This column may not help you make sales directly, but it should make people wonder how you got so smart. We are going deep here about lifestyle marketing and how it got started.
Obviously, I don’t have the space or stamina to go into detail for every amenity, but here is what developers and retirement communities learned early about swimming pools, boat slips, golf courses and "security."
I was a young, clueless project manager for one of the first major condominium developments in the U.S. — Bay Islands Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. — with a $1 million yacht club and marina. Few people at the time could pronounce "condominium" or spell it.
When we began marketing the units, Realtors started insisting that we needed to heat the pools, beef up our security, and offer more boat slips for sale in addition to the 12 we had installed.
I had sold my public relations firm to my developer client — who was now my boss — so I knew we needed psychographic research to determine the best possible results. Back then we had no experience to bank on because we had no idea what we were doing.
Today we are going to answer these haunting questions:
Should swimming pools be heated?
The scenario: Our sales staff said "yes." Why? "Because everybody asks if the pool is heated." Actually they asked because it was the only thing they knew to ask. The question had nothing to do with whether they purchased, at least not in Florida.
Let’s ask this question another way. "What is the most important feature of the swimming pool?
Research results: Most important feature? The size of the deck around the pool. Especially if you have teenagers. The first thing they look for is how far away can they sit with their friends from their parents. Check it out next time you are near a public pool. So few in it and so many around it most of the time.
The next time you show a prospect a pool, ask them what they feel is the most important feature, then have some fun with the answer.
If you’re building waterfront condominiums, how many boat slips do you need?
Hint: Our market was retirees, but many had dreams of moving to the water, buying a boat, be it sail or motorized, for fishing or pleasure. You would think a couple hundred slips might be enough for an 800-unit project, right? Right. Actually, 50 proved to be too many.
"Retired boat owner" is to other retirees what "meat house" is to a dog. Studies showed that we needed one boat slip for every 25 units, and that might be a stretch. This is not to imply what others may need.
What is "security?"
Feel free to use this information to wax smart, yet smug, at your next neighborhood cookout:
"Security" may be in the mind of the beholder, but it was a huge competitive advantage to the developer.
We went from a part-time night watchman who slept most of the time to a 24-hour manned gate in three years! Did this happen because we were having security problems?
No. Competition made us do it.
Our competition added a night patrol officer from dusk to dawn, so we went to a gated entrance. The competition added a gate. We built a guard house that implied a security guard would be inside. The competition added a guard house at the entrance, and actually put a security guard in it on weekends. We added a full-time daytime guard. They added a 24-hour manned security center.
About the time we ran our first ad showing a manned security gate, thieves in a boat pulled up to one our waterfront models, stole a refrigerator, and disappeared into the night.
Shortly after that, our attorney reminded us that we could not refer to our security as "security."
We finally settled on "24-hour manned entrance" as a "pride of ownership" amenity. Which it was, as long as we were paying for it. After the developer turned the community over to the owners and they had to pay for it, not so much. They decided an "unmanned gate" would do.
Along the way we learned that only 5 percent of the owners use a recreation center, yet it is one of the first things shown when the owner sells. One-third of those who live on a golf course play golf. A third like the activities at the club. About a third do not play golf or use the clubhouse. They like the openness and they like to watch the birds and squirrels.
But the most important thing I’ve learned about market research and market segmentation is that we have to very careful when assuming a target market is actually the target. Developers have lost their projects because they target the wrong market with the wrong message.
Why lenders do not ask for real marketing research, I do not know.
Caveat: I do not conduct research nor do I refer market research companies.