DALLAS, TX - Generation Y has grown up with an inherent understanding and appreciation for brands and strong loyalty to the ones they feel best align with their values. This loyalty is increasingly being applied to the companies behind the apartment communities they live in and the companies they work for, with many seeking out a reputation for quality and integrity. For the apartment market, this means residents care more than ever about the reputation of a community and the company behind it. Developing an authentic brand can help an apartment firm differentiate its product from a competitor—a factor many industry executives say ultimately benefits the company’s bottom line through higher occupancies and rent premiums.
Few industry leaders believe in the power of magnetic branding more than Kevin Thompson, senior vice president of marketing for Greensboro, N.C.-based Bell Partners. According to Thompson, a featured speaker at the upcoming 2013 NMHC OpTech, for many renters, selecting an apartment home is becoming less of a logical exercise and more of an emotional experience, he says. All the latest and greatest features are important in a competitive market, but with a growing selection of products and communities in the market, how a home shopper feels about where he or she lives can trump even the shiniest stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops.
“We are in a commodity business. We make boxes that people live in. The only difference is our boxes may be a little bigger and they have a few more bells and whistles,” Thompson says. “[But] the thing that can make our box different is the brand experience.”
But a good, authentic brand is more than a magnet for just residents. Job seekers, trade partners, investors and even local municipal players all are paying close attention to what a company’s brand says about the way it does business. The most successful firms treat a company brand a lot like a personal reputation—it really does matter.
Expanding the Circle of Influence with Branding Might
Similar to how a compelling brand can attract new residents and help keep existing ones feeling like their rent money is well spent, Thompson says a strong brand also resonates with potential employees. “It leads to improved recruitment of new associates and increased retention of existing associates,” he says.
Cindy Scharringhausen, senior vice president of human resources for Camden, a Houston-based REIT, would agree. She says Camden’s brand came out of the company’s commitment to creating a great workplace—a mission and value shared by all team members.
And the effort has paid off. This year, Camden earned the No. 10 slot on FORTUNE Magazine’s 16th annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, marking the company’s sixth consecutive year on the list and its fourth consecutive year in the top 10.
“This consistent approach to providing excellent service to both internal and external customers has been essential in creating the magnetic brand that attracts people to Camden today,” Scharringhausen says.
Done right and supported by good business practices, a strong brand can extend interest in a company to the investment community and beyond. From attracting new capital to better navigating often long and complicated local approval processes, a trusted brand can give a firm a jump start on any number of new opportunities.
“Having a brand makes them feel more comfortable investing with you,” Thompson says. “It strengthens your platform for future business opportunities.”
Getting to Where Everybody Knows Your Name
But getting to the point where all key stakeholder groups—potential customers, employees, investors and more—know and respect your name and your brand is the result of numerous strategic decisions, consensus building and importantly, consistent application of the brand throughout the entire organization from the corporate level to the individual properties.
While a logo is an important part of a brand, a brand is much deeper than that and there must be perceived authenticity for a brand to be successful. Any misalignment between a brand and reality can have catastrophic results for a company. Some of the most successful brands, such as Apple, Nike, and Starbucks owe their branding success to a lot of hard work including strategically identifying their company values, creating a physical manifestation of those values in the shape of company marketing, and then consistently reinforcing the values and the marketing throughout the entire organization.
Given the importance and value of an authentic brand, Thompson recommends bringing in an agency to help facilitate the process and maximize the results. Consumer research is integral to the development of a strong brand identity. All of a company’s supporting brand platforms must also be developed in concert with the central brand. Employee training is one of the final steps in the execution of a branding process. “To do it right, there are companies out there that do nothing but brand development,” he says.
However, some companies are able to grow their brands organically as well, using core competencies as a springboard for further brand growth. Camden, for example, is looking for new ways to leverage its reputation as a desirable place for people to work.
“Camden is building on the foundational practices that made us successful and actively communicating our brand,” Scharringhausen says.
To hear more on how top apartment firms are taking their brands to new heights, be sure to attend the 2013 NMHC OpTech (Multifamily Business Operations and Technology Conference and Exposition), Nov. 11-13 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. The event’s programming kicks off with the session, Magnetic Branding: Attracting Residents and Top Talent through a Golden Brand, featuring Bell Partners’ Kevin Thompson and Camden’s Margaret Plummer.