Before transitioning into apartment syndication full-time, I spent 15 years in the world of Advertising, Branding and Strategy. My primary job was to identify and understand the target consumer for a particular product or brand, and then make sure the product or message we created resonated with that target. I got to travel all over the world doing interesting research and learn about different types of people.
Once I started investing in Real Estate, my passion for creating passive income and wealth led me to eventually walk away from the career path I was on and start my own Real Estate Investment company. When I was making these life-altering decisions, what I never predicted was that spending all those years doing branding was actually the perfect education to be a successful real estate investor.
As a strategist, my job had three main components. In this article I’m going to outline each of those three components and talk about how I use that skillset to my advantage in real estate.
Understand your target audience.
“Be the voice of the consumer” was often a quote used to describe my previous role. Its not enough to just know that your target is say, “Millennials 19-29, with an income of $40,000 – $60,000 who live within 5 miles of their job.” My job was to uncover their attitudes and beliefs. In marketing jargon—move beyond their Demographics and understand their Psychographics. What does it mean to be a Millennial? Why do they value living within 5 miles of their job? Is it because they despise traffic and don’t want a long commute? Or because they don’t own a car and use public transportation? Or because they are super career driven, work a ton of hours and life is based around their job? Each of these questions give you a very different understanding about what is important to that group, and what motivates them. We would use that information to build a target profile and create products and messages to appeal to who they are—beyond simply being a 24-yr old that lives close to work.
In our real estate business, we have applied that same mentality and process to identify who our target audience is. And in this case we have multiple target audiences.
Tenants. For each property we evaluate, I am thinking about who the tenants currently are, and who the ideal tenant is. Does this property appeal more to families with young kids or the young professional crowd? Moving beyond just the demographics—what is important to this group of people? If you are located next door to a school, one group of tenants (young professionals) may see that as a negative, while for another group (families with kids) it might be the main reason they want to live there. Understanding the tenant base, and their reasons for living in your community are critical to marketing the apartments and determining which amenities to focus on and install.
Investors. We buy our apartments with investors as partners. For our business to prosper, we need to earn the trust of investors, and understand who they are and what motivates them. We think about why they like to invest in real estate vs. the stock market. What is their investing experience? What background and industries do they come from? Where do they live? What is their risk profile? Once we build a relationship with someone and can answer these questions, we can segment them in our database—and present them with investment opportunities based on who they are and how they think.
Brokers and Owners. They have what we want—a property or a listing of a property that fits our criteria. But we aren’t the only one that wants what they have. So thinking about who your target is here helps you present compelling offers and build strong relationships on an individual basis. Why is that owner selling? Are they a large corporation or a mom and pop owner? Is a quick close and hard money more important than a top of the market offer? We create this target persona for each deal we work on. And the answers to those questions change our approach—based on who the target audience is and what their motivations are.
Define the Brand.
I spent a lot of time doing brand development work for large companies—which ended up being some of my favorite projects. Developing, defining and creating a brand out of thin air—and then applying meaning to it based on the logo you choose, the language you use and manner in which you present yourself. Brands are incredibly important. Brandz is an annual study run by a global research company that calculates who the most valuable brands are and how much they are worth. Their 2017 study says that Google has the most valuable brand in the world—worth $245 BILLION. This is not the revenue or profits from the company or anything related to the tangible pieces of their business—just what the brand is worth. From a company who’s name is made up. And uses fun colors to attract search visitors. Powerful stuff. We think about brand in two ways:
Our Brand—the Wildhorn Capital brand. This is who we are to investors and brokers. So it’s obviously tied to the target market conversation above. But what does that brand stand for? And how do we bring it to life? First and foremost, we want to be taken seriously as professionals. So everything we do is done in a professional manner. We respond to emails, answer the phone and generally try to carry ourselves as someone you can trust and count on. If we say we are going to do something, we follow up. At the same time, we aren’t stiff and formal. We like to wear jeans and loafers to the office. We don’t pressure people. And we are proud of our Texas roots and our Texas focus. We blend all of that up and present the world with Wildhorn Capital. Our website, our logo, our business cards, and the way we carry conversations are all a reflection of our brand.
Our apartments—their individual brand. This is who we are to our residents and potential residents. When we buy a property, we typically rebrand it and change the name. At the very least we update the look and feel of the signage and the overall property. What will that brand stand for? Yes, it will embody many of the same qualities our overall brand stands for. But what is unique about the property’s location? How will we differentiate ourselves from the competition? Are there things we want to highlight in our marketing materials to give us an advantage? How we bring that brand to life is critical in the overall positioning and success of our deals. Brand matters.
Develop the story.
The best brands tell stories and connect with people. We are always the telling the story of our company. And we are constantly trying to identify what the story is, and can be, as we evaluate properties. Again, always with the target audience(s) in mind.
Our story is pretty simple. A marketing and advertising guy moved home to Austin and started buying rental properties on the side. Along the way he built a pretty decent portfolio -–but more importantly he fell in love with a new business—apartment investing. He partnered with a structural engineer with complimentary skill sets, and today they buy value add apartment deals, that they reposition and operate to create profits for their investors.
When I tell that story, the language I use and casual nature in my writing style is important—its part of my overall brand. Its who I am as a person so its authentic and who we want to be as Wildhorn Capital.
When we look at apartments to buy—I’m constantly evaluating the story. How will we position this property? Why is it being sold? Who is selling it? What is the current tenant base? The acquisition we are currently working on has my marketing brain working overtime: It is located in a thriving city, in the best part of that city where rents are growing twice the rate of the overall market. It is surrounded by Class A retail and adjacent to the biggest employment base in the city. It hasn’t been upgraded at all, feels tired and has frontage on a major street that will allow us to do all sorts of interesting marketing things. We’re currently researching name options and determining how we want to paint the property and outfit the leasing center and pool area. We get to create a brand new brand and I couldn’t be more excited about positioning it in the market.
The bottom line is that after spending 15 years doing agency-branding work, I thought I was changing careers as I moved into real estate. The reality is I still use the same muscles I’ve developed, and I believe I’m a better real estate investor because I look at things from a marketing perspective.
What’s your brand story?