For many years, corporate-level branding took a backseat to more localized marketing and advertising efforts to attract more customers. Conventional wisdom was that apartment residents cared more about community location and monthly rent than the company owning or managing their buildings. Not to mention that many industry experts remained skeptical about the value of a strong corporate brand identity when, unlike commodity products such as cereal or laundry detergent, the industry only had to “sell” apartments once every 12 months following the initial leasing decision.
However, during the session Magnetic Branding: Attracting Residents and Top Talent Through a Golden Brand, marketing leaders discussed how much that perception of branding has changed. The benefits of a strong brand identity-more customers, marketing efficiencies and pricing premiums-are much clearer today, generating additional, quantifiable value for companies.
“Brands account for more than a third of shareholder value,” said Kevin Thompson, senior vice president of marketing for Bell Partners. Thompson cited research that showed how much tangible value some of the most well-known companies generated from their strong brand identities. For example, 71 percent of McDonald’s shareholder value is attributed to its brand identity; that compares with 69 percent for Disney and 51 percent for Coca-Cola.
However, many industry leaders now also realize the benefits of a strong brand identity in other areas, including talent management and business development. Two notable paybacks of a well-articulated and well-executed brand over time are improved employee retention and the creation of a reputation as an “employer of choice,” which allows companies to better attract top talent, improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.
However, Margaret Plummer, vice president of employee development at Camden Property Trust, said many apartment companies fail to see the correlation. “We tend to always talk in terms of ‘the business,’” she said. “We use that almost as code for ‘we can't care about the employees right now, because we have to think about the business.’ However, what's good for employees is often very good for the business.”
At Camden, being an employer of choice in the industry has been an integral part of the company’s brand identity. The company has been ranked for six years running on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, and Plummer says that allowed the company to become a more powerful recruiter. For companies with strong brands, the cost per hire is two times lower than competitors, she said.
More specific to the apartment industry, Plummer said that too often firms focus their brands solely on their residents and the experience the companies provide for them. But that’s a little shortsighted, Plummer said, because if company employees don’t believe in the resident experience and have pride in it, the brands become less authentic and powerful.
“When your internal brand says, ‘we care about people because they are our employees,’ and your external brand says, ‘we care about people because they are our customers,’ there you have a synergy,” she explained.
Similarly, Colleen Kittell, senior manager of integrated marketing at BRE Properties, said a magnetic brand can not only attract talent but also critical business partners. In particular, she noted that company efforts to brand community fitness facilities as “Studio Be” has led to some pricing power and improved resident retention in certain markets, but it’s also been something that the company is leveraging to generate investor interest in the company. “With our investors, I've had the opportunity to tour quite a few [studios with them] and show them how we are programming our spaces to create a unique experience.”