7 Student Housing Marketing Tips to Win More Leases This 2021-2022 Leasing Season

Fellow student marketers, it’s that time of year again. School is back in session and the leasing season has officially begun. At this moment, you and your team are duking it out with your competitors to win the attention and consideration of thousands of college students. How’s it going so far? Do you feel like your team is set up for success, or do you feel like you’re off to a slow start and already falling behind? I wish the best of luck to all of you.

There are several marketing tactics that have emerged during these last few months that are share-worthy and could be beneficial to your marketing strategy. Below are seven student housing marketing tips to help you win and retain students for the 2021-2022 leasing season. 


1. Partner Up with Student Athletes

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but in case you haven’t, on July 1st, a mixture of state laws and new NCAA rules have made it possible for collegiate student athletes to make money by selling their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights. This provides a tremendous opportunity for student housing communities to use on-campus superstars to raise awareness and generate leads. I speak about this in more depth with my good pal Alex Abernathy in the newest issue of Student Housing Business, but my main piece of advice is this: 

Invest in student athletes that provide LOCAL QUALITY over NATIONAL QUANTITY.

Let’s face it, you probably don’t have the budget to secure a partnership with the Heisman Trophy Candidate, so focus your efforts and investment towards mid-tier student athletes. I’m talking about athletes who play baseball, softball, golf, gymnastics, volleyball, lacrosse and soccer with follower counts between 10,000-25,000. They’ll be much more affordable and their percentage of local followers (college students at the same school) will be much greater than a national superstar that has hundreds of thousands of unqualified followers. Why spend a ton of money on reaching an audience where the majority of them have zero interest in your product? 

Investing in twenty mid-tier student athletes with quality local follower counts is the way to go over one mega athlete with a low quality follower count. Stretch those marketing dollars as far as you can, choose  LOCAL QUALITY over NATIONAL QUANTITY. 


2. The time to invest in creating quality content is NOW

TikTok surpassing 100 million active monthly users in the United States and Instagram rolling out its Reels platform is proof that Gen-Z is obsessed with consuming quality content. The majority of you reading this are in dire need of high-quality videos and photos of your community. The time has now come that you need to be thinking about allocating budget to produce quality content because as the old saying goes, content is king, but in order for that content to be of royal descent, it must be worthy.

Set aside a budget to produce photo and video assets that will engage and influence college students. A lifestyle video or photo shoot that captures the spirit and personality of your property can be produced in the range of $2,500-$5,000. Drone videos showing off the beauty of your asset can be shot for less than $2,000. Hiring reputable influencers to showcase your property’s amenities can be done for a few hundred bucks or even a few gift cards! 

Some of your properties have an obscene amount of budget reserved for concessions in the spring and summer months. If you could convince your ownership group to shift a tiny bit of that concession budget to content creation, then you’ll have more than enough money to produce fantastic photo/video content that will leave a positive impact on your target students. I’m willing to bet that if you get the budget to produce those killer photos and videos, you won’t need as much money to rely on concessions down the road 🙂 

3. If you have the budget, enter the streaming game with Connected TV Ads

Connected TV (CTV) advertising is the emerging tactic that we get asked about the most. CTV advertising gives you the ability to serve ads to users viewing premium streaming content, either on a smart TV or through an over-the-top (OTT) device. These are the 15 to 30 second ads that you’re seeing on popular streaming apps like YouTube TV, Hulu and Paramount+ . 

College kids are spending more and more time on these popular streaming services and subscriber numbers for these platforms are skyrocketing (see Disney+). CTV/OTT advertising can be bought and placed through your Demand Side Platform or in some cases, directly through the streaming app, like Hulu. CTV ads are a powerful way to generate brand awareness for your student housing community, but it does come with a price. Expect to pay 3-5x the amount of standard video placement, but the cost per completed view (CPCV) will be much lower since the majority of CTV ads are non skippable. Unlike traditional TV ads, marketers have the ability to target and optimize their CTV campaigns. Yes, you can buy more ads at a lower cost on other platforms, but this is the highest quality brand awareness tactic out there at this moment. 

4. Continue to invest heavy in paid search, but keep your keyword list tight to avoid wasted ad dollars

Paid search continues to be the best digital marketing tactic in your arsenal since your ads are only displayed to users who are in-market for student housing. In addition, the pandemic has driven student housing search volume up since people are still cautious about on-site visits. You should always allocate budget towards paid search, and if the budget allows it, invest more to win more impression share.

However, it’s important to know that Google recently rolled out new ad requirements for housing that, if not tended to, could result in thousands of dollars being spent with little to no leads to show for it. Google’s new ad requirements have expanded minimum geotargeting from zip code to city targeting and age groups to no age targeting. This means a 65-year old looking for an apartment on the other side of town could trigger your student property’s paid search ad. No bueno. 

To counter those risks, make sure your marketing agency alters your targeted keywords to include industry specific terms such as “student” in your keywords or your ad copy. 

Example:  gainesville apartments to gainesville student apartments


5. Acquire First-Party Data to keep your Retargeting campaigns as powerful as possible

For years, one of the most powerful forms of student housing marketing has been retargeting. Retargeting gives you the ability to serve ads to students that previously visited your website but failed to convert (form fill, phone call, live chat). It allows you to stay in front of the student during their journey on making a decision on where to call home. 

Unfortunately, Apple’s iOS 14 rollout has made it extremely difficult to serve Facebook/Instagram retargeting ads to students. Search Engine Journal says that close to 90% of users that were previously eligible to receive a retargeting ad are no longer available since those users have opted out of Facebook tracking their off-app behaviors.

You can no longer rely on building retargeting audience lists through third-party data. You must now capture lead information in the form of first-party data

Hubspot’s definition of first-party data:

“First party data is defined as data that your company has collected directly from your audience — made up of customers, site visitors, and social media followers. “First party” refers to the party that collected the data firsthand to use for retargeting advertisements.”

Translation: You’ll need to build your retargeting lists through either A) lead submissions through your website or B) in-person interactions, which will require significantly more effort from you and your on-site team. Here are opportunities where you can collect customer data to build your first-party retargeting/audience lists. 

  • Website form fills
  • Inbound / outbound phone calls
  • Student lists
  • In-person / virtual tours
  • Property events
  • Student organization / student life events
  • University sanctioned events

Make sure that you regularly submit your new leads to your marketing agency so they can upload it into your retargeting lists.

6. Geofencing is a must when it comes to pandemic marketing

I tried my best not to mention the C word in this article, but unfortunately, it looks like COVID is about to have another run at us. Because of a new surge in cases caused by the Delta variant, cancelling in-person classes is a strong possibility and a high number of students might be headed back home. During this time last year, student housing marketers were scrambling to find ways to market to students that weren’t on campus, with many of them shutting campaigns down completely. GRO was able to continue to market their properties to students during the pandemic through a special type of geofencing called retrofencing (retroactive geofencing). Retrofencing allowed us to draw geofences around areas that students previously entered for up to 12 months. So, even though students were home in April 2020 due to the pandemic, we were able to serve them ads since they entered our geofences in January and February. Many of the demand side platforms (DSPs) didn’t have the retroactive geofencing capability last year, but it appears that many of them have this targeting available now. GRO also used this tactic when students went home on holidays or the summer. I would highly suggest rolling this tactic into your arsenal when students head back home (pandemic or holidays).

7. Seriously consider investing in Spotify advertising

Spotify has seen explosive growth over this past year due to the hard push they’ve made in acquiring podcasts, with Joe Rogan, Bill Simmons and Alexandra Cooper (proceed with caution) being their prized possessions. Spotify has now grown to 356 million monthly active users, 158 million of those users being paid subscribers. Which means that close to 200 million users are non-subscribers so they’re being served advertisements between songs. 

Spotify is an excellent choice to reach students for many reasons. I’ll highlight two of them. One: Playlist targeting. Spotify gives you the ability to target users by what playlist/genres they listen to. There’s a study/focus playlist that you can target, which gives you a much higher probability of reaching a student versus Facebook/Instagram’s current targeting capabilities. Two: Companion Ads. In addition to an audio ad being played, an image ad also appears on your device while the audio ad is running. You’re basically getting two ads for the price of one! If you’re looking to add another social advertising tactic to your marketing mix, I would highly recommend Spotify.

Here are a few other quick hits that could help set you up for success this leasing season:

Should I Invest in TikTok Ads?

TikTok’s advertising platform still isn’t there yet in terms of targeting capabilities, so proceed with caution. Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and Snapchat all have superior targeting options when it comes to location and interest. However, you CAN run retargeting/custom audience ads on TikTok. So, if anything, invest a small amount in custom audience/retargeting ads. Hopefully TikTok can improve their ad platform ASAP. 

What about Offline Marketing Tactics?

If COVID doesn’t ruin everything again, investing in those “pressing flesh” moments like on-site events, attending student organization/university events and handing out bottled waters all need to be in play. High quality promo needs to make a return too! Remember, every marketing touchpoint plays a role in pushing that lead towards a lease. 

Are athletic program sponsorships still valuable?

What you should be asking yourself is… Should I invest ad dollars with the athletic program or with the individual athlete? With the recent NIL development, it may be wise to invest those dollars that were once with athletic departments into individual athlete partnerships. Every market is different, but one thing I know for sure is… I would absolutely use the NIL developments to try and leverage a sweeter deal with athletic programs.


That’s it for now! I hope that a few of these tips will help you with your leasing efforts this season. If you have any questions, direct message me and I’ll be more than happy to set aside some time for a chat. Good luck out there!


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