Although it is a current buzzword, branding has been around since humans starting trading shiny rocks. Branding is the public’s perception or image of your product and/or services. Companies can spend thousands of dollars shaping their brand but the public always has the last word. So, the real question is: What is the public’s perception of my company? Yes, that’s right, you already have a brand whether you are willing to admit it or not.
Here is an example for you. Many years ago, before branding was a verb, I lived in an apartment complex that had threadbare carpets, discolored banisters and a vibrant mold colony. When the residents got together, the perennial starting conversation was to debate the origin of the rotting cabbage smell in the buildings. Did it come from the damp basement or the mossy roof? You get the picture. The publicly understood brand for the complex was “Slow Decay” or “Absentee Landlord.”
Despite the brand, people lived in the complex for three reasons. The rents were below market, the apartments were a good size, and everyone else lived there. These were quality features that could have been used to refocus the branding, specifically the community element.
Time for a reality check
In a Pardot Research Report 80% of the participants said that “authenticity” was the most important element in branding. You must be honest about what you are starting with. Go out on a limb and ask your residents what they really think. You may want to do this autonomously. Just asking for feedback will enhance your reputation. Yes, you are going to get some snarky responses, expect it, but you will also get some real pearls of insight as well. When you have a handle on what your actual public brand is, then it is time to build on the positive. Keep it real.
New refrigerators and countertops would not have convinced the residents in my old complex that we were living in a “Luxury” complex. In fact, the brand would have been openly mocked. Instead, it would have been very easy to capitalize on the “Friendly Community” brand to residents and potential customers alike. Planning a few resident barbecues or brunches would have redirected conversation from “What is the best way to get rid of mold?” to “When is the next event?”.
Where to get started – The clean and safe brand
At a bare minimum, what you need to start with is the “Clean” brand
Power wash the outside of your buildings. If the paint comes off with the power wash, then you know that it is time for a fresh coat of paint. Use pest control services on a regular basis. Replace the carpeting in the entryway every 6 to 10 years. Do I need to say it? Vacuum the carpet daily. Get rid of the old onion smell. Yes, it is there, you just can’t detect it anymore. Use odor-absorbing paint for unit turnovers and in the common areas. Plug in an air-freshener.
Eric Spangenberg, Dean of the College of Business at Washington State University, has been studying the effect of scents on people for years in retail and real estate situations. Spangenberg advocates using simple scents, such as orange, lemon, basil, vanilla, green tea, pine and cedar. Don’t be overpowering; less is more. At the very least, put out a bowl of white vinegar overnight to neutralize unwanted odors.
“Safe” is the other brand that must be addressed
Women, even women who are total strangers, will warn each other if a complex feels unsafe, especially if there are children involved. Take extra precautions to establish a “Safe” brand and secure your complex. One crime could mar your reputation for years.
Make sure you have adequate night lighting around parking lots and entryways. Keep all shrubs around doors 3 feet or under so there is no hidability factor. Install security cameras and assign fines if people prop entry doors open. Ask the police to drive through your parking lot on a regular basis in the evening.
If you have a property maintenance company, assess their reputation. Anyone acting remotely inappropriate will be a subject of wildfire conversation among residents. Provide an open channel of communication to residents regarding safety concerns. Respond to their worries and make sure your residents feel heard. Be assured that every effort you make to insure a “Safe” brand will be noticed.
The first step in branding is self-awareness. Make sure you can own the “Clean” and “Safe” brand before you move onto Branding 102.
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