That’s the kind of market position for which any multifamily builder or developer should strive. You’re in the driver’s seat when consumers automatically recognize your company and seek it out for the admirable qualities they associate with its brand. Brand Awareness Over Product Awareness
While all buildings grow older, the qualities associated with your brand can remain timeless. As you establish a stronger brand identity, the perceived value of your homes will grow with it.
A recognizable brand can help ensure successful development at new locations. A brand that’s admired and respected can provide leverage when it’s time to present a new project to a city council or clear your plans through a zoning board. And brand building can be a foundation for a company that wants to expand its vision.
Here are a few important steps designed to help you develop a long-term success strategy through corporate branding
But Everybody Says They Care
- Define your brand. First, decide what your brand stands for. If you’ve chosen quality of life, for example, promoting healthy living and a sense of community is a good short-term plan for supporting your brand. But to be truly successful, you’ll need a plan that is effective for the long-term.
- Make your brand traits a priority. Brand management separates the winners from the losers. After-sale service is where companies must live up to their promises and ensure the overall quality of life is everything their marketing claimed it would be. If you’ve chosen quality of life as a primary attribute, it’s going to take more than words on a page to maintain that. Of course, quality of life is essential to building brand loyalty in all seniors housing, so it’s important to consider the target audience and what they’re really looking for.
- Don’t just speculate: define your audience. To a large extent, your audience will be determined by your location, the quality of your units and the accompanying service that you’re bringing to market. Based on that, you can estimate the income level of your prospects, and develop a picture of the lifestyle they’re used to leading. Present your properties in the best light, but don’t make promises you can’t support. Be aware of the value-conscious mentality used in the buying decision. So don’t show champagne and caviar — savvy seniors know they’re paying for lunch.
- Know your target. For many older adults, the decision to move to a new community can be emotional. The choice is often driven by such factors as illness or the loss of a spouse, downsizing the home for easy maintenance or needing more care, to name a few. It’s often a difficult time, and most people who are making this difficult transition are under emotional duress. It’s quite a task for the builder and developer to shift the focus away from the downside of aging to the prospect of a brighter life in your multifamily community.
- Build Emotional Appeal. On a very practical level, there is a need to connect with your customers, to listen to them and to show them that you understand and care. If shown compassion, clients will feel that they are becoming a part of a new community. And only through a sustained program of this kind can you create tenants who will want to stay in your community, no matter what amenities the new apartment community down the street has to offer. If you give an older person the choice between a half-hour on a fancy treadmill or a half-hour sharing stories with someone who will listen to them, they will choose the attention almost every time. Be sure you’re providing a warm community and ensure that your marketing materials reflect this.
Everybody may say it, but when a company means it, it makes a real difference. Shea Financial Services, the largest privately held real-estate development company in the country, presents a key brand message of caring, and it stands behind that message 100%. The results speak for themselves: in a non-commissioned, independent survey of 88 top U.S. builders, Shea swept the field, taking first place in each of the six categories it represents.
Saying you care may not be worth the paper it’s written on, but judging by Shea’s success, truly caring yields results you can take to the bank. And the 50+ market is the target audience that misses this kind of personal attention the most. These old consumers grew up in an era before receptionists became recorded announcements and bank tellers were replaced by machines that spit out $20 bills. Now that they’re getting older and many feel that society has forgotten them, they simply want to know that somebody cares.
Developing an emotional bond with consumers is more than something to feel good about. It is a sustainable business model to reduce turnover. Additionally, prospects who want to know what it’s like to live there will discover a community that looks after its tenants, which will result in a higher rate of occupancy.
A community that people actually look forward to joining is one that can open a new chapter in the lives of seniors. The formula is simple: create an emotional bond based on responsive service inside the community, and balance it with well-branded marketing on the outside. Your reputation then creates what’s known as a “halo effect,” which compels people to seek out your brand.How to Market and Manage Your Brand
Establishing a brand identity isn’t nearly enough. The developer needs to create a marketing approach to make it work, not to mention create a system to manage the brand:
- Convey Your Core Brand Qualities. After adopting brand traits that engender loyalty, you’ll need to capture those attributes in your marketing. Develop the picture of a desirable quality of life. You may want to hire models for your photo shoots. To convey an emotionally appealing quality of life, your marketing needs energy. After spending millions to develop your community, don’t sell it short in advertising. Make sure your materials are high quality and uniform in the messages they present. Finding one agency and sticking with them for all of your advertising is one of the best ways to ensure this.
- Keep a Good Thing Going. Once you’ve established your brand, you’ll need to have a plan for brand management. Make sure your advertising continues to present a uniform look and message. Carry this look all the way through to property signage. Keep your sales staff up-to-date on your marketing message, furthering this reassuring sense of continuity. Value and retain your informed sales staff. After all, familiarity with the property and tenants creates a bond, bringing a sense of community into your sales office.
Like a successful automobile manufacturer, you’ll still need to make improvements to stay in front. Listen to consumer feedback and implement improvements based on the desires of your residents. Your competitors are going to seek out competitive advantages they can bring to market, so you must keep pace with the evolving industry in order to succeed over the long term.
- Outline Your Strategy. Once you have your brand identity, then you can evaluate how your property complements that identity and develop the details of your marketing strategy. You’ll want to ask questions like, “What is unique about this property’s position in the market?” or “Why should active adults choose this property over another?” This will lead you to your Unique Selling Point, or USP, for that particular property.
How you present your multifamily community can be just as important as what it actually is. People are very perceptive and know they can judge a book by its cover, because the outside tells a lot about what’s inside. That’s why a comprehensive marketing strategy is so important: it’s the first face people see, and people get a feeling about you from that very first impression. When you promote the developer as much as the development, you begin to lure consumers with your brand as much as your properties. One look at any of today’s great brands shows how desirable products and powerful marketing feed off the energy of one another. Applying this proven formula to multifamily housing is just another success story waiting to be written.
This article appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of Seniors’ Housing News. Melinda Mullis is creative director and principal for the Danhausen Group, an Aliso Viejo, CA-based full-service marketing and communications company. Mullis is a 17-year veteran in marketing and advertising who has represented clients from across the country and as far away as Hong Kong and Tokyo. Mullis founded the Danhausen Group in 1987, providing services ranging from strategic research to corporate branding. She can be reached at 949-215-1242 or Melinda@danhausen.com.
Enter Your Design in Seniors Housing Awards Competition
If you have an innovative design for active adult and seniors communities, enter the 2004 Best of Seniors Housing Design Awards competition. Click here to view the call for entries brochure, or e-mail Eucklan Matthews or call 800-368-5242 x8220. The deadline for entries is Nov. 13.
Learn More About Seniors Housing Through the Seniors Housing Council
To learn more about seniors housing or boomers, join the NAHB Seniors Housing Council. The council provides information, education, networking and recognition opportunities for its members and represents NAHB on seniors housing issues. For more details, e-mail Jeff Jenkins or call him at 800-368-5242 x8292.
BuilderBooks.com Has Publications About Seniors Housing
BuilderBooks.com offers a variety of publications about the seniors housing market. To view or purchase these publications, click here and type “seniors” in the search engine.
2004 Seniors Housing Symposium
To learn more about the seniors housing market, plan to attend Building for Boomers & Beyond: Seniors Housing Symposium 2004 in Chicago from April 14-16, 2004. The symposium will focus on the lifestyle component of 50+ seniors housing.