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"People think logos equal brand. The logo is a huge part of your brand. It's the face of your brand. But that's just what it is." – Kristen Cardwell
Branding is tough when you're selling the same thing everyone else in your industry sells i.e. a place to rent. But those in multifamily know that not all properties are created equal. So what's the trick to successful branding? According to industry experts, it's your ability to highlight your unique offering, and being able to create a brand that your target community will relate to.
Here's what we talked about:
Nicolina Savelli [0:00:09.8]:
Welcome back to Sync or Swim, I'm your host, Nicolina Savelli, and you're listening to #GetSynced where I take a tactical approach to helping those in multifamily improve their marketing and advertising efforts. And today, I have Rentsync's Marketing Designer, Kristen Cardwell, here to chat all about design and creating your multifamily properties, brand identity. Welcome to the show, Kris.
Kristen Cardwell [0:00:25]:
Thanks for having me, I'm excited.
Nicolina Savelli [0:00:40]:
Now, before we get into today's conversation. Do you mind expanding on that introduction for me to give listeners a better idea of your experience working at Rentsync and designing for the multifamily industry?
Kristen Cardwell [0:01:10.3]:
Definitely, so I've been with Rentsync for just over two years now. I originally joined the team as the graphic and web designer for the client services side, so that means I was doing a lot of brand work and website design for our clients, specifically, at the time, we didn't really have a designated designer for all our internal marketing so I took on a lot of that as well. And through that, I got the opportunity to work with the rebrand we did, which ultimately led me to this position as our Marketing Designer.
Nicolina Savelli [0:01:52.4]:
Perfect, thank you, that's great. So I've been kind of going down this road with my guests lately, and it's really pulling apart the layers of the marketing process from Lead Management, Lead Generation, and branding is a big part of that, so I thought it would be great to get a designer's perspective on how they navigate design for the multifamily industry. Now, we know, like you said, you've recently transitioned from our client services team to full-time marketing designer, but I know you have a lot of experience with designing for multifamily clients, from developing the look and feel of their brand, to even the user experience for their website. So I kind of wanna start off by asking you why it's so important for multifamily owners, operators, and marketers to consult with an industry expert on their branding and design, and maybe what are some of the key differences between a designer who understands the industry versus your standard ad agency.
Kristen Cardwell [0:02:48.5]:
Yeah, for sure. So the client, it's always in their best interest in any industry, really, to work with marketers and designers who are specific to that industry, so with brand and with any design related projects, the first step is always research, so you're researching the client, you're researching the industry, you're researching competitors, you're researching patterns and things that are working, things that don't work. So when you work with an industry expert, that whole step of the process is already done for you, we already know what we're dealing with.
Nicolina Savelli [0:03:32.8]:
Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. So from your perspective, when should multifamily marketers start thinking about brand identity, and what are some of the first things clients should consider before coming to a designer and asking you... you know I wanna create a brand identity. There are some things that they should prepare in advance before contacting a designer...
Kristen Cardwell [0:03:57.7]:
Yeah, absolutely. So, the short answer to that is, it's never too soon to start thinking about your brand, and you're kind of already doing it the minute, that you're thinking about starting a business. The minute you're thinking of a new development or a new business venture, all of these questions we're wanting the answers to... You have the answers to either the who, what, where, when, and why. So these are the things that we're going to be asking and you know the answers, it's when we get to the more visual things where clients start to feel a little underprepared. But that's okay, you don't need to know what you're looking for necessarily. We're just asking the questions to get the ball rolling, and ultimately, we're there to help you make those decisions, you can give us any information, any information you give us is useful. The more you give us the better.
Nicolina Savelli [0:05:03.2]:
Can you then tell me some of the most common questions you ask clients to get the ball rolling with the design process and why those questions are so important to the success of the brand you ultimately create for them.
Kristen Cardwell [0:05:15.1]:
So we just wanna know everything about the company or the property, so if it's a single property we're dealing with instead of a corporate brand, we're just going to get deeper into those questions about location, target demographic, what that community's like, what the building looks like? What are the amenities? Again, everything you know the answer to already. And then, we're going to ask you maybe you have a favourite colour or a preference and visuals, but like I said, we're there to help you with that. We're gonna ask you all of the questions to get the answers we need to work with.
Nicolina Savelli [0:05:58.6]:
Right. Now, I asked LeighAnn this question in my last episode... But I wanted to ask you as well, what do you think a great multifamily brand looks like?
Kristen Cardwell [0:06:08.8]:
So it's tough when you're selling the same thing as so many people... Right. The trick is in multifamily, especially because you're not just selling a product or service, you're selling housing, these are people's lives. So you really need to be relatable through your brands, and you need to just figure out an any brand in any industry, what separates you, what makes you stand out, translate that into a visual story as well. I know LeighAnn touched on consistency in her answer with us and visual consistency as well. That just is true. So if your messaging is saying one thing and your visual brand is saying something else, things start to fall apart. If you're positioning yourself around, let's just say, student living and student lifestyle, obviously, you are not gonna wanna use muted colours and imagery of families in your branding right, that has to line up.
Nicolina Savelli [0:07:17.7]:
Yeah, absolutely. So as a followup to that, how can multifamily brands really differentiate themselves in this industry because it is so competitive and everyone is basically offering one thing, which is a place to rent, so how do you go about differentiating those clients and making them stand out from each other?
Kristen Cardwell [0:07:41.0]:
So, like I said, it's about finding... You have to know yourself and know your goal with your brand, so that's a huge thing that you definitely need to think more about, so once you find where you wanna position yourself, let's just say it could be around anything, maybe your customer service or your property management team is a strong suit, maybe the lifestyle you provide, maybe it's around location, but whatever that is, that is what you're going to bring in visually and really just tie those together.
Nicolina Savelli [0:08:20.9]:
Perfect, yeah, so I don't think we could have a conversation about design without talking about logos. In our prep call, we spoke a lot about how many clients think the brand begins and ends at the logo. Can you talk a little bit about the impact of a logo and its value versus the rest of the brand?
Kristen Cardwell [0:08:41.1]:
It is a huge misconception that people think logos equal brand. It's very true, the logo is a huge part of your brand, it's the face of your brand, but that's just what it is, right? The logo's job is to identify, and we want logos to be impactful and meaningful, far more than we need them to tell us what it is exactly. So, if you look at the most recognizable brands out there and you separate the logo from the rest of the brand, usually you're left with not that much information really, but you're left with something simple, open for interpretation, and memorable, you identify them with that logo, but the brand is really where the personality comes into play, so like I said, the logo is the face, but you don't know somebody you just meet by looking at their face you have to get to know their personality, which is... That's the difference between the logo and the rest of the brand really
Nicolina Savelli [0:09:58.8]:
Yeah, that's a great, great metaphor there. Now, can you walk me through the typical process of creating a logo for a multifamily client, and if you could make a recommendation, how should marketers be thinking about logo design moving forward, what are the most cliche asks for logos that you wish would disappear... Maybe that's a loaded question, but can you walk me through that a little bit? So let's start with the typical process of creating a logo for a multifamily client...
Kristen Cardwell [0:10:36.5]:
Yeah, the process, it's like any other design process or project, we're starting with the basics, were starting with those questions in that initial consultation or design call, once we have that, our research doesn't usually end there were usually doing a little bit more digging around based on those, because there's a lot of... Inspiration comes from a lot of different places, and the client usually isn't gonna bring you there in your one-on-one initial meeting, so you kind of need to dig a little deeper there, so you have more to work with when you're connecting that visually and making that story. So once we leave the call, the process is a lot of research, we're going into our mood boards, we're going into our sketchbooks, we're trying to connect the dots from the information we're given and come up with a visual solution, basically, that makes sense. And marketers and clients also have to remember, that's exactly what logo design is, we're coming up with a solution to a problem.
Nicolina Savelli [0:11:54.5]:
And if you could make a recommendation, how should marketers be thinking about logo design moving forward? I feel like there was a time where really complicated logos were a big thing, and I feel like I've seen a lot of multifamily clients that maybe haven't done a rebrand in 10, 15 years, that their logos are... They don't maybe work with social media or they're not fitting in those trends, so what are some recommendations on logo design moving forward, and what are some of the most cliche logos you wish you would disappear?
Kristen Cardwell [0:12:29.4]:
So one of the huge things that happens all of the time is clients want to overcomplicate, they want to cram as much information as they can into a logo, and that comes into play, like you said when we're in a world where your logo is on so many different platforms, and it has to be versatile, right. So generally, the more complicated logo gets, the less versatile it gets, so that's really something that people have to remember, we're working... As I said, it's a solution to a problem, and part of the problem is how can I make this as versatile as possible? Where is it gonna live? Where are you seeing this? And the over complication of things is one of the big problems that I wish would stop, but you know it's understandable why it's happening, we just have to try to avoid it as much as possible and hopefully work out of it.
Nicolina Savelli [0:13:41.2]:
Yeah, yeah. And some of the most cliche logos you've seen in the industry that you wish would maybe go away or that you'd never have to design again, I know you don't really have to design them anymore, 'cause you're on our side, but from client services, I think that they could probably still feel the pain of designing buildings in it multifamily logos.
Kristen Cardwell [0:14:06.2]:
I always say there's only so many ways that you can draw a building, and that's part of the fun is, there is a challenge when you are working in a specific industry and the clients are all selling the same thing because you run into a repetition issue. There are only so many ways you can draw a building or a lake or a city skyline, you know there's a lot of common themes, so it's hard to work with, but it's also a part of the fun. And that's why I just always try to get clients to be as openminded as possible, the more abstract you can get them to go... It gives you a lot more options.
Nicolina Savelli [0:14:58.1]:
Yeah, fair enough. So let's talk a bit about websites and bringing your brand online, obviously, that's a huge part of getting your properties visible today. What are some of the key aspects of designing a website for a multifamily property that are atypical to your standard website design.
Kristen Cardwell [0:15:18.9]:
Websites for multifamily are super cool. They're completely unique to other websites out there, because they work with such unique components and functionalities, you're working with things like filters, maps, property cards, property pages, you're working with suite tables, so all of these elements are very unique to the multifamily industry. Right. So again, it comes back to the benefit of working with a marketing agency or designer who works specifically with multifamily, we know how these things usually look, should function, where we can play around and where things have to just see how they are.
Nicolina Savelli [0:16:14.5]:
Right, yeah. Where they live on the website, where they should be hidden, what things are prominent where, where your listings might be, where your promotions might live, and all of those things. Yeah, absolutely. But of course, not everyone is looking for a highly customized design for their property, maybe they just need something functional and user-friendly, do you have an opinion on when marketers should be thinking about a more custom website versus something a little bit more off the shelf that can be spun up a little faster?
Kristen Cardwell [0:16:44.8]:
Definitely. So, Rentsync has a great variety of themes that we have designed and developed for our clients use, and these are generally a good starting point for the majority of our clients, you can apply your brand to them, you will have the option to customize these themes, usually, if you need to rearrange a section or add a page... They're a great starting point. It's when we get into too many customizations that we're usually recommending, move to a full custom website, and sometimes clients just don't want off the shelf and they're looking to really focus in on their brands and stand out from their competition, so obviously, that is a reason, that clients might choose a custom website over one of our themes as well, but they both serve the purpose and they both are customizable, it's just whatever works for each client.
Nicolina Savelli [0:17:54.7]:
Sure, sure. I feel like... Correct me if I'm wrong, but the lease-up process might require you get to start off with that splash page and really highly customize that to your brand, and then from there, you might want to just expand that splash page into a fully customized website rather than having this templated or pre-templated website from this beautiful splash page that you've put so much time and effort into branding for, is that something that you see more often happening when people start from kind of the beginning of a new development or a lease-up, like I said.
Kristen Cardwell [0:18:32.5]:
Yeah, well, we've had a few corporate clients actually, they start out with one of the themes, and at some point, it just doesn't serve them anymore, maybe it's a very specific thing that they've requested or overtime, their portfolio grows and they just need something larger because corporate sites can become pretty heavy, they are very large, right. That definitely happens a lot. As far as lease-ups the goal is always to push our clients' brands further, so I would like to see more of our lease up clients go fully custom. A lot of them do though, they start with the theme squash page and then move into the full theme site, and then I would like to start seeing them transition into bigger things once they take off.
Nicolina Savelli [0:19:37.5]:
For sure. Now, I want to pick your brain a little bit about what's coming in multifamily design or what you've seen trending lately, can you chat a little bit about some of the design trends you've seen in the market and ones you like, dislike the most...
Kristen Cardwell [0:19:52.5]:
Right now, we're in such a weird world where everything is about virtual and user experience more than ever, so these things have always been important, especially in our industry, but now more than ever, we're really relying on these virtual interactions, whether it's virtual tours, virtual leases, live chat, bot chats, all of this, and we are focused, designers are focused on these user experience elements for sure, but we're also seeing a lot of focus in how we can kind of personalize and humanize our brand, so I've been seeing a lot more brand mascots and characters becoming part of digital brands these days, which I've definitely warmed up to more now, but there's always a place for these things, and I do think it's a smart move for a lot of companies who are missing that in-person one-on-one experience.
Nicolina Savelli [0:21:08.0]:
Right, right, that makes sense. Well, Kristen, that was my last question, and I think I learned a lot today. So thank you so much, it's been a pleasure chatting with you. And I'm sure everyone thinking about branding and marketing their properties have learned something today as well, but before you go, can you please let listeners know where they can connect with you if they have any further questions about design and branding for multifamily?
Kristen Cardwell [0:21:35.7]:
Absolutely, yeah, they can find me on LinkedIn, just under my name, Kristen Cardwell, or my design account on Instagram @KCardwelldesign.
Nicolina Savelli [0:21:47.4]:
Perfect. Awesome, well, thank you again for taking the time to join me on this episode of Get Synced. And until next time, keep swimming.
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