The Importance of Strong Branding

by Katie Sloan

Branding is all about managing perceptions.

Alexis KrisayBrand development is the foremost important aspect to a successful student housing community. Branding is the foundation of the community, therefore it is important for everyone involved in the project to be clear on what a brand is and how it is derived. Branding can be a confusing concept for many people to understand since it is used so frequently to describe such an abstract idea. A brand is not just a symbol, name or something that can be changed every year. A brand must be clearly identified, resonate with the appropriate audiences and strengthen the validity of the community.

David Ogilvy, known as “The Father of Advertising,” described a brand as “a collection of perceptions in the mind of a consumer.”

Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name, both factual and emotional. Branding can help build an expectation about the community and the services or amenities offered, and it can encourage everyone involved in the community to maintain that expectation, or exceed it, bringing a better student housing community to the market place.

Therefore, it is critical to establish a cohesive and creative brand that resonates with the campus’ student demographic in order to infiltrate the area with the community’s buzz to ultimately lease-up the property to 100 percent occupancy.

Brand development, when done correctly, is a lengthy process that involves multiple components and the collaboration of a strong team. After all, this is the foundation that can ultimately make or break the lease-up of your community, so it is important to select a team that understands the branding process and how to truly bring your brand to life. The right team will execute the following steps to create a brand that will generate the ultimate buzz and have students flocking to your leasing office.

This phase is critical to the branding process. You must understand the marketplace you are entering as if you have lived there for years. What is the vibe of the campus, the surrounding community, the student population, etc.? Who is, or will be, your biggest competitors? We suggest hosting multiple on or offline focus groups to truly understand the student population.

Target Audience/Persona Development
Most developers planning to build or rehab a student housing community think the target audience selection is a piece of cake. However, it’s not as simple as selecting students and parents as your primary and secondary target audiences. Understanding the classification of students whom you must target is critical. Some universities are now requiring freshman, and even sophomores, to live on campus. In these cases your target audience categories shift significantly. If you don’t understand your audiences, you could end up wasting thousands of marketing dollars trying to reach the wrong audience, which will not translate to to an immediate lease.

Persona development is another critical step to further understanding your target audience. Understanding the personas of the students you are marketing to is key for creative development, messaging and the leasing process. We like to understand what makes each student tick. What type of cell phone do they use? What car do they drive (if any)? What are their motivations? What are their needs and wants? Every student is different; however if you develop persona segmentations you will be able to more accurately develop a brand and marketing strategy that speaks to their individuality. This will ultimately make them want to live at your community.

Key Messages
Once you have developed your personas, you can easily craft key messages that speak to each segment. These messages should be utilized and customized for all marketing materials.

Logo/ Collateral and Creative Development
This is my favorite part of the branding process. Students today are visual and are used to seeing everything as a picture. As marketers, we are more visually challenged than ever in this Instagram/Youtube/Facebook era. Therefore, developing a logo and brand image that students get excited about and want to associate with is very challenging. Make sure that your graphic designer and marketing team are SUPER STARS in this area.

Lastly, and most importantly, is the element of cohesiveness that ties all of this branding jargon together. Without a cohesive brand, you will fail. Students are extremely distracted today and cannot process multiple variations of brand, a tagline, colors, signage, etc. For a student housing community brand to be successful, it must use the same logo, colors and tagline throughout all marketing and communication materials. This will not only drive your brand home with students, but it will also set you apart from your competitors. So pick a logo, a color palate and tagline and USE IT… over and over again. Use it on your promo items, fliers and anywhere and everywhere that you can display your brand around campus to create buzz.

— Alexis Krisay is the vice president of marketing at Serendipit Consulting, a Phoenix-based PR and marketing firm that specializes in all aspects of brand development and community and marketing management.

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