Community Marketing & Promotional Ideas from Iowa City Cohousing

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 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.

-------------- 2016 UPDATE --------------

Some additional marketing strategies and thoughts since 2014 --

Two years later, Iowa City Cohousing expects to break ground this
early summer. In the interim, we have moved the development
from one half of our land to the other half and redesigned our
buildings; won approval of our site plan, enthusiastic support and
some funding from the city council last December; increased the size
of the community from about 25 to 36 households; won grants,
low-interest loans and tax credits for some affordable units and for
sustainable storm water management practices on our hilly site; and
maintained enthusiasm among members. In addition to attracting
members, our marketing activities have helped us create the visibility
that have made these important collateral developments possible.

We continue to hold 2 information meetings a month, field trips, and
regular friends’ meetings on subjects of interest to a broader group
than just potential cohousing members.

Periodically, we buy announcements on Iowa Public Radio. The primary
draws for the information meetings have been posters, our website,
Iowa Public Radio and word of mouth. That said, these and other
publicity efforts have been additive—people coming to our
information meetings often say they have learned of our project in
multiple ways over time, and they have finally come to a meeting to
learn more. Attendance at these meetings has been increasing, and the
rate of transition from attending a meeting to applying for membership
has also increased recently. In addition to new members, we have
accumulated a group of followers who are likely to become members when
we get closer to move-in time. Just being nearer to groundbreaking no
doubt has nudged more folks to joining us. We give each attendee a
pocket portfolio with explanations of our values and the guidelines
and agreements we live by; a directory to restaurants, businesses and
services within walking distance of our site; an explanation of our
membership process, and a membership application form.

Our website and listing on the Cohousing Directory have drawn
out-of-state folks to our community. We have experimented with
holding information meetings by Skype so these people can better
evaluate our community before committing to the expense of traveling
to meet with us. (We also Skype with non-local members for all-member
meetings.)

I think our unique and eye-catching logo is an important asset to our
marketing efforts. Believing small details can have a big impact, we
have printed our logo on tote bags and buttons that we give each new
member to wear and display. The Board of Managers have Iowa City
Cohousing business cards that feature the logo. All of these are
available at reasonable prices for even small quantities from the
Vistaprint and Just Buttons websites.

As a university community with a large teaching hospital that attract
a lot of new people to town for extended stays, getting word out to
people relocating here seems like a good idea. To spread the word and
logo more broadly, we have just produced a brochure about our project,
and we are joining the local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau which
will circulate our brochure to folks moving to the area and post
information about us on their website. The CVB also has a meeting room
we can use for information meetings.

Our 8-acre site has breathtaking views from one of the highest points
in the city, so offering individual guided walks on the land is an
important recruiting activity. Happily one of our members enjoys
taking folks for a tour. On about 4 acres of the site, we expect to
maintain vegetable gardens, orchards and prairie managed by
permaculture principles. In keeping with and promoting our
environmental values, we have stepped up our hosting of information
tables at a myriad of environmental events, including Earth Day
celebrations. The city of Iowa City’s recycling coordinator
maintains a weekly newsletter and calendar of ECO events which always
lists our meetings and events.

To help us reach the younger families we want to attract to our
multigenerational community, we are also targeting family-friendly
events with tables and activities for kids. Weather permitting, we
hope to have kite-flying on our land and a picnic in the park adjacent
to us for the national Cohousing Open House April 30.

A couple of new members have committed themselves to keeping our
Facebook page active and lively, and we now have a blog with regular
posts about our activities and subjects pertinent to cohousing.

I would be happy to talk to or correspond with people who would like
more information.

Carolyn Dyer cdyer1621 [at] gmail.com
Board of Managers Iowa City Cohousing, developing Prairie Hill

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