard highlights how her company’s costs have come down by transitioning most of their marketing efforts online. By deploying lower cost technology in Universal’s marketing efforts, the cost per lease has dropped to $57 or 0.23 per square foot per year, which adds up to two percent of actual income. That number has dropped from the previous seven percent of actual income. “Typically, a bold listing in the Yellow Pages is really all you need now,” says Ballard.
Still About The Basics
While technology is key to marketing for any self-storage facility in 2018, you must not forget the basics. “You begin with getting off your seat and into the street,” says Ballard. “It’s about teaching managers how to meet and greet people.” When her managers go out to meet possible new customers and others in the community, they take with them a small gift, such as a coffee cup filled with chocolate. “Believe me, that gets a much better response than a brochure; people will remember you and your facility,” Ballard says.
Universal also believes in a strong referral program, which accounts for over 30 percent of its new business. “We don’t give just a rent credit, but we reward anyone who has become a part of our marketing army with cash,” says Ballard. That is typically $50, but can be as much as $100 in some markets.
Other tried-and-true marketing efforts include staying involved in the community and joining the local chamber of commerce. Ballard notes that participation is key; you can’t just have your manager’s name on the membership roll. It’s also beneficial to host events at the facility and support local causes through donations or fundraisers.
Puzak says her facilities have played host to charities, packing boxes with goods for people in need. They’ve also hosted fundraisers for people within the community who have medical expenses or have lost their homes to fires.
Aesthetics of your facility always should be a main focus of your marketing. A majority of business still originates from drive-by traffic, so making sure your facility is clean and well-maintained is basic.
Rogers says the most important thing in your 2018 marketing efforts is to make sure your facility is individualized by its demographic and location. Some might find it surprising that five of their properties are in such rural areas that Store Here is going back to some old school Yellow Page ads for those properties. “The ads are cheaper because the books are dying,” says Rogers. “We’ve had some success with them in those rural locations.”
By individualizing your markets and staying true to the basics that have been tenants of marketing in self-storage, while incorporating new technology into your marketing plan, 2018 could be a banner year.
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist based in the Ozark Mountains. She is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications. Her business articles have also appeared in Entrepreneur, Aol.com, MSN.com, and The Kansas City Star.