Hello Again, Marketing Funnel.

When it comes to turning prospects into happy renters, an old stand-by might be the key to your next multifamily breakthrough.

Remember the Marketing Funnel?

Every marketer worth their salt learned it at one time. But in recent years, the funnel has taken a backseat to the next big thing in marketing magic. And the one after that. And the one after that.

Out of all the shiny objects to have captured marketer’s affections in the last decade, CRM software has maintained its luster longer than most: even as prices have steadily risen, even as a herd of tech players have crowded the space with product after product, and even as those players have made a mint despite the fact that marketing hasn’t really gotten any easier.

The allure of the next shiny object is powerful when it comes to multifamily marketing. Who wouldn’t want a seamless way to make the laborious work of nurturing prospects and converting them into renters as simple as logging-in? But as is the case with most shiny objects, life hacks, or magical beans: it’s never quite that easy. There’s no clicking your way to meeting your lease-up goals. Nothing is that simple, no matter how shiny it is, in 2020.

Rock steady is looking pretty shiny right now.

In the midst of the disruptive swirl of the Covid-19 pandemic, multifamily marketers are being called to take a harder look at every aspect of how they drive successful lease-ups. Every marketing dollar has to work smarter and harder to help them navigate previously uncharted terrain. And in the harsh light of 2020, CRM approaches built on templated one-size-fits-all thinking are looking…not all that shiny.

There is no template for this moment, but there are fundamentals. When the going gets 2020-level tough, time-tested essentials have a way of reminding you why they are, well, time-tested essentials. When markets swing from hot to cold and back, and prospects’ needs vary almost in lockstep with the news cycle, the classics start to look less…basic: Oh, hey, good to see you again Marketing Funnel, it could be the market fluctuations talking, but you’re looking solid, wise, and refreshingly effective for a 122-year-old.

Yes, you read that right: it’s actually over a century old. It started out as the Purchase Funnel back in 1898, developed by an ad exec named – and we promise you this is his real name – Elias St. Elmo Lewis, as a way to help merchandisers understand the buyer’s journey.  He brought it into the world when the Sears & Roebuck catalogue was still selling wooden washing machines and horse-drawn carriages, so you might forgive St. Elmo for giving it such a utilitarian name. The four stages of the funnel he initially coined had a little more fire, though: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. (Desire, okay…now we’re listening, Elmo!)

His idea has been adapted, and remixed, and shifted by time, tides, and e-commerce: but the core hasn’t changed much in over a century. We’ll get into those core concepts in their modern-day forms in a little more depth a bit later in this post. 

But first: Here’s why the funnel holds up, even to 2020-level weirdness. 

Some marketing approaches will always be essential, no matter how much changes. The funnel is still standing for a reason: It’s not a trend. It’s a tool based on timeless truths about how humans behave and get their needs met. No matter what patterns emerge, or what flip flops happen in the market, every renter goes down that funnel: from prospect, to rent-paying resident, to advocate. In an unpredictable market like the one we’re currently in, it just means the trip down that funnel goes much faster.

There’s a common misperception that what happens in the funnel is an endless maze of prospecting and qualifying. But in reality, when it gets thoughtfully deployed with some strategic thinking and creative razzle dazzle, it’s hardly a maze or a mystery. If it were a pair of shoes, the funnel would be a pair of pragmatic, hard-working, timelessly cool without-trying-too-hard Doc Martens that you can trust to hold up in any weather, and look equally badass with denim or creative black tie.

Any multifamily marketer in a tough market with limited resources and budgets that need to work hard to justify their price should think about getting to know the Marketing Funnel again. Once you remember what it is all about, it might help you get back to the fundamentals of what really works. It might also help you think more creatively, and be more demanding from your tools and vendors. 

To help you get reacquainted, here’s a refresher on the funnel in 5 parts, through the lens of the renter’s journey. Enjoy the trip. 

Stage 1 of 5: AWARENESS

Awareness is the first step of any renter’s journey. This one literally means what it says: It is all about making a renter know that you exist. There’s truly no advancing through the funnel without nailing this one. This first phase is where classic advertising, public relations, SEO, media, and other awareness-building efforts are crucial.

Lenox Castle Hills
Out Of Home Advertising for Lenox Castle Hills in Carrollton, TX. View the case study.

In a world where prospective renters are inundated with more marketing noise than human brains are wired to handle, it’s not as easy as you’d think to simply prove you exist. Using powerful advertising that disrupts, differentiates, and compels a prospect to perk up and think will be your mission critical. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to climb above the noise: It just has to cut through. It’s all about finding that one powerful concept, image, and headline that will pierce  through the clutter and make a prospect think: “Interesting. I want to know more.”

Awareness campaigns that get people’s attention also get people talking. And when people talk about your product, they’re doing your selling for you. (We’re still waiting for the magical day when a slick CRM tool does that.)

Stage 2 of 5: INTEREST

Congratulations, you’re now on your prospect’s radar and they’ve moved from Awareness to Interest. Through a blitz of constant media inundation, you’ve managed to get their attention, trigger their curiosity, and now they’re ready to learn more. Bravo! Now that you’ve piqued their interest, your focus should be on helping your prospects visualize what it might be like to come home to your property. Your goal is to get them to move on to Consideration from here, so make sure you’ve considered ways for them to experience everything your property has to offer from their device – and their imagination.

To bring All Seasons Ann Arbor to life while the site was still a construction site, Primary created this 5 minute video tour combining photo realistic renderings, live action aerial and street level video, complete with voiceover and soundtrack. View the case study.

In everything from e-brochures, rack cards, and fence banners, to virtual tours, websites, and social content you’ll want to deploy an immersive blend of written and visual storytelling. Your imagery, your brand voice, your font, your logo, your color palette – every detail of your brand identity and brand story matters. (Where you tell it matters too: Your media approach should think as demographically as your creative approach.)  Make sure your message, your approach, and your channels reflect your ideal prospects’s priorities: Do you sell by price, specifications, amenities, and then neighborhood? Or specifications, amenities, neighborhood, and then price?

Above all: It can’t be generic: This is the time to think outside any template, and truly tune into your prospective renters’ rational and emotional need states.You have to catch, keep, and nurture their attention and charm them into booking a viewing or onsite tour. Doing it like everyone else isn’t going to work.


Now that you’ve piqued their interest, it’s time for your close-up. If they’ve booked a viewing to see the apartment, tour the building and its amenities, or get a better feel for the neighborhood: you are officially in their Consideration set. This moment in the funnel, formerly known as St. Elmo’s Desire, is your singular chance to bring it on home with an old-fashioned, real-time sales pitch that just can’t be matched or mimicked in any other medium. There are rarely do-overs of this stage in the funnel, so treat this like your only shot.

Make sure you have people on the ground who do this song and dance well. Better than well. They should be energized, enthusiastic, and passionate about the place. Beware of anyone who phones it in, or rattles off bulleted lists of facts. Your front of house talent has to know how to sell the dream. Train them, and equip them with the right talking points.

Canal Crossing Stationery
Canal Crossing Stationery Package. View the case study.

Swag matters, too: Expertly crafted brochures, business cards, and signage will make the experiential memory of a visit that much more memorable, tangible, and likely to result in a signed lease.

Stage 4 of 5: ADOPTION

Well done. Your prospect has become a bona fide renter, and is, maybe even at this very moment, unpacking their boxes in their new rental in your multifamily development. Adoption is the “You’re Home Now, Stay Awhile” phase of the funnel, but it doesn’t mean your job is done. This is when the nurturing starts.

Helping seed their loyalty by delighting them and listening to them, can turn them into long-term residents and advocates – saving you significant marketing time and efforts. Things like welcome kits, lobby signage, social and experiential programming, and even the auto-signatures on your building manager’s emails are a rich opportunity to do a little nurturing that can go a long way.

Bell South Lamar #Westerdog Mural
Finding this unused wall space in the Bell South Lamar community we worked with a local artist to create a mural in this ultra pet-friendly community. View the case study.

Consider their needs as new renters, established renters, and renters that you want to develop a long-term relationship with. A new renter needs tips and tools to help them settle in, find their way around, and get the support they need to become active, happy renters who are comfortable and confident in their new home and surroundings. Established renters need the kind of ongoing support to keep them happy and in place. Seeing to their needs quickly, be it a leaky faucet, a broken elevator, or parking issues, is paramount. This is the job of your on-site property, facility, and amenity managers so choose these players well. They’re keeping your renters happy and loyal which means they’re helping you maintain a valuable asset.

Stage 5 of 5: ADVOCACY

Advocacy is the part of the journey where your happy renters turn into your best marketers. Why? We tend to gravitate to people very similar to ourselves. Because if your renter is a fit for your community–qualified financially, demographically, and psychographically–it statistically means that their friends probably are too.

When a renter starts advocating your multifamily to their friends, you’re getting marketing and pre-qualification at no cost to you. Make that advocacy as likely and as easy as possible. You make it likely by treating that renter in such a way that they will want to advocate for you. And you make it easy by giving the renter the channels, content, and events that they can share with as little effort as possible. Everything from your social media content and your experiential programming, to your referral incentives and your front desk greeting can help make a resident your best brand ambassador.


Here at Primary, we’re always thinking about what works – and why it works – when it comes to helping our multifamily client partners convert their prospects into happy, rent-paying residents. That’s why we’re always continually evaluating and re-evaluating the tools in our toolkit, whether they’re the next shiny object or a trusty old hammer. As a full-service integrated agency obsessed with place marketing and property branding, we’ve helped hundreds of ambitious multifamily brands from coast to coast meet their lease-up goals. We’ve delivered sharp thinking and creative excellence for over 30 years, and we’d love to help you build your next success story, whether it’s just one stage of the journey, or the whole funnel. 



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