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Long A Staple Of Hospitality, Branding Is Now Lifting Residential

The residential landscape may never have the kind of brand proliferation that has characterized hospitality in recent years, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t heading in that direction.

Modera Jack London Square

As developers look to keep up with a growing population of renters — be they of the senior living, student housing or traditional multifamily variety — lessors and lessees alike have placed a greater value on the more intangible aspects of a residential property, from its name to its logo to its staff, according to industry experts.

“Everyone is embracing it,” said Kim Ziereis, managing partner of multifamily branding and design company Après Creative Group. “It’s a fun challenge just with the sheer volume of new developments out there to come up with a unique name, a unique look.”

The trend started in earnest last decade with national multifamily developers like AvalonBay Communities and Mill Creek Residential. A report done last year by Knight Frank counted over 400 such residences worldwide, most of which use existing hospitality brands and are high-end, and which correlate to a growing consumer appetite for branded residences.

In the multifamily space, branding experts like Ziereis and Steve Batterson, partner and creative strategy director at branding agency Simple Truth, have found themselves increasingly occupied by developers’ plans to attract multiple types of customers with multiple appealing brands.

With Après, Ziereis worked with Mill Creek Residential to craft both Modera, a brand for luxury, ground-up apartment development, and Alister, one for renovated communities at more affordable price points. A few years earlier, AvalonBay had employed  consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for a study that identified three target customer types for the REIT. That led to Batterson and Simple Truth helping it create the AVA, Avalon and Eaves apartment brands, encompassing everything from names to websites to target lifestyles.

Simple Truth helped build AVA, for instance, for city-loving millennials, while Eaves was created to appeal to young families and more value-conscious renters. More and more, building those types of brands successfully means going beyond a name or logo into things like hiring decisions, Batterson said.

“This is a theme we see happening in a big way across the entire industry,” he said. “Real estate brands are realizing that this major foundational shift was happening away from a product or feature orientation to an experiential orientation, or a relationship between the brand or the audience around lifestyle.”

The Scion Group, a student housing owner and more recent adopter of the brand approach, unveiled four distinct brands of its own last year: Alight, Lark, Redpoint and Ion. Through staffing, amenity and design decisions, each is designed to appeal to students attracted to lifestyles characterized by things like adventure (Redpoint) or discipline and dedication (Alight), according to Scion Marketing Director Lauren Merritt

The interior of a unit in one of The Scion Group's Lark communities.

Like AvalonBay and its ability to attract multiple customer types, The Scion Group is looking to do something similar, but said it wants to go beyond a name or logo to provide residents with a more focused experience, Merritt said. Since introducing its brands last year, Scion has already revamped 27 of its 86 communities under one of its four new banners. It plans to gradually rebrand its entire portfolio, according to Merritt.

“The big advantage is that we have four different types of experiences that we can provide, and in some markets we actually have all four brands,” she said.

“The biggest problem you can fall into is treating branding or a rebrand as if it’s just a logo change or new name and color scheme. For us, the real opportunity is much deeper than that. It’s revamping the entire customer experience and the way you do every single thing you do.”

Batterson, whose company worked with both The Scion Group and AvalonBay, said he sees branding continuing to attract more attention from multifamily developers, who may look to more narrowly target renter types with their offerings.

“I think it’ll deepen and become more nuanced,” he said. “Things are already starting to become not just experiential but more boutique, more built around themes or particular parts of lifestyle.”

Ziereis, who has done creative work in the multifamily industry for about 20 years, said she doesn’t think residential development will reach the level of interest in branding seen with hotels because of associated costs. But with the industry continuing to grow, so should the number of brands, she said.

“Developers are really wanting to invest and take the time to develop a thoughtful brand like you would for any other consumer product out there,” Ziereis said.