How to Use Marketing in Real Life

Lately I’ve been struck with the importance of marketing on my everyday. I’m currently in the hunt for an apartment, which—as anyone who has lived in a big city like SF or NY will tell you—is hard. Really hard. You’re usually competing with well-dressed, genteel people who make as much or more money than you. My roommate has noticed that you’ll often see recurring characters: the rich chicks, the frat guys in pastel button-downs and driving a BMW, two hipster dudes who got here (here to SF, here to the apartment, here on this Earth) on bikes.

It looks basically like this, except nobody is smiling

It ‘s basically like college, except nobody is smiling

But after having the opportunity to chat with one of the leasing agents long after the showing closed (seriously, we chatted about school and work and bringing back people you meet at the bar with the pickup line, “I have a BEAUTIFUL bathroom”: fingers crossed), I realized how a lot of the skills I use at work have carry-over into the real world.

A/B testing email subject lines to stand out from the crowd

The biggest thing you’re going to have to deal with is standing out from the crowd. Craigslist listings for cheap, attractive homes in nice neighborhoods get BATTERED with emails. The first thing my roommate and I did was to apply some A/B testing to our email subjects. We tried to hit two important bits of information:

  • We are adults with paying jobs
  • We are responsible and pay our shit on time

It’s important to fit this AND the listing details (so we know at a glance the price and location of the listing) into 70-ish characters so it will resolve on mobile.

I defined our metric of success to be reply rate, since we lack the tracking ability to do open and click-rates. In the future, if we need, I’ll probably look into that. A further metric we’re deliberating on including is reply rate from an actual person. A lot of replies we’re getting are template-ized, a measure from the leasing agent to deal with the glut of emails. We both agree that our pitch is best given to a person, and want our subject line to get right to the heart of that.

Then we created an Excel with all of our variants with Sent and Replies columns next to each. Over the next week we’ll analyze and see which were our most successful. We’d also like to unpack whether there’s any link between subject and automated template replies from leasing agents.

It's not the full sheet, but basically this

It’s not the full sheet, but basically this


Know your customers and then show—don’t tell—them

The best thing we ever did was to think about these renters as ourselves. We researched what the process for renting is, what are common hangups and breakdowns in procedure. Between Google and talking to the leasing agents at our open houses we’ve found that they’re extraordinarily concerned—to the point of paranoia—with responsible, *quiet* tenants who won’t make their lives hell.

Another big point is that these are homes where the seller is an older person. This has been their home for years, since before San Francisco got hot. They’re looking for people who will love and respect the place. Who won’t throw constant ragers, but when they do, they’ll grow a HELL of a rager.

After hearing this we asked ourselves whether that’s what we were looking for. Did we honestly think we could take on the responsibility of a Home-capital-H? Be responsible for the upkeep, for cleaning, for DIY? Because if we couldn’t, there was no way we could convince some old old man that his home would be in good hands with us.

I see right through you, sonny-boy

I see right through you, sonny-boy


Constant contact

Jumping back to the idea of standing out from the crowd, one bit of feedback we got is that direct, high-touch contact helped. At one particular apartment, I called, called again, emailed after we talked with my roommate CC’d to confirm time, date, and location of viewing, and then sent ANOTHER email the day before to confirm time, date, and location of viewing.

I received relatively terse emails in response, so I thought we were in the doghouse, but the leasing agent told me when we got there, “Oh, so YOU’RE Alex.”

If people don’t want your emails they’ll tell you to stop. Until then, if it’s important to you, you don’t ever let yourself be forgotten.


There you are. Three easy tips for finding an apartment in SF. Maybe I should write a book about it, then I’ll be able to afford this place.

Got an issue? Here’s a tissue…With name: Alex Dou, and my email: I like building websites, analyzing Excel, creating Powerpoints, and presenting them.


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