Unleash the Power of Unconscious Apartment Marketing and Branding in 7 Steps


It has been a little over a month since the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference wrapped up its 2013 production. And to suggest it was anything less than awesome would be amiss. Steve Lefkovitz and his team never fail to put on a show full of amazing speakers and tons of actionable takeaways for apartment marketing. Be it the more intimate breakout sessions or the full blown keynotes, you always leave with something that, if implemented, will improve your business dealings in the multifamily industry.

This year that something for me was an unsuspecting keynote by Douglas Van Praet, Executive Vice President at Deutsch LA, a leader in unconscious behaviorism, and a pioneer in applying neurobiology and evolutionary psychology to business problems.

Applying Unconscious Branding to Apartment Marketing and Management

His presentation was largely based on his book Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing and it had a striking effect on me. The overarching premise was the mind as it relates to branding, marketing, and the like. He framed the discussion into seven codified, actionable steps that can be used to change human behavior. In some sense, he took the human brain apart and put it back together in the context of how to move people. And even though he talked about branding, I think you can use the seven steps across any platform, including apartment management.

Let’s look at the seven steps and how they can be applied to changing behavior in the world of apartment service.

1) Interrupt the Pattern

Our minds are wired to access patterns that have been imbued in our minds over our lifetime. For example, you’re traveling down the freeway and you see break lights in front of you – without thinking your mind accesses the break light pattern in your mind giving cause for you to apply pressure to your breaks. To start the process of changing behavior we must interrupt certain patterns.

Apartment Management Example: Suppose your service team is called over to repair a leaky faucet. When they arrive, they find a sink full off dirty dishes. After the faucet is repaired, what if your team rinsed the dishes put them in the dishwasher and started the cycle? What if they cleaned the counter top as well? Talk about pattern interrupt as it relates to apartment maintenance requests – at least in the eyes of the resident.

2) Create Comfort

Homeostasis is a technical term for keeping things stable. Our brains are equipped with systems that regulate body temp, heart beats, breathing, and other bodily functions. You don’t have to think, it just happens.

Apartment Management Example: Imagine the day (it’s not too far away) when smart apartments act with the same kind of governance. RFID chips or some advanced technology embedded in everything from appliances, lighting, mechanical and plumbing fixtures will not only log changes in energy use, flow rates, or mechanical wear and tear but will notify the right parties and order the appropriate service. Imagine the very second that the faucet started to leak, the RFID generates a service request that gets relayed to a technician’s smart phone. That same chip discerns if you have permission to enter the apartment to do the repair. And if permission is not there, it sends an email or text message to the resident asking for it. As a bonus – it orders the part to keep your inventory right sized. Imagine the level comfort you instill in the people you and your team are serving.

3) Lead the Imagination

Imagination is where you get to play. Douglas describes this as the watermark in of an iceberg. In the analogy, you see the tip of the iceberg (above the watermark) and are often unaware of the massive expanse of beneath the watermark. It’s the part that is left to your imagination. The watermark is what leads it.

Apartment Management Example: This is where you get to pre-delight the resident in the leaky faucet incident. Before they know that you went above and beyond in washing the dishes – you can lead the delight that they will feel. You can craft messages that lead with – we fixed your leaking faucet Mrs. Jones and we have a surprise for you. She is satisfied knowing that her faucet is fixed but now her imagination is peaked by what the surprise might be.

4) Shift the Feeling

Everything in our complicated lives gets a value placed on it via our emotions. In order to change behavior we must shift the feelings that are related to your good or service.

Apartment Management Example: Leaky faucets are not so outrageous as to disrupt one’s ability to live. But they are annoying. Be it the noise and or the thought of wasting natural resources – it causes a quiet burden of emotion on one’s mind. Imagine the shift of feeling from a potential disruption into the joy of knowing requests for service are automatic. No need to call, no need schedule, no need to be at home, no need to worry and thus a shift of feeling. On the downside, people might break things just to get some of that over the top service.

5) Satisfy the Critical Mind

Douglas suggests that we don’t have free will, we have free won’t. And it’s our conscious mind that provides us with the rationality that we need in order to dismiss our emotions. We can’t forget this part of the mind. In all reality, we buy on emotion and then back it up with logic.

Apartment Management Example: Despite the cool factor in the leaky faucet example above. People need to know that that their need was taken care of. They need to know that the largest check that they write out of their checkbook every month is providing value. In my example they need to have some hard facts backing up the actual repair work your tech performed. You can’t overdo this piece because once the emotions of the moment wears off, people want to know their issue is resolved. Communicate with facts such as time entered, time spent repairing, parts used, detergent used and time departed.

6) Change the Association

Our minds and the memories that they house work by way of association. Change those associations and you change outcomes.

Apartment Management Example: Apartment maintenance is one of those areas in a property operation that gets constant critique and more often than not – little praise. Imagine changing that by way of making the call for service a mark of awesomeness. Imagine your residents having pure joy as the over-riding association with their experience with apartment maintenance as opposed to just another time sucking hindrance. Imagine that point along the lines of becoming a new source of word of mouth marketing for you.

7) Take Action

The human brain exists for movement. The saying use it or lose it really applies in this respect. Action gets us fully into the experience of things.

Apartment Management Example: Giving people a reason to take further action imbues an experience in their mind. Imagine that leaky faucet repair compelling Mrs. Jones to cook dinner for the family. Farfetched? I don’t think so. Does that action tie into her experience? What do you think?

It may be a little utopian, but we must aim for the stars in order to advance the bar to new heights.

What do you think of the concept of unconscious branding? How would you apply the seven steps for changing behavior towards the multifamily industry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



Vice President of Operations, Mills Properties

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I’ve spent the last 15 years in the real estate business, working my way up from earning a license to sell single-family homes in New Mexico to my current position–managing a portfolio consisting of multiple sites and thousands of multifamily units in Illinois and Missouri with Mills Properties. Before landing in Missouri, I spent 10 years on the West Coast, moving between San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, working as a regional manager with Equity Residential—one of the largest apartment owners in the nation. Along the way, I’ve experienced a lot—not only about what engages our various constituents, but more importantly, learning how to leverage that knowledge to improve service and the bottom line at the same time.

6 responses to “Unleash the Power of Unconscious Apartment Marketing and Branding in 7 Steps”

  1. Jacob Gerber says:

    Thanks for posting such a thorough review of this, Mike. I didn’t get to attend the AIM Conference, but I was watching Twitter blow up with people who all conveyed the same awed reaction, so I was hoping to learn more about the presentation. It’s nice not only to have a digest of the concept, but also some concrete action ideas to flesh it out.

    Thanks again!

    Jacob Gerber

    • Mike Brewer says:


      Thank you for taking the time to comment. The presentation was amazing and the book is equally good. I suggest picking it up and reading it. Doug really brings the 7 steps alive with facts, figures and tons of cool stories.


  2. Lisa Zagoren says:

    WOW!! Love this MB. I think we need to have a marketing meeting of sorts with our maintenance teams. I believe they tire of us (daily supervisors) trying to motivate them and it goes in one ear and out the other. I think YOU need to speak to them and I bet it would improve their attitudes!

  3. Mike Brewer says:


    Always appreciate your feedback. I think the service professionals in our business get left of the marketing discussion more times than not. And wrongfully so. There is no one closer to the front lines.

    We all know that leasing or renewing a lease is a multi-thousand dollar transaction. We all know that everything is marketing and marketing is everything but I don’t think that is translated at the service level. I bet we have some untapped marketing genius laying in wait. It’s time to tap into it.


  4. Great post Mike, thank you for the thoughtful recap and application to our industry. I enjoyed the refresher.

  5. Mike:
    Brilliant piece and completely encapsulates the entire talk.
    Great job.

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