By Sharon Villines, Takoma Village Cohousing
Carolyn Dyer of Iowa City Cohousing, still forming, posted their marketing plan to the Cohousing-L email list a week or two ago. I thought it contained many new ideas and asked her if I could share it here. She said yes so here it is. I particularly liked their use of speakers on related topics, field trips, and follow up on the effectiveness of their presentations and materials. It brings out people with similar interests to socialize who might not be interested in a pot-luck.
Iowa City Cohousing, which is in the process of submitting our site plan to the city planning and zoning commission and has about one-third of the needed member households, regularly asks folks who express and interest in us how they learned about us. Most often people mention an announcement on Iowa Public Radio. We have done them 3 or 4 times and they are repeated about 10 times over a couple of weeks. Expensive, but a good audience. We hold informational meetings 2 times a month and post posters in area businesses and libraries. We have put ads in the programs of the city's summer arts festival, the program of a performing arts center, and notices in all the online calendars of events we can find and qualify for. Word of mouth is important, too.
We hold a "Friends of Iowa City Cohousing" meetings once a month at which we have a speaker on a topic of interest to us that we hope other people who will find interesting and then learn about us in the process. Examples of topics include: natural play areas, a project in which an area town is putting the whole community on a solar grid, edible landscapes, how to get funds for a down payment from a home equity loan or second mortgage, and sustainable storm water management.
We have developed an email mailing list of about 200 people who have expressed even the slightest interest, and we notify people about every event. We also have field trips open to anyone on our mailing list--to many different small houses, places using different kinds of heating and cooling systems, a salvage barn, IKEA to see kitchen layouts, to another cohousing community, etc. The field trips are fun, and people get to know us on the sometimes long rides and meals we share along the way. People have joined right after one or another of our field trips. In my view, all these things add up. As time goes on, more and more people are familiar with us and an ad or poster or announcement finally strikes a chord and moves a person to attend an informational meeting and follow up. Our website contains a great deal of information about us, our values, our site, etc.
We have about 12 member households. Three first learned about us from IPR ads; others heard the notices as well as seeing other marketing materials. Many who come to meetings have mentioned the announcements as have other people in the community, enough that more and more people are familiar with us. That does and will help us in ways other than attracting members. For example some members of the City Council which will have to approve our project know about us. Some contractors we might not have considered to build our houses have contacted us and asked to be considered. When our public hearings are scheduled before the planning and zoning commission and City Council, we will invite anyone who has expressed an interest in our project to attend and maybe speak on our behalf.
We placed the public radio announcements as part of a blitz of sorts. Simultaneously we posted more posters than usual and did other things to attract people at a time when it seemed like a good time on the calendar because nothing else was going on that would compete with our event. We think NPR is a good investment for us. Besides the members who have first learned about us on the radio, we are becoming more and more well known in town, and that stimulates word-of-mouth referrals and eases our way into banks, city departments, contractors, etc. which is important because Iowa City Cohousing is the first cohousing community in the state.
The NPR announcements and the recognition it generates provides opportunities for us to talk about cohousing on a one-to-one basis. These announcements have also stimulated interest in the news media which have covered us quite well.
The ads we have in the summer arts festival and performing arts center programs came about because the ad directors contacted us after learning about us from other advertising efforts. We hadn't thought of advertising there. These particular ads we think are valuable because the summer arts festival program is a resource people use more than once and the performing arts center ad appears in the program for every event they have throughout the year.
We have also had information tables at a number of events, for example: farmer's markets a few times, an ecofair sponsored by our food coop, a meeting of the retired University of Iowa employees.
We are seeking a diverse age group of members. At one of our information meetings a person asked what we were doing to make the community attractive to parents of younger children. She hadn't seen or heard any mention of this during our presentation or in our materials. We followed up by meeting with her to have her critique our presentation, we added information about nearby schools, the play area and play rooms we were planning, the play equipment in the park adjacent to our site among other things. One member invited a number of young parents to a meeting to consult with them about what they would want to know about cohousing and where we should target our message. (These were not people we expected to join us; they were just savvy young people in the community.) Until now our Board of Managers, who are all over 50, has conducted information meetings. Beginning in July, a couple of young parents will begin taking on that task along with just one of the grayhairs.
We also have a Facebook page, but aren't consistent in posting information on it. We have asked members to like our Facebook page and mention cohousing events on their pages.That hasn't been very successful because most members aren't active Facebook users.
Our webmaster is a "friend" of cohousing who so far has not decided to join us. She designed our logo and creates and updates the website and serves on our membership committee and attends all our events.
Our site is spectacular, with long views of the part of the city and the Iowa countryside in 3 directions, and we offer tours of the site to anyone at any time.