With 43 million rental units in the US, it’s crucial to stand out from the crowd. Bigeye’s Tom Mahoney and Rhett Withey discuss property marketing strategies for today’s competitive housing market and share insights about building successful multi-family and student housing brands. Learn about Bigeye’s 4-step process for creating distinctive property brands, including logo creation, designing color palettes, and drawing inspiration from nature and neighborhood elements.
Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Tom Mahoney: I think building a brand that can reach a wide audience range can certainly be challenging in the property world.
Rhett Withey: A lot of times, people forget that a brand is not just a logo. You can’t just slap a logo on every single item and say, “Here’s my brand.”
Tom Mahoney: Now more than ever, there’s a need for strong marketing to help set a new community apart from the rest.
Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. The rental housing market makes up a significant segment of the US housing industry, with over 43 million rental units, according to the US Census Bureau. Rising single-family home prices and interest rate hikes also make multi-family housing a more affordable option for many people. At the time we are recording this, it was just reported that the median price for a single-family home is around $416,000. Meeting strong consumer demand for rental options increases the number of multi-family developments, which in turn makes the market itself more competitive. Property developers and management companies increasingly need to find ways to differentiate their properties to attract tenants. This includes offering unique amenities, of course, but also creating compelling brand identities and marketing strategies focused on specific markets. For this episode, we’re joined by Tom Mahoney, Bigeye’s Account Manager dedicated to guiding engagements with our clients in multi-family, active adult, student living, and co-living community development and management. Tom has built a career in real estate and property management with a focus on sales, marketing, and customer relationship management. Prior to joining Bigeye, Tom worked on the client side as an assistant property manager for Greystar for over five years. And before that, he was a leasing professional at Carter Haston Real Estate. Tom is joining us today to discuss the role that creative services can play in differentiating properties and ensuring they’re fully leased. Tom, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Tom Mahoney: Thank you for having me, Adrian.
Adrian Tennant: Well, Tom, I gave a brief description in the intro, but can you tell us about your background?
Tom Mahoney: Yes. As you mentioned, I was in the property management industry for several years prior to joining Bigeye. I worked on 13 total properties during my time, including new lease-up projects, takeovers, and stabilized deals. I also worked on varying types of communities, including garden style, mid-rise, and downtown high-rises, mixed-use developments as well. Back in 2017, I obtained a North Carolina Broker’s license to learn more about the real estate industry as a whole. I do have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, so it seemed like a natural transition to take my experience in the property industry into a property-specific role within a creative agency.
Adrian Tennant: And we’re very happy to have you. So Tom, what does your role as an account manager at Bigeye entail?
Tom Mahoney: I oversee all property-related accounts here at Bigeye. I am the main point of contact for our clients, while also working directly with our amazing creative team to help the projects stay on track and ensure that we are building brands that will help these projects stand out in a very competitive and sometimes oversaturated market.
Adrian Tennant: Based on your experience before joining Bigeye and now as our lead account manager for property projects, what are some common challenges faced in property marketing?
Tom Mahoney: I think building a brand that can reach a wide audience range can certainly be challenging in the property world. For example, upscale, high-rise buildings in a metro area tend to have everyone from young professionals to empty nesters living in their communities. So how do you market your building to a younger demographic to make it seem hip and cool while also reaching an older demographic that wants a luxurious, quiet, downtown living experience? I saw communities during my time in property management lean too far in one direction, resulting in prospects thinking certain communities were quote-unquote too old or too young for them. This limits your prospect pool and makes it harder to reach and maintain stabilization. So building a brand that says we have something for everyone can certainly be a challenge.
Adrian Tennant: Do you typically see differences in how the team approaches multi-family versus student housing projects?
Tom Mahoney: The initial process tends to start the same for our team, but along the way, they do start to differ. Student housing has a much more defined target audience, while multi-family projects may be trying to reach a broader audience. Student housing projects also tend to have a foundation that is already somewhat established. Most, you know, want to incorporate the university colors, their sports teams’ mascots, or maybe historical landmarks that are found around the university. For multi-family projects, our team really needs to dig deep into the location of the new development, to build the new brand from the ground up to make sure it not only fits but is elevated from other brands in that area.
Adrian Tennant: Bigeye has developed a four-step process to consistently deliver differentiated creative solutions for our clients. Could you give us an overview of what the process looks like?
Tom Mahoney: So the four phases of our process are discovery and audience, naming and identity, the brand campaign, and implementation. The first phase of the process, discovery and audience, I believe, is the most important. This is where we build the foundation for the new brand by learning everything that there is to know about the community details, the location of the property, the audience, and the creative direction that the client envisions for their new community.
Adrian Tennant: And of course, this is the phase that I’m often involved with too. Typically helping set the strategy by using syndicated data sources and sometimes primary research to understand the demographics, attitudes, and behaviors of the types of renters we’re targeting in the area. As you know, sometimes we’ll identify groups that over-index on particular behaviors or participation in specific sports that can provide some preliminary insights for the creative team to explore with the client. Uh, but we also run qualitative mobile-based research studies, inviting residents to record their impressions of an area, point out places of interest, and even chat with us in real-time as they review our proposed creative and messaging concepts. Then, of course, we hand that back to you for the next stage.
Tom Mahoney: Yeah, so continuing in phase one, we do go through a series of creative exercises with the clients as well, to create brand adjectives, brand mentors, and a personality for the new brand. For example, we recently worked on a project in Miami, where the brand adjectives included vibrant, energized, captivating, and bold. While some of the brand mentors were Selena Gomez, Jimmy Choo™, a BMW 4 Series, and a vacation to the Dominican Republic. This was the foundation of a brand that is targeting young working professionals that want to live in a high-growth, prime location that’s walkable to local conveniences like shopping, dining, and nightlife. So learning about the location and the target audience allowed our team to create a brand that fits in the Miami market, but also feels like a community, that’s unlike anything else in that area.
Adrian Tennant: Tom, the next part of our process is naming and developing a brand identity. Can you walk us through how Bigeye approaches this phase of a project?
Tom Mahoney: So in this phase, we take everything that we learned in phase one during the discovery and immersion session, and through our research to establish the new name for the community. We develop their logo and create a color palette that will be further developed in the brand campaign. So here’s where we really start to lay the visual groundwork of the brand.
Adrian Tennant: And how does the creative team come up with unique and fitting names for each community?
Tom Mahoney: The naming process is always fun for our team, as we really have the opportunity to take a deep dive into the location and conduct a lot of our own research to find a name that really fits the brand we are creating. We named a student housing project in Gainesville UFORA, but we spelled it with a “UF” at the beginning to associate it with the University of Florida, but also fits the brand personality of a state of euphoria. So we try to create unique names that can really work on a lot of different levels. This is our most time-consuming phase as we have to ensure that the name is not used elsewhere, that there is great domain availability for the new name, and that this new name will resonate with our target audience, not only during the lease-up process but in the future as well. Our terrific creative team, led by our VP of Creative, Seth, they’re not only looking to just come up with a name that sounds like an apartment community, but names that we can build a strong brand story around. I’m always impressed by how the team can take the information from phase one to create multiple unique name options for the client.
Adrian Tennant: Yeah, me too. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, branding influences many aspects of our daily lives, our food choices, clothing preferences, vehicle selection, travel decisions, and even vacation accommodations. So it makes sense that when it comes to relocating and seeking an apartment to rent, it’s familiar and distinctive property brands that capture our attention and are more likely to be considered and visited. To discuss the role that creativity plays in the branding process, we’re joined now by Rhett Withey, Bigeye’s Art Director, who has a decade of experience developing creative solutions for our property clients. Rhett, it’s nice to have you back on IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Rhett Withey: Thank you for having me back, Adrian. Always a pleasure.
Adrian Tennant: Could you walk us through the process of designing a logo? What are the key considerations you have to keep in mind?
Rhett Withey: Well, usually, we have a discovery meeting with the client, and that’s when we really dive into the client’s thought process on what the brand and what the logo they have in mind. So we usually find brand adjectives and brand mentors. We ask some really fun questions like, “If your brand was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?” And really start to try to get our clients’ creative juices flowing and make it a fun environment for them to give us more candid details that they may not necessarily give in a Google form, let’s say. After that, we look online for some inspiration at some other similar brands that they identified with, finding highlights of aspects of designs that they might potentially, enjoy. And we put together a mood board of different brands, different colors, and different elements of logos across the entire design gamut. From there, we make a black-and-white logo first. We always do black-and-white logos because if a logo is going to be successful, it will work in any color. That means if a single color is successful, then it’s gonna be a great logo. After that, we then do a color exploration where we will deliver a handful of different color concepts. Same thing around the client’s feedback that they gave us in the discovery meeting. So we’ll look at color theory and try to match those color palettes with their brand adjectives. And from there, it’s just happy client, deliver files, and big success!
Adrian Tennant: How do you handle feedback and revisions during the design process?
Rhett Withey: Well, if they’re giving us feedback in the meeting, I try to have the best poker face I can possibly have while I’m internally screaming! But most of the time, our clients are pretty good, and I’ve been around the block long enough to know that, as a designer especially, which I always tell young designers, is to not take anything personally. I know that we spend hours and hours and hours on crafting something, and we’re so used to the show and tell like, “Hey, look what I made!” That, feedback can be tough sometimes, but remember, it’s not for us. It’s for our client. So as long as they’re happy, then you should be happy.
Adrian Tennant: Is there a logo you’ve designed for a property that you are particularly proud of?
Rhett Withey: Yes. So it’s not one particular property, but it’s a neighborhood district. When we did the logo for the Hourglass District, I was particularly proud of that one because that was, basically, my stomping grounds where I grew up, and it was really cool to see that a developer revitalizing this one particular area of Orlando that was kind of depressed and ignored. And making it into something cool where people want to be, and then inviting us to help be the ones that, set the tone for the design of that corner, of that little neighborhood district. So that one was a very special, close-to-my-heart project that I worked on.
Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways do brand assets contribute to the overall identity of a property?
Rhett Withey: A lot of times, people forget that a brand is not just a logo. You can’t just slap a logo on every single item and say, “Here’s my brand.” A brand is all the intangible elements, like the color palette, the little tiny, brand extensions, like maybe a swash, or a brush stroke or some sort of illustrative element that ties into the logo and ties into like the messaging and photography, like all those pieces and all those items will come together and create the overall brand. It’s not just your logo.
Adrian Tennant: How do you approach the design of other brand assets, such as illustrations, icons, or patterns?
Rhett Withey: So we usually will try to find certain elements from the logo that we designed. So in one case, it might be an icon. If we have an illustrated icon, then we might pull that icon out and make patterns, or maybe we do some sort of badge where the icon is centered, and there’s type circled around it. in the case of hourglass, we use the icon in different illustrative ways with different textures and different, images cropped into the icon and, bits and elements like that.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Tom Mahoney, Account Manager, and Rhett Withey, Art Director, who work with Bigeye’s clients in multi-family, active adult, student living, and co-living community development and management. Rhett, what’s your process for creating or developing a color palette for a property?
Rhett Withey: So usually, when I develop a color palette, I will again go back to the creative brief and the initial discovery meeting we have with the client and look at those brand adjectives. So if they say, the property needs to be calm and serene, well then I might incorporate color theory like blues and beige to bring those calm and serene elements in. We take a lot of influence from nature and the surrounding neighborhood of the property. So if it’s a property that’s located in North Carolina – in the backcountry of North Carolina, not necessarily the city – we’re gonna look at the mountains. We’re gonna look at the type of trees and the type of leaves that are on those trees. Maybe it’s not the green that’s year-round, but maybe it’s the brown or the red that the leaves change in the fall. Elements like that are very, very particular to the property.
Adrian Tennant: In your experience, what kind of impact do color choices have on how a brand is perceived?
Rhett Withey: Well, color is probably one of the most important parts of a brand. Can you imagine Starbucks, they have the green right now, if they were magenta, completely different feel than what you’re used to with Starbucks? Or even McDonald’s, yellow and red. You know, that yellow and red feeling of happiness and bright, but what if McDonald’s was lime green and orange? Completely different feeling and vibrant and a different kind of energy.
Adrian Tennant: Bigeye’s creative team typically develops guidelines for photography and logo usage. Why is consistency important for maintaining a strong brand identity?
Rhett Withey: The more often your audience sees your logo in a consistent way, the more obvious it is going to be and easier for you in the future to get your message across because they correlate this look to your brand. So if you’re constantly changing or like adding little elements or tweaking the logo in this and that way, and there’s no consistency, then you’re losing that familiarity with your audience.
Adrian Tennant: Tom, how do you ensure that the overall brand identity aligns with the target audiences and stands out in competitive markets?
Tom Mahoney: In phase three, we merge the name story, graphics, language, imagery, and tone of voice to bring the brand to life. This is a highly visual phase, showcasing the possibilities that lie ahead in expressive conceptual environments and examples. This is where we can make a project that is, say, a high-rise in downtown Denver targeting young working professionals look and feel completely different than a high-rise project in Atlanta that has a similar unit mix and amenity offering and is targeting a similar audience. We know no two projects are truly alike, so here we build a new brand that makes its own mark.
Adrian Tennant: Do you have a couple of examples?
Tom Mahoney: I mentioned that high-rise in Denver versus a high-rise in Atlanta, which is an example of projects we have worked on recently that were very different because of the geographical locations, even though they had a similar target audience. And then, we worked on a project in Sugar Hill, Georgia, which is roughly 40 miles outside of Atlanta. But for that project, we created a brand that had more of a main street feel, that is completely different from the downtown feel of the Atlanta project. So even though they were both around the Atlanta area, the two brands were just very different in how they looked and how they felt.
Adrian Tennant: Well, the quality of the implementation is critical in bringing branding to life. Could you explain how Bigeye executes this phase?
Tom Mahoney: So the final phase, in our process is implementation. In this phase, we take everything that was established with a new brand and apply it to everything from collateral pieces to social media graphics, signage, website design, and more. This is where the onsite team can really use the brand elements that we develop together to help launch the new community and set it up for success both immediately and in the future.
Adrian Tennant: You mentioned onsite partners. Who are they typically?
Tom Mahoney: So this will typically be the property management team, including the onsite leasing team and their marketing department. But it can also include signage vendors, print companies, and website designers, that take the designs that we have made to create the physical pieces for the property. We want to ensure that these designs look just as good when they’re produced, as they did when our designers were creating them.
Adrian Tennant: Well, as I’m sure anyone listening can tell, Tom, you are very plugged into the industry. What emerging trends are you seeing in property development?
Tom Mahoney: So there’s a lot going on in the property world right now. There’s been an extreme amount of growth in the multifamily industry in the past few years. In 2022 alone, there were 420,000 new units nationwide. I read an article recently that stated that there are currently 7,700 planned apartment units, 2,600 that are under construction, and another 5,100 that have been announced in Charlotte, North Carolina alone, between now and 2025. So this is in an area that already has a lot of options to choose from. New supply is currently outpacing demand for the first time in years, leading to the highest vacancy percentage since 2020 during Covid. Rent prices have decreased in 48 of the 100 largest cities in the country from this time last year, that’s according to the National Apartment Association. So I believe now more than ever, there’s a need for strong marketing to help set a new community apart from the rest. Everyone has a pool and a gym. Free coffee in the morning for the residents. So how do you reach prospects that can go online and find 12 other options in the same area, knowing they’re only likely to visit maybe four to five communities during their search for a new place?
Adrian Tennant: Well, you made the move from client side to agency. So Tom, what advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career in agency account management?
Tom Mahoney: I think finding something that an agency works on that you are passionate about is very important. I’ve always had an interest in the real estate world, so being able to help create brands in that space has been amazing for me. Also, find an agency that is an expert in what they do. Property is one of the main pillars for Bigeye, so it gives me full confidence in our creative team on each and every project because I know they’re going to create something special for the client. So that certainly helps make my job a bit easier.
Adrian Tennant: Now, I know this might be like having to choose a favorite child, but do you have a recent project that you are particularly proud of or one that was especially well received by a client?
Tom Mahoney: So this may be your most difficult question yet, as we have had the opportunity to work on some really amazing projects recently. This may be cheating a bit since it involves more than one project, but our work in the mid-city district in Huntsville, Alabama, has been a great example of how to build different brands in the same area. We currently have four projects that we are working on that are all right next door to each other, that are all being developed actually by the same client. All four are completely different. We have been tasked with building brands for a more traditional multi-family community, but then also a loft-style community, a community of micro-units, and the first fully sustainable apartment community in the southeast. So what our team has been able to create for these new communities is truly amazing. Being able to build new brands that are so different, even though they are in the exact same location, has been really impressive to experience.
Adrian Tennant: Rhett, do you have a property project that you are particularly proud of?
Rhett Withey: So, my favorite property project that I helped work on was probably Infield, which was a property in Kissimmee on an old baseball facility, and baseball is my favorite sport. And one that I’m very passionate about. So it was fun coming up with street names and baseball jargon and lexicon to use in messaging and headlines and bringing in some deep cuts for baseball knowledge into the branding.
Adrian Tennant: Decades of marketing effectiveness data show us that long-term awareness-building campaigns build strong brands. The consistent use of distinctive visual and auditory assets that become uniquely associated in buyers’ minds with the brand drive higher rates of growth in most consumer categories. Now focusing on long-term branding typically results in lower acquisition costs and higher customer lifetime values. Tom, based on what you are seeing in the market, do you think branding will become a more significant factor in the multi-family industry, especially among the larger players?
Tom Mahoney: Absolutely. With a growing number of households opting for rental properties, the competition among multifamily property management companies is intensifying. Establishing a strong brand identity can differentiate a company from its competitors and attract more renters. There are also rising consumer expectations as well. Renters expect a positive and memorable experience when choosing a place to live. A well-established brand that offers desirable amenities, excellent customer service, and a sense of community can meet these expectations and build loyalty among renters.
Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners are interested in seeing examples of the types of work we’ve been describing today, what’s the best place to find them?
Tom Mahoney: The best place would be our Bigeye property website, which is Bigeyeproperties.com. We also have a few work examples on our agency site, Bigeyeagency.com. You can also submit a contact form through either site to get in touch with our team to discuss any of this further.
Adrian Tennant: Tom, it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Tom Mahoney: Thank you for having me, Adrian.
Adrian Tennant: Rhett, thank you for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS again.
Rhett Withey: Thanks, Adrian. Anytime that you need me to ramble about design, I am here to do it!
Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to both of my Bigeye guests this week. Tom Mahoney, Account Manager, and Rhett Withey, Art Director. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Bigeyeagency.com – just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. And if you’d like to see more of Bigeye’s creative work for properties, take a look at Bigeyeproperties.com. Thanks for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.