How to win in the luxury multifamily market.

It’s a brand-new level of competition. 

The increasing appetite for luxury multifamily makes sense: it’s the smart thing to do in a hypercompetitive market where construction costs, rental demand, and rents are high. But as supply appears to be on the verge of outstripping demand, developers will be forced to raise their game. Expect things to get more cutthroat than ever. After all, in a market where everything is new, new no longer cuts it.

When everybody else is doing the same thing, do the smart thing instead.

How are smart developers differentiating themselves in a tough market? They brand. Hard. Whether you’re branding an apartment building, condominium, mixed-use building, or any other type of multifamily housing, understand this: If you want to win in the highly competitive luxury segment of this market, your brand – or lack of it – will make or break you.

So what are developers doing in order to stand out in this flooded luxury market? The short (and somewhat ironic) answer is: most of them are doing some version of the same thing. In a ploy to draw high-end renters and buyers, developers are betting on “More is More” and turning A and A+ luxury multifamilies into living experiences that are borderline resorts. Look around and you’ll see the same breathless sales pitch everywhere: bigger fitness centers, better pet spas, slicker common areas, roomier rooms, added-value concierge services, extravagant décor, fancier stainless steel appliances, higher than high ceilings, and so on. However, these properties are commoditizing the very thing they thought would help them win: luxury. And even with all of these fancy amenities, your property will still be judged on cost and convenience. So why play that game?

In a market where you’re competing against a peer consideration set who has the same as or better than you, the competitive edge is all in the power of your property’s reputation. When “more” is simply luxury table stakes, you need a brand that empowers you to stand head and shoulders above the rest. A brand that lets you own a unique and powerful emotional place in the hearts and minds of your target audience. And a brand that makes them want you and only you no matter what the cost. And while that might all sound a bit romantic, the truth is: it’s actually deeply shrewd and downright pragmatic.

Here’s why. Investing in your real estate brand means investing in creating, nurturing, leveraging, and capitalizing on the power of your reputation. The stronger your reputation is in your target market’s universe, the more you’ll sell or rent to them a higher ROI. Real estate developers who understand the value and return of investment on branding reap the integrated marketing and financial benefits.

It just works. Over the twenty-plus years we have been doing real estate branding we’ve watched real estate clients who invest in branding consistently pre-sell and rent out faster than their competition. But the benefits go beyond hitting quotas. Strong real estate branding helps bolster a property through softer markets, helps lower sales and promotional costs, increases awareness and perceived value, and helps drive premium pricing.

Branding is a powerful tool that elevates associations from peer-commoditized features and benefits where a great location, great design, great finishes, and great amenities are just entry rights in the luxury multifamily world. To differentiate and disrupt, you need to create, nurture and own powerful, deep emotional associations in the hearts, minds, and pockets of renters. You need to cultivate their inexplicable, almost irrational, need to sign on the dotted line at your property and only your property, no matter what takes.

Branding is the beginning, not the end.

Which brings us to the how-to. We believe brand success is fundamentally rooted in understanding the needs, wants, and biases of your target audience. We don’t mean demographic statistics like income, age, education, marital status or occupation. We mean what they want and need from a luxury living experience; their desires and expectations around what it should look, feel, and sound like; what the development says about them as individuals; about their personal and lifestyle tastes; and their hopes, dreams, and passions. Understand them and you understand how to position your brand for optimal financial success. By going a lot deeper than the superficial, it connects with your target market and their dollars in a meaningful, authentic, and emotional manner. It shortcuts their rational judgement and forces them to think about your property emotionally, allowing you to create a powerful, psychologically-resonant narrative. It’s the reason why you’re prepared to fork out $1,000 for a cellphone when a $150 version does almost exactly the same thing. It’s all in the brand.

Too many developers incorrectly think of branding as a window-dressing that comes after everything else is done and decided – a catchy name, a pretty property website, and a glossy brochure. But those are merely the touchpoints that help support a brand – not the brand itself. Thinking of branding as mere window dressing overlooks a critical asset of your property that should be considered from day one.

Why developers come to us again and again.

We’ve experienced it over and over again: High-end real estate developers approach us before they’ve even spoken to architects. They own the land and that’s about it. And sometimes they’re not even that far along. They insist on performing a brand-envisioning exercise before they do anything else in order to empower all their stakeholders to coalesce around a shared vision of what the development experience should be for optimal market relevance and success. And this visioning exercise is always, always, always entirely focused on the target market. Why? Simple. It’s their dollars we’re after, and those dollars inevitably follow their attention, interest, and desire.

We carefully help our real estate clients understand what prospective buyers or renters expect from their luxury development. What they want to see, experience, and feel when it comes to the exterior look and feel, landscaping and interior design, amenities and common areas, lobbies and layout, and so on. It is a sensory and experiential brand journey driven by the target market and not the whims of developers, architects, interior designers, landscape architects, or brokers. It gives architects something to design to, brokers something to plan around, marketers something to work with, and the developer a clear set of shared criteria to discuss design and integrated marketing efforts through the eyes of their primary source of income – buyers and renters.

Kearney Plaza

LIVE IN THE HEART OF THE PEARL. The Pearl District one of the hippest neighborhoods in the heart of Portland with lush parks and tree lined streets. Kearney Plaza had called this neighborhood home for over 15 years. With a great location, loyal resident base and a great sense of community they were in a great position for continued success. But their branding had become stale and they found themselves up against newer communities and amenities. So what were they to do?

By going through a brand overhaul Kearney Plaza was able to refocus their message and rediscover their identity. Their new brand and message speaks to the “urban oasis” that is the Pearl District but also to the feeling of community and home they have created through carefully managed relationships with their residents.

Redesigned identity package.
Kearney Plaza Takeone

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