Picture-Perfect Marketing for Student Housing and Beyond

As with all communities, marketing these properties is an attempt to sell an aspirational lifestyle, said Apartmentalize panelists.

Apartmentalize 2023 is being held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Image by Fotios Tsarouhis

Marketing properties means attention to detail on a minute scale, with buildings, units and amenities often presented in a tested and stage-managed way. Panelists speaking at the National Apartment Association’s Apartmentalize conference in Atlanta last Thursday shared secrets behind selecting flattering images, appealing to renters’ psychologies and the different ways survey respondents reacted to promotional materials.

“Is this a place people want to be?” is a key question, said Adam Jay, associate vice president, new development marketing, at Landmark Properties. In a case study, photographs of a student housing property in Tempe, Ariz., were presented as potential marketing materials. A photogenic courtyard and outdoor space with furniture was showcased at two different times. One image showed the space bathed in desert sunlight, while the other was a vivid, lit-up nighttime image. The panelists argued for the latter. In this instance, geography played a key role.

“In Tempe, Ariz., people are going to want to be at the pool during the day,” noted Nick Hill, COO for property management at Up Campus Student Living. The evening shot of the courtyard showed an area where students could work, relax and unwind in the cooler evening hours. Meanwhile, at many properties, shots of swimming pools are best presented during the day, especially if the pool area isn’t accessible in the evenings, said Dora Cheng, co-founder & vice president of operations at uForis VR. “Our clients one time told us they sometimes don’t want an evening shot because they close off the pool in the evening,” she said.

While Cheng, Hill and Jay all focus on student housing, many of their lessons can be applied across sectors. Appealing to your core renter demographic—students, for instance—is hardly all you will be doing in photographic or filming a property. While evening exterior shots of properties tend to be the most attractive option, clients often ask the firms they enlist to handle their marketing and visuals for a wide variety of images shot at different times, said Cheng.

Daytime shots are often desirable to have on hand for submission to municipalities for approvals, said Jay. Still, he said, “the building looks much sexier at sunset.” Hill agreed, preferring dusk for marketing photos.

A mix of natural light and artificial lighting usually does well with audiences and images of properties at sunrise and sunset tend to be particularly powerful, evoking the feeling of starting the day energetically and relaxing in the evening, said Hill.

Staging apartments and common areas

Photos of apartment interiors can vary from the minimal—perhaps just a couch in a living room shot—to more lived-in, with artwork, plants, pillows and a personal effect or two. Residence shots are meant to represent an aspirational lifestyle, said Cheng, noting that student housing properties will often feature the colors of the nearby school. Some clients prefer their branding colors be incorporated in the interior design.

Apartmentalize 2023 is being held in Atlanta. Image by Fotios Tsarouhis

“We want that to be aspirational,” said Jay, noting that the more lived-in a unit looks, the more it may come off as cluttered or fail to showcase the property itself.

However, Cheng noted that in a recent survey, most respondents preferred the lived-in look when also presented with choices of the same apartment with minimalistic furnishings and a unit taking a middle course. An overwhelming 50 percent chose the lived-in look. Among female respondents, that number was even higher.

When it came to common area images, however, men were more likely than women to approve of including people in the photos. Too many residents appearing in those photos also has a downside, increasing the chance that the pictures of people will distract from features that they are trying to highlight.

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