The year in review – Chapter Living

Posted: 16 Nov 2018 - 15:28
Accommodation
Chapter was pleased to welcome over 5,000 students to London this year. As our new and returning residents settle in to their first month living in one of our ten London locations, it’s a great time to reflect on the year that was, and what potentially lies ahead.

Starting from the beginning

After achieving over 97% occupancy from eight buildings, our attention quickly turned to our renewal campaign, and semester two and summer strategies. 

Our renewal campaign ran from November 2017 to March 2018, during which we ran various A/B tests on content, collateral, and incentives, and while there are differences in consumer behaviour between our buildings, we found that service-related incentives performed very well. Our renewal percentage figure remained flat year-on-year, and this was encouraging considering Aldgate was a new addition to the brand. 

During this time, various events were hosted with a level of student engagement I hadn’t seen before. This drove confidence that the pre-arrival messaging, and staff engagement during check in, had enhanced from previous years. The catalyst for this is a greater understanding of our customers, including cultural nuances and preferences of our residents at key times in the cycle. 

With <3% of beds remaining for the academic year, we began our semester two campaign. In addition to other demand channels and routes to market, we utilised the opportunities available via UCAS. In December, we ran a ‘Book from January’ campaign, which we achieved healthy results from, and to share a key KPI, our click-through rate (CTR) exceeded 9%. The result (in addition to other activity) was a successful semester two campaign that improved our occupancy and enhanced our revenue position. 

2018/19 academic year kick-off

Late November, we launched our 18/19 DL (direct let) campaign, with the intention to pull forward the organic leasing cycle, but still give our existing residents an opportunity to have a period of exclusivity on renewal preferences. We were all excited by the challenge that our portfolio had increased by >500 beds, with the addition of our second Highbury location and our White City building (both were under construction and completed during the summer). 

By 1 January, we had added approximately 250 new leases (in addition to any renewals or nomination agreements). During this time, our marketing tactics were softer, and we saw peer-to-peer playing a significant role. 

By early April, our DL volume had doubled, the predicted catalyst being university offers being sent, and a smaller proportion of students thinking about their accommodation early. There is also a healthy level of interest from postgraduate students. Our pay-per-click activity is increased as is our physical presence, for example, attending the University of London’s fair. 

We were in a strong position by early July, with over 1,700 DL leases, and had significantly improved our SEO position from the year before. The results of our PPC efforts started to prove ROI. Our partnership with a large media organisation delivers >650k impressions to a qualified audience, and we also experiment with influencer marketers and more niche platforms specific to our customer segmentation strategy.

August and September delivered the same whirlwind experience as always, and the truth is we are still analysing everything that contributed significance in those final months. During this time, we pulled all levers, so many factors can contribute, making it difficult to try to claim success from a particular initiative or campaign. I can confirm our email campaign via UCAS delivered an audience who spent more than one minute more on average on our property pages, leading to greater enquiry volumes and bookings, but we must learn from our underperforming MPUs on some UCAS content pages. As a piece of market insight, I am happy to share we did experience slightly softer demand shortly after Clearing, but then in true unpredictable student fashion, we witnessed a late surge in demand to close out – our September website visits achieved the highest monthly total ever. In short, at >97% (again), the Chapter year in review is extremely positive, and our most successful yet. We have grown as a team and loved every challenging minute of it. It is an honour to work with such a highly committed and capable group of people.  

2019/20

Looking ahead to 19/20, I expect to see similar market performance to the 18/19 cycle (although if there’s one thing I’ve learned from student marketing, it’s that you can never be 100% sure). We’ll continue to work closely with our key partners, including UCAS, and use the 18/19 leasing cycle lessons learned to become even more rifled in our approach. All of us here at Chapter shall keep a watchful eye on market conditions and any impact that could be caused by Brexit or lower application numbers, but I believe we have a diverse consumer audience and appropriate marketing strategies to succeed in a slightly ambiguous market. Whatever happens, we shall once again enjoy the challenge.

/files/matthew-ede">Matthew Ede

Matthew Ede

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