Real Estate Marketing

Rental Advertising: Why You Shouldn’t Try to Appeal to the Masses

Expertise: Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate News & Commentary, Real Estate Marketing, Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
106 Articles Written
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Rental advertising is ubiquitous and plentiful. On one hand, this means it’s easy to find examples to learn from. But on the other, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.

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Even if you have the right price point, immaculate pictures, compelling copy, and appear professional, you’re competing with literally hundreds of very similar ads for very similar homes. It’s easy to get overlooked in that kind of environment, and the solution to address this is about as counterintuitive as they come.

See, most rental advertisements are designed to appeal to as many people as possible and exclude no one. But when a rental has been on the market for weeks with little activity and the all-purpose ad clearly isn’t doing its job, maybe excluding people is the answer.

Person looking for places to stay on digital tablet

The Psychology of Targeting

The problem with an ad designed to leave no one out is that it’s not particularly attractive to anyone, either. Let’s do a quick exercise.

Case Study

Read these four descriptions:

  • Coffee-flavored cakes with a sweet cream topping
  • A caffeine- and sugar-filled after dinner pick-me-up that puts a whole different spin on “coffee cake”
  • High-quality Italian dessert cheese, dusted with cocoa powder and cinnamon, layered over delicate lady fingers saturated with the finest espresso
  • The dessert of choice in delicatessens across northern Italy, especially common in Genoa

All four of them describe the same thing—tiramisu—but each of those descriptions is targeted differently.

The first is the “leave out no one” description: pleasant but vague enough that no one really gets excited about it.

The second is the description that you want to give people like college students, who are prone to taking a risk on an unknown but intriguingly high-energy-sounding dessert.

The third is for the folks who want something exotic and fancy, and the last one is for people who will try anything if it’s Italian.

Each of these descriptions also excludes some people. The first one basically only excludes people who can’t have cake or cream.

The second one excludes people who want to go to sleep anytime soon.

The third excludes the surprisingly-common group of people who don’t like the idea of “dessert cheese,” and the last one excludes the very common group of people who won’t try something if the description doesn’t at least tell them the ingredients.

The key thing to remember here is that every single one of the more exclusive descriptions appeals to its particular audience more than the generic ad does. So, as long as you can get the ad in front of the right people, you’ll sell more tiramisu with any of the other three ads than you will with the first one.

The process of creating targeted descriptions is called market segmentation.

natural color wooden house cutouts with one painted red with a heart cutout added

Market Segments

A market segment is literally just a group of people who have a common identity. That identity might be as generic as “women,” or it might be as specific as “single mothers who have online jobs writing product reviews from home so that they can be present for their children but are worried that they’ll be seen as nonproductive by their potential future dates so they also volunteer at the local dachshund rescue.”

There’s basically an infinite pool of traits that you can mix and match to create a market segment. But if you create your mental market segments by organizing them around fairly common identities used by decently-sized swaths of humanity, you can narrow your focus enough to get a solid boost in effectiveness without losing too much breadth.

For example:

  • What do you do all day? The biggest and most obvious, and the way most people will answer the question “What are you?” She’s a college student, he’s a nutritionist; she’s a K-pop idol, he’s a street magician. A supplementary question that is often relevant is “When do you do it?” The reason being is because people who work the graveyard shift have some traits in common, even if one is at a bottling plant and the other is a forex trader.
  • What’s the last big thing that happened to you? Did you have a kid? Get married? Graduate from college? Get diagnosed with diabetes? Every major change affects most aspects of your life (almost certainly including what you’re looking for in a rental).
  • What do you love doing? Some people don’t do what they love doing all day, but they very much identify with the thing they love doing. Maybe they’re HUGE Harry Potter fans, maybe they have a ’68 Charger they’ve been slowly rebuilding since they were 17, or maybe they religiously spend a few hours every day running a guild on a massive multiplayer online role-playing game.

The only things you have to avoid when you're defining your market segments are the things that the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to define by.

Specifically, you are not allowed to discriminate based on:

  • Age
  • Race, color, or nation of origin
  • Religion or creed
  • Marriage, pregnancy, or children

Just remember not to target too narrowly, because while you certainly can write an ad that will convince your friend Jake the boar hunter/salsa dancer/collector of ‘50s diner memorabilia to move into a house, there’s probably not many people who fit that profile out there.

So, this has all been a fairly abstract thought exercise, but it’s vital to work through the basics so that we can drill down even further next time. Until then!

Which advertising strategies have seemed to work well for you? Which haven’t?

Comment below.  

While in the mortgage business, Drew rose to a VP position at the first broker he worked for and then started his own company. In the pursuit of excellence, he obtained several mortgage designation...
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    Margie Kohlhaas Rental Property Investor from Algona, IA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I try to highlight the best part of the property upfront as my headline. This could include Laundry facilities, Garage (important in cold winter months), BBQ deck, Offstreet Parking, Bonus Room, Recently Remodeled, etc. This helps my ad stand out amongst my competition. I also try to read competitor ads and see if they are compelling as well.
    Drew Sygit Property Manager from Birmingham, MI
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @MARGIE KOHLHAAS: Your subject line is the attention grabber to get prospects to read the rest of your description! Keep it interesting or no one will bother to go further. Thanks for contributing!
    Jerry W. Investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Drew, Nice article. I get frustrated with putting out ads. I mostly use online advertising, but occasionally the newspaper. I try to be pretty descriptive of the property and list amount of rent, whether or not I allow pets at it etc. I get frustrated when folks call and ask do you allow pets? Do you allow smoking? How big is it? How many bathrooms or bedrooms? When it’s in the add. I am also amazed at how many places don’t list size or amount of rent, etc. I hope that I screen out a lot of calls by letting them know up front what it is and what I require.
    Jim Walker Real Estate Agent from Roseville, California
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Haha. That is what always happens. When I get that line of questioning from someone who just called the number in the ad that listed #bedrooms, nonsmoking policy, pets allowed, how much is the rent, deposit, etc when it is all clearly in the ad, I am immediately predisposed to knock ten points off of that persons score. Cause if they are that way during their application process, they probably won’t be the best possible tenants. People give off so many red flags when they are unqualified.
    Drew Sygit Property Manager from Birmingham, MI
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @JIM WALKER: That’s one way of handling these types of prospects. Just be careful that the prospect isn’t just taking a short-cut and only contacting you off the subject line of your ad:)
    Drew Sygit Property Manager from Birmingham, MI
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @JERRY W.: We haven’t done newspapers or signs in 5+ years. There’s a sharp statistical drop in the quality of prospects/applicants from those sources when compared to online leads. We have the same frustration with inquirers who obviously didn’t take the time to read our carefully written ads – that like you, have ALL the key info. We don’t want inquiries with questions, just about appointments! The reason they don’t read the ads? Laziness. Take it as a “compliment” that they read the subject line and are intrigued enough to call right away — so at least ours/yours subject lines are well written:)
    Brianna Ware from Miami, FL
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Marketing in a nutshell! Great read!
    Drew Sygit Property Manager from Birmingham, MI
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @BRIANNA WARE: thanks Brianna, we hope you found it helpful:)