2016. Wow, where did the year go? Even though it is just September, all of us at Extra Space Storage are busily preparing for 2017. Every department is diving into what the new year may bring in terms of challenges and opportunities and where we should invest and why. In one of the areas of the business for which I am responsible, the world of digital marketing, formulating a detailed strategy is especially difficult given the hyper-dynamic nature of digital media and technology in general. In addition to the speed of change is the fact that there is this small company called Google (or Alphabet) that has a huge ability to influence our strategic direction by making seemingly inconsequential changes to their search algorithms. It seems just as our Customer Acquisition team becomes accustomed to the rules of the game, the rules change and we must adapt. So, what are some of the key trends that we will try to capitalize on in the remainder of 2016 and through 2017?
Trend #1: Mobile is where it’s @
The “mo” moment, or when mobile traffic exceeds desktop/laptop traffic, occurred for us just last year (Yes, self-storage was a laggard) and has had a profound impact on our business. More than half of our customers utilize a mobile phone at some point of the buying process with most of them utilizing “click-to-call” to contact our call center. This behavior has generated a greater than 50% increase in calls to the call center, putting us in growth mode in terms of hiring and training. Our data science, optimization, SEO and paid search teams are also working hard to maximize the effectiveness of our onsite experience to get more potential customers to convert both at the call center and on site. With the average American spending over two hours on their smartphone daily (and growing) we’ve just seen the beginning of mobile’s impact on our business.
Trend #2: Brand matters
Joint research with our Google account team indicates over 70% of potential self-storage customers say they would not store with a company they did not hear of before their decision to buy. Though Extra Space is the second largest self-storage company in the United States, we are lagging in terms of our brand awareness and brand recall with consumers. Why does this matter? Well, the more potential customers are aware of you prior to purchase, the more apt they are to both do business with you. Duh. They also use branded search terms (which lowers internet advertising expense) and increases conversion rates (lowering customer cost per acquisition). The big orange (and a bit of purple) company we compete with that is headquartered in Glendale, CA has spent tens of millions of dollars over the years building up their brand in a big way. We’ve just completed a major video advertising test this year which showed us that we have the ability to raise our brand awareness through excellent creative execution and consumer targeting. Look for these efforts to continue in the future.
Trend #3: CX
Customer experience, or CX, is a huge buzz in the world of marketing these days. In short, CX is the interaction that a company has with its customers from first contact to exit. Marketing and customer experience are not just converging, they’re colliding. There are companies that do CX very well, such as Chick-fil-A and Nordstrom. There are others that are terrible such as Comcast and Humana Healthcare. We’re aiming for the former. In a joint effort between digital marketing, data science and training, we’re busy benchmarking and establishing norms for how we treat our customers and make it as easy and enjoyable as possible to do business with Extra Space Storage as possible. This will be an ongoing, iterative program that will be embedded into our culture from here on out.