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

Drew Sygit
4 min read
Rental Advertising: Why You Shouldn’t Try to Appeal to the Masses

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.

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!

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

Comment below.  

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.