I’ve long been wondering when real estate would catch up to the marketing world. A few years behind, the multifamily marketing industry has been slow to adapt to evolving technologies and lifestyles. At times I’ve felt like Paul Revere, shouting out to anyone who will listen: “The millennials are coming! The millennials are coming!”
A year ago, I expressed my sentiment in a Criterion.B blog called, Market Outlook: Is Multifamily Resisting Innovation? After attending several real estate conferences in a row, I was concerned about the blanket resistance to change. And, in turn, the stubborn adherence to this is how we’ve always done it.
How Is Multifamily Marketing Evolving?
The better question is, how are residents evolving? Whether you like it or not, millennials (age 18 to 34) now comprise a sizable chunk of the rental market.
Not only are millennials renting longer and by choice, but their lifestyles are also vastly different than generations before. Trends like pet-ownership and hyper-connectivity are defining this generation, along with a willingness to sacrifice square footage for prime locations.
And yet, while these lifestyle trends are driving development, they’re only a starting point when it comes to multifamily marketing. Building the perfect product and selling it are two different things.
Every Property, A Custom Approach
I recently attended the Multifamily Conference in Denver, and for the first time, the discussion around branding and multifamily marketing was music to my ears. Panelist Darren Fisk, founder & CEO of Forum Real Estate Group:
We start by really understanding our demographic. We’ll immerse ourselves in a Starbucks (or wherever they spend time) just to gain a better understanding of their lifestyle. We bring in a branding agency who can help us turn our insights into a concept. This concept remains top of mind throughout the entire development process, from contractors to vendors, from building to branding.
Fisk describes an approach in which development and the creative process cater to the audience, and not the other way around. Criterion.B recently crossed path with Aspen Heights, a developer of cottage-style, student housing communities, who offered a national perspective on market customization:
“Customizing our approach isn’t a ‘nice to have’ — it’s a ‘have to have’ in today’s world of marketing to millennials,” said Zach Borger, VP of Sales & Marketing. “Marketing strategies vary per market because each market is remarkably different. It would be ignorant of us to believe that students in Lincoln, Nebraska want the same things as students in Wilmington, North Carolina.”
With each Aspen Heights community, Borger said, they focus on building a brand instead of a building.
“We want students to interact with us because of what we’re saying, where we’re saying it, and who we’re partnering with — not just because of what we’re selling,” Borger explained.
“Each brand should be a contributing member in each market. Each city should be better off because Aspen Heights is there.”
Build a Concept. Tell a Story.
With an earnest understanding of your target audience, a narrative about your residents begins to unfold. Their motivations, lifestyle choices, and demographic characteristics start to come together as a story. From these insights, the concept for your property is born.
On the same Denver panel, Jeff Booth of Embrey Development & Construction explained the importance of striking an emotional chord with your residents:
“We focus on building something that inspires the people living there,” said Booth. “Watch a car commercial, and you’ll see how well the auto industry understands this idea. It’s not so much about the product as the lifestyle it promotes.”
According to Booth, this aspirational lifestyle affects every facet of multifamily development—from site selection to design and branding.
When it comes to differentiating your property, Fisk concludes, it starts with “knowing your audience better than they know themselves.”
Only through thoughtful research can you begin to develop the environment, the lifestyle, and the creative messaging that resonates.