Multifamily Guest Cards: Are We Paving the Cow Paths Once Again?

How NOT to design your multifamily guest card: Do not ‘Pave the Cow Paths’ like Boston in colonial times.

The Story of Paving the Cow Paths

The story of the multifamily guest card is similar to the story of paving the cow paths.

Anyone who has been to downtown Boston sees that the streets are winding, twisting, and meandering. These meandering streets reflect the paths taken by cows in colonial America, as they moved from pasture to pasture. Three and half centuries later, these cow paths are now the streets of Boston.

This story is wonderfully captured in the poem The Calf Path, written by Sam Walter Foss. We start with a wandering calf that travels down a dirt path:

One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.

[Photo credit: Gonzalo Viera Azpiroz]

Soon, other animals decided to follow.

But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.


[Photo credit: Marco]

It wasn’t just the animals. Humans soon discovered these calf paths, made them into a village street, and then it became a central street of the metropolis three and a half centuries later.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

[Photo credit: Universal Hub]

And this is how we ended up in the meandering streets of old Boston.

Cow Paths and Multifamily Guest Cards

The expression ‘Paving the Cow Paths’ has come to symbolize blind automation that does not take advantages of the new medium. It seems as though the multifamily guest card has followed the same footsteps as the cow path.

First Came Paper Guest Cards

It seems as though the multifamily guest card has followed the same footsteps as the cow path.

When multifamily guest cards were first created, they were intended to be filled out on a paper guest card with a pencil. At this time, that single card had to capture all the information about the prospect. This led to guest cards that look like the one below. Note, it has 35 fields shown, and there are many more once you turn over the other side.


Then, the Paper Guest Card Moved to the Web

Soon, we had the web-based guest card copying the fields in the paper-based guest cards. Even though there’s enough evidence that a large number of fields reduces the response rate, we still insisted on packing as many fields as possible on the guest card. For example, reducing the number of fields from 11 to 4 increases the response rate by 160%.

And yet, it is common to see examples of guest cards with fields of 14 or more:


And Finally, We Have the Paper Guest Card on Mobile

As if the torture of entering 14 fields was not enough, we decided to cramp that experience on a 3×5 inch screen with barely two inches to enter 14 fields.



And so, here we are. We have a sub-optimal guest card experience on many properties.

Fortunately, there are many others that have moved beyond paving the cow path of a paper guest card. In our next post, we will walk you through the guest card experience, provided by the multifamily management companies that have modernized the right way.

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