The Power of a Brand – Using Technology to Help Define It

By Samantha Chalmers and Paul Willis

It used to be that a company’s brand was defined by its colors, a logo and perhaps a catchy tagline. As the definition of a brand has evolved, it now represents company values, contains a mission statement, and perhaps most notably, conveys an expected level of customer service.

Much of that has been spurred by technology, which has prodded the rental housing industry to reassess the way brands are defined. The way an organization embraces technology now largely reflects their brand, which now defines whether the company is considered innovative, customer focused and known to make life easier for their residents.

“There’s no debating that technology has become the differentiator,” said Faith Aids, Vice President of Marketing and Branding for Laramar Group. “Residents and employees expect it to be on autopilot these days, and instant gratification truly means instant. If you can find efficiencies with tech, it gives your team more time to wow your residents with personalized touches, such as handwritten cards.”

Laramar recently utilized tech to refresh its brand, because, according to Aids: “We realized we had a great story, culture and morale – we just had to frame it up in a nice package.” In an effort to leverage the history of its existing 30-year brand but infuse new energy, Laramar made a concerted effort to better highlight the company’s unique culture while adding specific values that support innovation.

Those efforts, which included the development of a tech fund to help find and vet solutions for specific onsite challenges, are designed to attract top talent that will thrive in an innovative environment. Laramar’s dedicated focus to technology also includes the implementation of business intelligence, a new ticket system for support, consistent customer relationship management and new learning management systems.

Aids notes that happy, engaged team members often equate to happy, engaged residents. Tech provides the needed flexibility for onsite associates to be more connected to the resident experience. As such, Laramar’s rebranding efforts feature a brand discovery workshop, employee surveys, competitive audits and extensive online research of the most cutting-edge apartment trends.

“An attractive brand doesn’t use technology to replace humans; it uses tech to make the lives of the residents and their onsite teams easier,” said Chase Harrington, President and Chief Operating Officer of Entrata. “While AI and automation are cutting-edge concepts and can stand alone in many instances, they should ultimately be used to enhance the human experience. Apartment operators can truly separate themselves by offering technology solutions that genuinely bolster the living experience.”

With each new development community, Mill Creek Residential conducts a survey shortly after move-in to inquire about what residents like and what they believe is missing at the community.

According to Kaitlin Purple, Brand Manager of Digital Marketing for Mill Creek Residential, today’s renters have higher expectations for a tech-savvy experience and are often more focused on receiving routine communications in a hyper-personal way.

Consistency is key, Purple says.

“I think the biggest thing is making sure your voice is equipped to infuse your brand into every touch point of technology,” Purple said. “Whether that’s the software customers are working with, a text communication or an ad banner that prompts customers to Google our name, each touch point has a chance to impact brand voice. We have a chance to showcase who we are through those touch points and want to deliver a consistent message.”

As technology increasingly becomes a vast component of daily lives, an apartment operator’s ability to integrate it seamlessly and effectively will undoubtedly drive value, according to Andrew Beach, Vice President of Community Technology for Mill Creek Residential. Residents will associate the tech-savvy environment to that brand and that culture. Remaining agile with the capability to adjust to each new innovation can be a determining factor of success.

“Part of remaining on the cutting edge is doing the basics very well and creating foundation building blocks from a technology standpoint that are flexible,” Beach said. “For instance, access control is something you’re always going to do, and you can build up from there. You can add that smart-home component, building automation or integrate multiple buildings. By being flexible, you don’t have to circle back to refresh those foundation blocks as you move forward.”

What can make technology tricky is its propensity to evolve on a daily basis. Onsite teams might believe they have the most state-of-the-art community in the submarket, only to see a competitor adopt a potentially game-changing tech feature a few months later. Apartment operators who constantly monitor innovation trends and solicit feedback from their residents are often doing wonders for their brand, even if they already have an appealing logo and clever tagline.

“We’re always looking to stay ahead of the game,” Purple said. “We’re always looking to test different features, and that’s one of our biggest factors. If you test half of your communities with a piece of new technology and half with another, and one proves to be more successful, we’ll immediately implement it across our whole portfolio.”

Technology has redefined the way multifamily operators are thinking about their brand. While consistent brand message is still important, technology can be used to strengthen that message and add new dimensions to an organization’s overall brand.

 

Full article is here.

Globe St. – Engaging Prospects is Not One Size Fits All

Communicating with multifamily customers in their preferred method makes the most impact and a different method could result in a lost prospect.

Attracting and securing new residents goes beyond crafting the ideal advertising campaign and a presence on effective marketing channels. As Mill Creek Residential Director of Marketing Cassie Khaing says, it’s also about engaging customers on their terms, including texting, FaceTime and social media.

“With lead generation and lead management, communicating with your customers in the way they want to be communicated with makes the most impact,” Khaing tells GlobeSt.com. “Typically, if a prospective resident reaches out via email, they want to be emailed. If they contact you with a text, they prefer to receive a text back.”

Anyone Home, which offers customer-engagement solutions, recently conducted a study analyzing leases at communities that offer a complete range of communication channels–phone, email, chat, texting and a self-scheduling tool for tours–to prospects. The study examined 70,000 leases that were signed during the past 12 months.

The analysis showed that 89% of prospects who originally reached out via phone stayed with that channel. Another 75% of emailers remained in that medium and 78% who first contacted a community through chat stuck with that channel.

Using a different method with which to communicate could prompt a prospect to take an apartment search elsewhere, Khaing points out.  Todd Katler, CEO of Anyone Home, concurs, saying prospects should be able “to trade in their own currency”.

“When prospects have the ability to contact and communicate with leasing teams in exactly the way they prefer, that leads to an incredibly powerful leasing experience for apartment shoppers,” Katler says. “It fosters continual engagement, drives more leases and creates resident loyalty.”

Mill Creek prospective residents interested in exploring the company’s communities aren’t limited to the traditional contact channels of phone calls and emails. For example, future residents visiting the website can easily contact leasing associates via text and FaceTime, in addition to email. The community’s phone number is listed in case they want to reach out via a traditional phone call. Also, prospects visiting the Facebook pages can chat with leasing teams via Messenger for quick responses.

Mill Creek also has implemented automated responses to prospective residents in mediums such as text and email. According to Khaing, these responses–which feature information about how to view floorplans, photos and virtual tours, and also provide instructions about booking a tour and applying online–give customers the immediate gratification they’re seeking. The responses also make the leasing associates’ jobs easier by providing the answers to many common questions.

In addition, Mill Creek’s websites now give prospective residents the ability to schedule apartment home tours online. According to an Anyone Home study, apartment shoppers who book tours through a self-scheduling solution convert to leases at twice the rate of those who schedule visits through traditional methods.

“In the past, a prospective resident may have ended their work shift at 2 a.m. and in the middle of the night, they would send in an inquiry about scheduling a tour,” says Brittany Wagner, a Senior Software Training Manager for Mill Creek. “Unfortunately, they would have to wait until the next morning when someone was in the office at 9 a.m. to get a response back. Now, they have the freedom to book a tour themselves at anytime from anywhere.”

The article continues with steps moving forward and what the future holds for multifamily communication.

To read the full article, head over to GlobeSt.com and sign up for a free.

Multi-Housing News – The Art of LEED Certification

Primary factors to consider when pursuing some degree of certification are cost, logistics, market and the potential impact to the bottom line, according to Mill Creek Residential Senior Managing Director of Development, Portland – Sam Rodriguez.
“Lowering carbon emissions and conserving water are making green buildings increasingly more attractive to residents and local communities. With that in mind, many developers are opting to pursue LEED Certification, a process that requires due diligence but is important to consider and can be well worth the effort.”
Full article, here.

NAA – Modern Maintenance Smart Devices, Smart Technicians

“During the past 10 years, the apartment industry has consistently looked for ways to adapt new technologies to support their various teams, with ultimately the goal of creating an exceptional resident experience. Because of this commitment to technology and innovation, owners and operators have revolutionized such disciplines as pricing and lead management through sophisticated software and solutions. Now, the industry is boosting the operations of maintenance teams through technology as well.

From the increasing use of tablets in the field to online work orders and even package locker systems, apartment operators are trying to make sure their service technicians can do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Read the full article with mention of Tony Hogrebe, Regional Service Manager, West for Mill Creek, and more, here.

CoStar – Did You Hear? Mill Creek Enters Hot Nashville Multifamily Market

A Daily Look at the Movers and Shakers in Commercial Real Estate

“In November, Amazon said it would create 5,000 high-paying jobs at a new center in Nashville Yards in downtown Nashville, and in July, Asurion preleased a 551,000-square-foot office building for its new headquarters at Church and 11th Avenue. Global asset management firm AllianceBernstein is relocating its Manhattan headquarters to Nashville Yards at 10th Avenue and Church Street, near Broadway.”

Read full article, here.

The Washington Post – New Apartments Coming to Falls Church

“While you’ll have to wait more than two years — until the summer of 2021 — to move in, a mixed-use development with 394 apartments is set to rise on 4 1/2 acres at the intersection of West Broad Street and North West Street in Falls Church. Mill Creek Residential recently broke ground on Founders Row, which will have 90,000 square feet of retail space in addition to the apartments.

Modera Founders Row, the market-rate section of apartments, will include 322 apartments and another section of 72 apartments will be dedicated to age-restricted units for individuals 55 and older. Residents will be able to walk to retail sites which will include an eight-screen movie theater and a sports bar.”

Full article, here.

Multifamily Biz – Mill Creek Residential Breaks Ground on Upscale 394-Home Modera Founders Row Apartment Community

“We’re thrilled to break ground on Founders Row, which will offer a wholly unique experience to the City of Falls Church when complete,” said Joe Muffler, Managing Director of Development for Mill Creek Residential. “The combination of vibrant retailers, luxury apartment homes and a prime location will create a true destination community.”

As the anchor of the retail space, Studio Movie Grill features eight movie screens, custom luxury recliners, laser projectors, studio-extreme large format auditoriums and Q-SYS sound systems for the ultimate blockbuster experience. The theater will occupy roughly 32,000 square feet of retail space. City Works, which features more than 90 beers on tap and an enthusiastic upscale sports bar atmosphere, will occupy 7,500 square feet of the retail space.

“We’re excited for the addition of these retailers, each of which represents the type of high-energy establishment that will provide enormous appeal to residents and visitors alike,” said Sean Caldwell, executive managing director of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for Mill Creek Residential. “Studio Movie Grill provides an entirely unique cinematic experience and the active vibe of City Works will undoubtedly complement the atmosphere we’re aiming to cultivate at Founders Row.”

Full Multifamily Biz article, here.

Press Release, here.

Building Forward – How One Developer Makes Smart-Home Tech Pencil Out

“When considering details while developing an apartment community, smart-home technology has vaulted to the top of the conversation. But just how it fits into the blueprint is an inexact proposition.

Multifamily developers have been analyzing their spend on the available technologies, knowing some residents aren’t willing to pay more—or much more—for technology packages. However, the rise of millennial renters is driving the desire for smart technologies and the propensity to pay a premium for it. If the developer doesn’t provide a solution, many residents consider installing their own smart devices, which creates a challenge for apartment operators who want operational control of certain devices and don’t want residents making changes to electrical wiring.

Smart-home technology is here to stay and has become a regular desire among residents at Class A communities. A recent Entrata survey indicated that a basic technology package (high-speed internet, cable TV, etc.) is the number one thing residents are willing to pay a premium for, and smart-home features (smart thermostats, keyless entry, etc.) ranked sixth. Eighty-four percent indicated they are willing to pay a premium for smart-home features, but of those, only 8%would pay more than a $45 monthly premium.”

Read the full article, here.

South Florida Biz Journal – Mill Creek Residential completes Modera Riverhouse in Miami

“Amenities in Modera Riverhouse include the “Casa Jardin” lounge with a coffee bar and game table, a rooftop pool deck with barbecue grills and cabanas, a sky lounge, a sky terrace with a pool table and bar, a fitness center, a spinning room/yoga studio, and a pet grooming station.

The building features automated package lockers for e-commerce enthusiasts. There are also monitors in the building that display public transportation options and the distance of ride sharing services.”

Full article, here.