Why Branding Matters for Apartment Communities
Apartment communities have a brand whether or not you know it, and its ownership doesn’t necessarily reside in your corporate offices.
The industry reputation of your apartments is the magnetic beacon that is ultimately visible to both your customers and employees. The brand isn’t always limited to an iconic blue dot or tree-lined horizon, and can be more of a perceived stamp that takes on attributes that go beyond its physical properties.
And it’s up to the property to live up to all that it represents, or the competition may pass right by.
“We don’t own the brand,” said presenter Kevin Thompson, senior vice president, marketing, at Bell Partners, Inc. “The consumer owns it. Our opportunities as a company are to see if we can influence the opinion of the brand. The consumer is overall ultimately who owns the brand.”
Brands, he adds, have become a badge of self-expression that reflects the image of the consumer. It’s about whatever consumers are eating, drinking or driving. In the case of the multifamily industry, a brand can be a relegated to a service or embody a lifestyle offered by the apartments.
Brand consistency ups value for apartment communities
Brands are an intangible that in the last few decades have become an important asset to many businesses because of the economic impact they contribute.
Some of the branding giants are Apple and Google, according to Forbes. Together the tech monsters generate a combined $271 billion in value.
Putting a monetary value on branding in the multifamily industry is difficult, but consistency of brand strategy within a property management company’s portfolio adds a recognizable value that will translate to dollars and cents by virtue of renter loyalty, which Turner describes as renewals from existing residents and referrals to family and friends.
Jennifer Staciokas, senior vice president at Pinnacle, said consistency with messaging, signage, and other collateral among properties leaves the consumer a lasting impression of the property that could be recalled when a resident moves from one market to the other.
“Whether they live in Dallas or Boston, they should recognize the same sense of community from one city to the next,” she said.
Branding matters for apartment communities
Multifamily is a commodity product, says Thompson, and branding matters when apartment communities attempt to lure residents from one property to another. Companies that have a defined brand will do better than those properties that do not.
Among reasons for creating a brand for the company and C-suite is that it improves marketing efficiencies by having a single message and collateral package, Thompson said. Brands also improve recruitment of associates and employee retention, facilitate business development, and improve down cycle performance.
“All of these things together reduce your media costs, reduce the time of the staff through centralization, increase rents,” Thompson said. “A brand will do better than a non-brand. Research has proven that.”
Thompson cited Ritz Carlton’s condominium program as a perfect example of monetizing through an established brand. The well-known luxury hotel group has leveraged its brand to build a successful condominium vertical that generates higher premiums compared to other prestigious hotels, Thompson noted. The name alone implies that residents will receive the legendary level of service and opulence for which the hotels have been recognized for 100 years.
Use social media as a brand forum
Apartments don’t have to be in every major market to resonate a strong brand because of the power of the online community.
Brands today can be problem solvers or connectors, Thompson said. The strongest brands resolve issues and ultimately save the consumer time in the decision-making process. For example, an apartment hunter’s choices may be quickly narrowed once a brand is recognized in a given market, just like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Twitter provide brand connectivity that enhances trust and loyalty for the consumer.
Leveraging social media to help execute brand strategy, especially on site, is becoming more and more necessary for apartments today to build and maintain their brands. Having a tech-savvy staff is a must, says Staciokas.
“With social media, your brand is being controlled by your customers,” she said. “I think what’s important is to focus on customer service. Having the tech-savvy folks on site and actively engaging residents through social media is extremely important.”
Highlight the unique brand for different apartment communities
Branding at the property level doesn’t necessarily need to tie in with brands at other property types. In fact, a one-size-fits-all branding approach is not always a good idea, because each property type tends to have its own characteristics. Branding the value between property types can be a brand in itself, says Thompson.
Colleen Kittell, vice president of marketing at Monument Realty, said that branding can filter to the property level even though a corporate strategy isn’t perfect and defined. It’s about what property owners want from each apartment community.
She says it’s about asking yourself what the objective is about, and if you’re trying to create consistency or attempting to differentiate yourself and create something more unique.
Also, lease value can play a strong role in your brand. It’s not always about the money, Thompson says, but about the image that a property has, the price, location and lifestyle. He points to the hotel industry where many of the top-tier properties have created value properties that are always clean, cheap and quiet. The same can go for the brand experience between the A’s and the C’s, he said.
“That’s your message: We’re not like the A’s. We give you what you want at a price you can afford.”
Protect the community brand from being undermined
The difficult part of creating and maintaining the brand in property management, the panelists agreed, is to prevent the brand from being undermined. Ultimately, the brand takes on a life of its own, and executing the brand strategy should be handled with care.
Thompson warned that leasing agents should be aware of Fair Housing laws when marketing branded property types. In other words, don’t steer a potential resident toward a certain property level because of assumptions about the individual’s economic status or class.
Failing to get C-suite support and creating a single brand across different platforms is a sure way to damage a property’s image, Thompson says. Employing a generic brand for a C property and A property or for a company that offers high-rise and garden-style living can fuel negative feedback from residents and could result in occupancy losses. Segmenting into multiple brands can be a better option.
Also, inconsistencies in the execution of the brand strategy will create problems, especially at the site level where turnover among associates is high. Thompson said that property managers and associates come and go at a pace of about 50-60 percent, which forces the front office into constant brand strategy training. Keeping up with turnover is critical to maintaining the right brand strategy.
“You’re trying to train all the time and you get a different branding experience,” he said. “Many times it conflicts with the original plan you developed.”
Because branding has become a moving target, applying the right amount of pressure can be challenging. As much as property managers wants to dictate the message of the brand across their apartment communities, that’s not always possible. Residents, prospective residents, employees, and neighbors have the ultimate say-so.
Panelists agreed that the biggest challenge is controlling a brand, especially when it’s not living in the front office.
“The biggest thing is trying not to control it,” Kittell said. “It’s not what we say it is, it’s about what the customer says it is. The more you can get away from trying to control the brand of your apartment communities and just focus on influencing them, the better.”
(Editor’s note- we have updated and republished this article to benefit readers new to Property Management Insider.)