Recalibrating Multifamily Marketing Math

Lease attribution has confounded many apartment marketers since the internet was created. A critical aspect of digital spend and strategy, attribution is often tallied through complex calculations, assumptions, and even guesswork.

And with the number of apartment listing channels growing—particularly in social media—finding a consistent and reliable method is vital.

Advancements in software and technology are improving the process.

Bobbi Steward, vice president of marketing at BH Management Services, defines attribution as the act of assigning credit for conversions across marketing channels. On the other hand, incrementality, she says, is understanding how many of those conversions or sales would have happened anyway had marketing never intervened.

“Incrementality is the practice of understanding a marketing channel’s influence on actual revenue outcomes,” Steward explains. “It helps to answer the question, ‘Would that prospect have signed a lease anyway had I not spent $400 on Facebook ads?’”

According to Steward, digital attribution, while beneficial on so many levels, can actually handcuff marketers and prevent them from understanding the actual drivers of our business.

“Just because attribution technologies credit a channel as being a source doesn’t mean that source was the catalyst for the conversion,” she says.

This information is also vital for what Justin Godwin, director of regional marketing at Cushman & Wakefield, does every day.

“It’s easy to become myopically focused and miss what’s going on around us or, worse yet, what’s barreling toward us,” he says. “Having the ability to take a ground-level view of each property while simultaneously viewing the broader landscape from 30,000 feet is imperative.”

In addition, the adoption of scalable tech-driven solutions can drive greater ROI against marketing investment. For example, an analysis of 93 “same-store” Google Business Profile insights comparing year-over-year increases yielded a positive percentage in every single success metric across the board. Companies like Zumper that have leveraged this tool are finding it tremendously successful. Zumper reports that its automated Google Business Profile product, zPosts, results in clients seeing a threefold increase in Google exposure.

Overall, the industry is experiencing a shift in its expectations from its marketing sources and how it measures their success. Because of the complications around attribution, and the lack of transparency, many marketers are shifting their evaluation of marketing channels like ILS to an evaluation of overall cost. As an example, a recent Arketi study shows increased scrutiny on holistic costs, with nearly two-thirds of marketers considering “total monthly cost” the most important evaluation tool for 2022. Compare this with 28% of marketers who only consider “cost per lease” the most important evaluation tool, a decrease of 4% since 2021.

Mastering ‘Rocket Science’

Steward says that measuring channel effectiveness can feel like rocket science, but all it takes is a paradigm shift.

“Just because a lead source can be assigned credit for a conversion, it doesn’t actually mean that lead source was necessary for that conversion to occur,” she says. “Just because you can record source attribution for a marketing channel or campaign, doesn’t mean that you should have paid for that marketing source.

“And as you can likely guess, some sources are actually counterintuitive to holistic lead generation efforts—when signing up to use a marketing service, sometimes you can be fostering competition with your own efforts on other channels, increasing your costs without increasing your incremental ROI.

“When you calculate the return on those marketing campaigns through the lens of incrementality, a lot of folks are actually losing money on marketing sources that show positive attribution numbers—just let that sink in for a minute.”

Finding a Healthy Balance

Godwin says that having a healthy balance of internal and external data from a variety of sources is key.

“Market analytics help us measure our portfolio’s performance against the local and national results. The projections help us glean what the future holds so we can pivot where necessary to prepare for what’s to come.”

“Personally, it’s the renter preferences reporting that is most enlightening. We see faint glimmers in the early stages of what will eventually become a new trend; the reporting we receive from Zumper provides a gut check to confirm our observations and, in some cases, a tip regarding a trend we weren’t able to see in our own internal data.”

It’s rent growth that continues to trend upward. Zumper’s most recent report showed that through the first three months of the year, 2022’s national rent growth is outpacing 2021’s rent growth.

“Revenue management is a good example. We’re focused on achieving our financial goals while taking into account what our comps are doing and what the submarket can bear. We can’t simply compare our performance against the overall market and be satisfied as the market leader. We have to continually push performance, differentiate our properties from the comps, and reach beyond the goal post we’ve set for ourselves.”

Entering the Next Era

As we begin to move into the next era of digital marketing, with increased data privacy limitations and the threat of a cookie-less environment looming, Steward says marketers will need to prepare to evolve their mindset from single-source attribution or even multi-touch attribution as the promised land—to begin viewing lift and customer insights as the new standards by which we operate.

Visit to learn more about how to harness the power of automation and artificial intelligence and improve your marketing spend.

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REI Marketing is an innovative Real Estate Marketing Company that offers distinctive real estate services to developers and multifamily investors.  We are a vibrant, dedicated team of industry professionals with international experience in marketing and multifamily investment.