Fresh off the heavy advertising push for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many people now have heads filled with brand logos and taglines. So let’s take a minute to discuss what exactly a brand is. What do you think of when you hear the word, “branding?” Iconic logos or color schemes like Target’s bullseye or Nike’s swoosh might immediately come to mind. In reality though, it’s what’s behind these outward visuals that really leaves a lasting impression. Companies need to clearly establish a brand identity that can first be effectively communicated to employees and can then be experienced by their customers.
For many apartment communities, these brand identities are shaped at the corporate level and then are extended out to all the various properties. In other cases, individual properties carry their own brands. Regardless of where the brand strategy is conceived, it’s important for each employee to think about how their job contributes to the brand and what they can do to leave positive impressions on those who interact with the brand.
As I’ve thought about this topic, here are a few quick ideas for mapping out a brand experience to back up your outward visuals:
- First off, make it a priority to craft a brand promise. A brand promise is a statement that defines what you would like your brand to stand for and what type of experience you will provide to your customers. Just as many companies have a mission statement, it can be helpful to create a written brand promise so that everyone is clear on what they should be striving for.
- After you’ve decided on the points of your brand promise, take time to determine where and how that promise will be carried out. Ask questions to help identify the customer touchpoints where you’ll need to have a response strategy in place. For example, you could ask, “What opportunities will our customers have to experience our brand promise first hand?” or “What will people think when they first see our brand?” In a mobile-dominant world, it’s highly likely that a customer’s first interaction with your brand will be through your website. Once they’ve viewed your website, do you have the proper people in place for prospects to be able to easily get a hold of you via phone or email? Thinking through each stage of the prospect and resident life cycle can help to identify specific situations where your brand promise can be carried out.
- Once you know when these interactions will likely take place, develop an effective communications response plan. At the recent Entrata Summit, Sara Graham, Director of Marketing at Dolben, talked about how they have approached creating a unified brand experience for their customers. She said, “We have a multi-channel approach in place. Our residents and our prospects are expecting this immediate gratification. They’re calling us, emailing us , tweeting us, Facebook messaging us. And we’re making sure that we’re able to respond to those channels as real time as we can. Customer service is at all levels of the company. There’s no one customer service specialist. We have a lot of formulas and policies in place to make sure that we are providing a standard, consistent experience for all of our residents. We ask that all of our maintenance teams not necessarily fix, but respond to a maintenance request within 24 hours and communicate that to the residents.” It’s important to set specific metrics for how quickly emails, tweets or messages are to be followed up on. Staff members should also understand what to do when situations need to be escalated. Providing a unified customer experience requires not only great communication with customers, but also with coworkers.
- Lastly, your staff is the first line of your brand. Do they understand what your brand promise is and what that means as they individually perform their job duties? It’s imperative to clearly train your employees on how they are to treat customers. Reward them when they go out of their way to provide an excellent experience for a customer.
Even here at Entrata, we have recently undergone our own re-branding. Changing the name and logo of the company from Property Solutions to Entrata wasn’t just for show. The goal behind the re-brand was to have our outward brand elements better reflect the personality of our company and the experience that our customers can expect as they work with us.
As Scott Cook, the co-founder of Intuit, once stated, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Consumer perception of brands may start with the visual elements, but ultimately it is solidified by the complete brand experience. It’s critical to understand what your brand wants to promise to its customers and then to figure out the processes to be accountable and carry out that promise in every customer interaction.