First impressions mean everything. This is true for many industries, and the housing industry is no exception. From property photos to the leasing center, the number of possible first impression touchpoints is substantial. Yet, one of the first and major areas to focus on is the property’s visual brand.
A property’s brand is the foundation of its marketing success. Website design, social media, paid ads, and even printed collateral all rely on a formalized set of colors, patterns, and other visual elements. Quality design that resonates with the audience can quickly nudge the prospect through the sales funnel, while poor design can do the exact opposite and send them to the next competitor.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with our very own Stephanie Blea Lerma, Art Director at Poetic, to talk about what the branding process looks like in the housing industry and how she defines success in her craft.
With new developments, we’re usually sent the name of the property, and that's about it – a completely blank slate. No matter the type of property, our general approach remains the same:
We work to understand the client. We work to understand the market. We work to deliver a competitive product for the client to be passionate about.
First things first, we get to know the client. We hold stakeholder interviews to understand their vision and preferences. These conversations also help fill in the blanks for certain details about the property itself (location, audience, etc.). Personally, I have a knack for reading between the lines during these meetings and picking up on the client’s preferences - even without them explicitly saying it. I find this part one of the most important in the entire process. Ultimately, you want the property to be successful in the market, but you also want to genuinely make the client happy with the final product.
From there, we schedule a market visit. It's one thing to say, “Oh, we're building in [insert city], and here are a few comps to look at.” But often, virtual research alone isn’t enough to fully understand a property and its surroundings. This reminds me of a property in Atlanta I branded a while back. I didn’t get a chance to do a market visit, so the client just described the typical student profile in the area. Collegiate and academically focused is what they stressed. “Let’s make this property’s brand very academic, and not so lifestyle-oriented.” But after I created the brand based on their info, I later got feedback that the property was not performing well on the market. So they flew me out to Atlanta and, to my surprise, what I noticed was completely the opposite. This particular area in Atlanta was actually so trendy and artsy; everyone seemed to really value fashion and style. No wonder the brand wasn’t resonating! Seeing the market for ourselves helps us tremendously in understanding the audience and how we can create a brand that stands out.
Next, I like to create three concepts of style and direction to give the client multiple options. We present a stylescape (or moodboard) to provide an overall vibe of what the brand could look like. It includes everything from colors and patterns to fonts and photo treatments. The stylescape helps us consolidate our research and observations into one digestible, story-telling piece. For example, a student in College Station, TX is surrounded by nothing but maroon. Maybe a strategic approach could be to experiment with colors other than maroon. Visually telling a story on why we make certain design decisions is essential, and I feel like that opportunity helps connect the client even more with the vision.
At this point, they can pick and choose elements of each option that they like or dislike. Choosing the colors from Option #2, the font from Option #1, and the logo from Option #3, for example. Usually it’s love at first sight and they instantly know which idea they love most. Once we decide on a direction and make some minor tweaks, the final brand guide is delivered - ready for collateral development and website design.
My favorite part has to be presenting the stylescapes to the client. Getting to tell the story behind each design option is usually met with such rewarding reactions from clients. You can just see it on their face when we hit the mark. It feels personal to them at this point. Instead of just creating a nice brand, they can appreciate that we took the time to curate a brand specifically to their taste and the property’s identity. That’s my favorite part: when you see all the work you did actually make a difference and your product strikes a chord with the client.
I'd say the most challenging part is also a part I really enjoy. Creating something that fits in with a market but also stands out - now that can be tricky. Our goal is to create something that stands out from the crowd but also attracts people with its relevance. Standing out for the sake of standing out isn’t always the answer. For example, leaning “collegiate” for that Atlanta property was a different direction, yeah. But it didn’t necessarily fit in with the area. So finding that sweet spot of fitting in but also standing out, I think that's a challenge. But also, that's the fun of it for me.
You know what, it's funny. It really doesn't change that much at all; the process is very similar. They both start with research and strategy in the beginning – getting to know the market and the client. And once you establish what kind of build it is, then all of the same steps follow. Whether it’s a luxury high-rise or a humble student apartment, we still curate a highly personalized identity to suit the client’s tastes and the property’s environment.
That's always tricky, but it's always something I've honed in on. I like to pull inspiration from everywhere. As a creative, it’s so important to stay relevant and innovative. So you have to look at the world as your inspiration. As corny as that sounds, it’s true! Just recently, I got the inspiration for a brand from a clothing tag I saw randomly. Whether it’s a color on a building or a wallpaper at a restaurant, staying inspired is as simple as keeping your eyes peeled and your mind open.
Yeah, it’s kind of hard to measure, for sure. I think internal satisfaction, client satisfaction, and the market response all indicate success. If I feel very proud at the end of the day of the work we did, I feel like it's a success, regardless. But it’s also reassuring when you get that positive feedback from the client. And to then hear they’re locking in leases, the website is converting, the collateral is resonating, etc. – it’s all icing on the cake. We can be proud of the brand internally, but to get that confirmation from the audience is what it’s all about.