Your new apartment community is about to break ground, and you’re ready to market it. You have a name, a logo and a color palette. You’ve decided on fonts, wordmarks and typography. Now it’s time to memorialize everything in a brand style guide (BSG).
“A BSG is basically the end-product of all the work we’ve done with a client,” said Michael Seitz, creative director at Fellow, a brand consulting firm in Minneapolis. “It’s a list of the ingredients to create that brand—almost like the recipe for a cake.”
Savvy apartment developers, owners and operators put a lot of time, effort and money into developing a BSG, often referred to as brand guidelines, style guides or “the brand book.” And there’s good reason for doing so, because having a completed guide can not only make your team more efficient but can also help to ensure the success of a community, whether it’s new construction or an existing project being repositioned, by making sure it has a competitive advantage.
“The design guidelines save the development team a lot of time, and project managers developing multifamily know that time is their most precious asset,” said Ian Robertson, director of development at Titan Development in Albuquerque. “Does it help lease-up? Absolutely. It makes your job easier to get to a place where lease-up should go well.”
Why create a BSG?
Solidifying your brand and documenting it in a BSG can help differentiate your community from others.
McClean, Va.-based Jefferson Apartment Group prepares a BSG for each of its communities. “A 22-story high rise in Arlington, Va. is very different from a garden-style community in Woburn, Mass.,” said Julie Contos, the firm’s director of marketing. “There’s a different demographic and different rental rates, so each of them deserves a unique brand.”
Jefferson was influenced by the lakefront location when creating a BSG for Jefferson Lake Howell, a 384-unit, garden-style community in Central Florida. The development offers resort-style amenities and water access for boating, kayaking and paddle boarding, so the 20-page BSG reflects the coastal lifestyle in its brand identity, using lots of blues to reflect the importance of water.
Most developers believe that a well-written BSG is key to the success of a multifamily community.
“A style guide with brand guidelines highlights the story—why we’re there, who we are, what we’re doing—which is really important to developing real estate communities,” said Louie Colella, vice president of leasing and operations for Chicago-based CRG. “If you’re just throwing up apartments, you’re not going to be as successful as if you have a good vision.”
The company uses BSGs not just for external stakeholders, but also internally so its employees understand the company’s mission. Colella said it takes approximately two to three months to complete a style guide, which typically costs between $10,000 and $30,000.
CRG’s multifamily brand, Chapter, includes a national collection of upscale apartments. So far, the company has developed Chapter at The Streets, a mid-rise in St. Charles, Mo.; Broadway Chapter, a five-story community in Fort Worth; and Upshore Chapter, a transit-oriented development in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. “Chapter is the over-arching brand,” Colella said. “Each community has a slight variation to that brand, but Chapter itself will always remain the same.”
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Brand Style Guides: Contents and Process
BSGs vary greatly. They can be as short as a simple one-page statement showing the logo and colors or a detailed 35-page document.
Typically, BSGs include the community’s fonts, color palette, logo, wordmarks and symbols—all elements of the brand identity. These will be used by stakeholders such as interior designers, architects, social media firms, marketing managers and the owner to ensure consistency in the design and marketing of the community and to help lease it up and stabilize it more quickly by differentiating it from the competition.
Some companies include even more information in their BSGs. Robertson said that Titan includes the location of USB wall outlets, the types of electrical and lighting systems installed in the apartments and other construction guidelines. “This is what a brand is,” he said. “People just look at it as a logo and color, but true hospitality-inspired brands know that the difference is in the details.”
For a new apartment development, the BSG should be prepared before breaking ground, said Tammy Casserly, senior vice president of growth and brand development for Resident360, a multifamily branding and marketing agency.
“The developer may be in the permitting process, but they have marketing opportunities, and they need a logo for banners on the construction site,” she said. “That way, they can start to build brand equity right out of the gate.”
Casserly said that when preparing a BSG, she begins the process with a kickoff meeting with the client to glean the information necessary to prepare a creative brief, which she said is “the bible.” The creative brief, the first step in preparing the BSG, contains the community’s location, target demographic, amenities, competition, color palette preferences and more. It’s based on the input of the developer and other relevant stakeholders. When completed, the creative brief becomes the team’s foundation for preparation of the BSG. Casserly said the process takes about six to eight weeks, costs between $2,500 and $5,000 and results in a PDF file of the BSG that’s typically one to 10 pages long.
Rollout and Implementation
Once the BSG is completed, it needs to be provided to interior designers, architects, social media firms, printers, marketing managers and other stakeholders so the brand guidelines can be implemented consistently. Current employees should receive copies, as well as instruction on the correct usage of logos, colors, fonts and wordmarks.
Jefferson Apartment Group’s Contos said that once a BSG is complete, she sends it, along with the logo and font files, to any vendors she engages, whether for signage, promotional items, move-in gifts or other deliverables.
“If you’re going to go to the expense, time and effort to create a distinct brand for a community, make sure the BSG is available to anyone who would be implementing it so they have key information for the brand to be consistently implemented,” she said.
CRG’s Colella said that new employees are trained with the style guide as part of the onboarding process. “This employee is representing the brand,” he said. “They need to understand what that brand is, how it’s used and why it exists, so getting them familiar with all that will make them more successful when they’re trying to lease these apartments to prospective renters.”
While mom-and-pop operators can survive without creating a BSG, larger owners and managers know that the very success of a community might depend on the quality of the BSG creating the underlying brand.
“As the multifamily space gets more crowded, these types of brand guidelines are what differentiates your product from others,” said Titan’s Robertson. “You’re creating a community—a home for people. When you’re creating something that important, you have to take it seriously.”