The State of Space: Optimizing the Self-Storage Journey

Everyone wants an extra closet, a crawl space, or a home for the growing pile of things that no longer fit under beds, on bookshelves, and hung up on walls. Self-storage provides a sought-after flexibility in today’s hectic world, and while the industry continues to grow, so do consumer expectations. Renters aren’t solely in search of low prices and immediate availability, they want personalized self-storage experiences — ones that allow them to find information, explore options, and book with ease.

As new technologies and trends emerge, the industry is continuously being disrupted and forced to evolve. And while consumers race to buy up physical units, brands compete for the more complicated dominance of the online space. Staying ahead requires an in-depth understanding of shifting trends, industry challenges, emerging opportunities, and the techniques required to reach audiences when and where they want.

Consumer Trends

What’s driving the self-storage explosion?

1. Higher Population, Higher Price

Simply put, there’s more of us. Population growth, especially in dense metropolitan areas, is on the rise. That, combined with an increasing price per square foot, means that storage units are at a higher premium than ever before. The strain is felt in suburbia as well, where self-storage is a crucial component in the relocation process. In fact, 61% of storage customers who are moving are suburban renters.

2. Baby Boomers Are Retiring

One of the largest generations in U.S. history is starting to hang up their cleats. Baby Boomers are in the midst of a retirement wave, and over 50% of them are looking to downsize as they tackle their next phase of life. Self-storage is an attractive option for those moving into smaller homes, and with tight retirement funds — 50% have $100,000 or less saved up — it’s expected that more and more will jump ship.

3. Storage Co’s Try to Stay Competitive

Between 1998 and 2012 alone, self-storage facilities doubled. By 2015, 9.5% of US households had a storage unit, up from 6% in 1995. Everyone is after space, and in order to sustain occupancy rates and remain competitive, self storage marketing is evolving and so are the actual facilities, with investments in features like pickups, upgraded security options, climate-controlled units and locations near retail centers. The $32.7 billion industry is projected to grow 3.5% annually over the next five years. To stay on top, providers must learn how to keep up with savvy competitors and consumers alike.

4. Less is More

Millennials love minimalism. Having less, using less and wanting less are in. However, the lifestyle has yet to catch up with the popular aesthetic. People are appearing more minimal while still having plenty of clutter. So where’s it going? Storage units. In 2007, 15% of customers were storing items that “they no longer need or want.” It was the third most-popular reason for using a unit and was projected to grow. As recently as 2016, 59% of millennials said they still had too much unnecessary clutter lying around. Younger generations are continuously looking to purge, and self-storage is an increasingly attractive option.

Digital Trends

How are consumers behaving & why does it matter?

1. Search Is the First Stop

In the old days, a prospect would see a billboard, call a number, and their self-storage journey was underway. No longer. 71% of consumers begin their journeys by performing a web search, and 74% use a search engine for consideration and purchasing. This accounts for preliminary research, comparing competition, and making transactions. The industry has rapidly transitioned self storage marketing from offline to online, forcing brands to take SEM seriously.

2. Minds Are On Mobile

Smartphones have changed a lot of things, including the way people search for desired products and services. While branded searches are down, non-branded and “near me” searches have increased 4 times over in the last year alone. Mobile allows users to get information while they’re on the go, prompting them to prioritize a provider’s proximity and accessibility before other factors. In today’s hectic world, a brand that optimizes their experience for mobile use is showing consumers that they care about convenience.  The “near me” trend is a significant competitive differentiator for traditional self storage providers over on-demand pure plays.

3. Actionable Info Builds Trust

Modern day brand-consumer relationship building has less to do with cool self storage marketing campaigns, and more to do with providing tangible value. 73% of consumers say that getting useful information from an advertiser is the most important attribute when choosing a brand. 51% of smartphone users have bought from an unintended brand because the information provided was useful, and 60% do not have a particular company in mind when starting their storage search.

4. Users Are Looking Local

In the self-storage industry, location really matters. A nationwide provider might have brand equity, but are they optimizing their digital journey based on geographics? 61% of smartphone users say they’re more likely to buy from companies who customize information based on location. And with 74% wanting to see units in-person before purchasing, it’s crucial they have access to the information that will get them there.

Industry Opportunities

What should brands be taking advantage of?

1. Map the Journey

Customer journey mapping is crucial cross-industry, especially in highly personal verticals such as self-storage. Determine what the user journey looks like from unique points of view to ensure all touch points, both on and offline, are taken into account. A brand must understand every avenue users are taking to find out about their services. This journey is the baseline for successfully leveraging other digital tactics, and ensures that content finds prospects at optimal moments in time. With 34% of companies currently investing in journey mapping, it’s quickly becoming a marketing standard.

The below table describes the primary goal of each phase of the self-storage customer journey, as well as the typical behaviors that indicate a person’s phase in the journey. This framework allows brands to easily identify optimal touch points and potential opportunities for journey optimization.

A sample customer-journey map.Click here to view the above graph in full-size.

2. Tell (Advertising) Stories

The self-storage thought process typically starts long before people plug “units near me” into their search bars. For some, the seed is planted after a query around available apartments, for others, after they’ve bought a one way ticket to a new place. Understand and anticipate the different paths a user takes when considering self-storage as a solution, and be there as the idea first arises. Sequential advertising takes previous interactions with advertising into account, and tells a story based on unique behaviors and desires. Each engagement influences the next message, creating deeper and more meaningful connections.

3. Provide Utility Content

The need for storage is usually brought about by big life changes, such as moving, starting a new job, or going through a breakup. People are juggling multiple critical and time-sensitive decisions at once. It’s a brand’s job to understand this and be an expert. Utility content is highly informative and often situational. It provides users with the specific answers they’re looking for, and allows them to make decisions faster and with more confidence during a busy time in their lives.

4. Prioritize Local Information

For many, storage loses its appeal if they can’t find out how accessible it is on the fly, especially with the increasing number of on-demand options that bring storage to consumers, rather than the other way around. Deliver a 360 experience for interested parties by enhancing Google My Maps listings. GMM allows users to keep track of important places, and make custom maps based on individual needs. Brands can update listings with 360 tours and additional photos or information. The more concrete a person feels about what they’re getting, the higher likelihood they’ll convert.

5. Personalize Your Messaging

We’ve already confirmed the power of search, now how do brands make that information actionable? One recommendation is to tailor messaging to the user journey by leveraging IF Function ads and mobile bid adjustments. What’s that mean? IF Functions allow you to control ad messaging based on unique behavior. In other words, specific messaging is used when certain conditions are met, and default messaging is used when they are not. Mobile bid adjustments help you gain control over when and where your message shows up. Mobile campaigns use bidding and targeting to place ads, bids that brands can optimize to show up in valuable locations and unique moments in time.

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