Learning how to effectively market to a specific audience can take years to nail down. That’s why the Automated Housing Referral Network (AHRN.com) spent more than 10 years fine tuning the house hunting and selling experience for military members and their families.
A salute to its consumers
Paul Giese, product manager of parent company Runzheimer International, describes the military audience as a “very defined market niche.” For instance, there are certain policies and procedures members must obey—such as living within a certain base distance—Giese notes. In addition, military families will often have to move to a new location without securing their housing situation.
To better cater to this demographic, AHRN.com spent 18 months working with the Department of Defense and evaluating the existing military housing referral process. The company then spent an additional year developing its beta site before launching the first version of its site in June 2005. AHRN.com has continued to upgrade the site ever since—including making the site optimized for mobile in November 2012, as well as introducing content and ads in January 2014.
When visiting the site, former or active military members must register and create an account. AHRN.com solicits the type of service members are in, their rank, marital status, number of children, intended move date, installation location, and housing allowance. Registrants are also asked to fill out a housing profile to inform AHRN.com of the type of housing they’re looking for. Based on this insight, AHRN.com customizes the site and its listings to fit those members’ needs. To stay abreast of new listings, members can opt in to receive email alerts or push notifications, as well as use AHRN.com’s live online support. However, military members aren’t the only ones who benefit from the site. Giese adds that AHRN.com also allows property managers to control their properties within the AHRN.com system without having to call or fax a housing office.
Currently, AHRN.com garners two million unique visitors a year, according to Lisa Klinkhammer, CMO of Red Door Group, AHRN.com’s marketing agency.
Content marketing boot camp
To maintain engagement with after they find a residence, AHRN.com started bulking up its use of content marketing this year, such as by providing moving, decorating, and property management information. Klinkhammer adds that the company is partnering with bloggers, including Katie del Castillo, an army officer and author of the blog Life with a Dash of Whimsy. To ensure that the content resonates with its audience, AHRN.com also has Klinkhammer and her team—who are all military spouses—produce and manage it.
“It deepens the trust, adds credibility to the content and to the site, and increases brand equity,” AHRN.com’s Giese says.
In addition to building trust, AHRN.com experienced a 45% increase in registrations and a 25% increase in page views this past January, as compared to December.
Advances in advertising
However, developing its content isn’t the only enhancement AHRN.com has made recently. In January 2014 AHRN.com opened the site up to advertising and sponsorship opportunities. “Many brands offer discounts to military members. We see it as a win-win,” Klinkhammer says. “We’re looking to bring high-value brands and discounts to connect with military members.”
So far, Giese says, AHRN.com has a “few [brands] in stage one, [or] stage two” of the advertising process, adding that the company is still getting the word out.
In addition to forging this new frontier, Klinkhammer says maintaining the brand’s market share among its competitors remains a challenge. However, she says, AHRN.com plans on upholding its niche by continuing to provide rich, engaging experiences. And while Klinkhammer acknowledges that data is important, she says that the trust AHRN.com has developed with military families throughout the years is a major component of the brand’s overall success.
“Trust is so important,” she says. “Yes, there’s a lot of data….. But the data behind it is all trusted.”