Reimagining an Undifferentiated Brand


Assignment: Take a brand name with limited positive consumer equity; revitalize the core product; design entirely new branding; and then strategically unleash the brand to the world, establishing it as a trusted resource in consumers’ journey to find a place they love.

Sounds like a business school assignment, right? In this case, it was CoStar Group’s opportunity to take an apartment-rental resource segment with no clear market leadership, introduce a product with unparalleled features and benefits, and redefine how consumers think about the category.

Here’s how we approached our Apartments.com brand:

1) Define the challenge

Our primary goal was to drive broad brand awareness and increase traffic to Apartments.com. By meeting renters’ needs, instead of catering exclusively to landlords like other rental websites have done, we sought to become the ultimate ally for apartment searchers. With an addressable market of 100 million Americans who rent their homes, we aimed to introduce Apartments.com to their consideration set and establish ourselves as a trusted resource for their search.

2) Develop a distinct identity

Apartment hunting isn’t an activity that’s typically considered exciting or fun. So, we challenged our ad agency RPA to make the campaign memorable and unexpected and to forge a unique voice and visual identity.

Because we were launching a “dot-com” for apartments, we created a campaign that parodied a Silicon Valley tech launch. We presented the site as the most paradigm-shifting thing to hit the tech world in decades and summed it up with the high-minded tag line “Change your apartment. Change the world.”

Creating an iconic character is a great way to make a brand recognizable among consumers. So, we created Brad Bellflower, a parody of a visionary tech leader, and chose eccentric, intellectual actor Jeff Goldblum to play him.

The campaign took shape mimicking other tech launches with self-important keynote speeches, grand dark stages, and beautiful, ultra-modern graphics. These elements would become the signature visual language of the campaign, or as we dubbed it: our “Web 5.0” look and feel. Through parody, our goal was to create a look that would rival the design of iconic tech advertising.

3) Broadly introduce the brand, then refine

We designed our marketing efforts to speak to an 18- to 49-year-old target audience to effectively establish the Brad Bellflower character at launch. We also used social channels to give more depth to Brad’s personality by allowing his persona to flex his maverick muscles in the digital environments. “Tweetstorms,” animated GIFs, “screenshorts” and a mix of short- and long-winded missives from Brad texturized the character in a differentiated voice.

Our media buy is an expansive, year-long, national, regional, local, and hyper-local plan designed to reach 95% of our target audience and spark excitement for Apartments.com.

To reach a mass audience, seven unique TV spots are airing across more than 70 network programs and 30 cable networks. Equally important was for the marketing team to think big with high-profile online media. Executions are planned in Wired, Gizmodo, and Lifehacker, targeting tech-themed creative platforms.

 

We multiplied the value of our investments by synchronizing messaging across multiple platforms. For instance, the campaign’s first TV spot aired during the season premiere of The Walking Dead and continued to feature a different spot during each consecutive episode. Just before the first TV spot launched, we seeded two heavily targeted posts on Twitter and Facebook referencing The Walking Dead, which generated outsized engagement and reach.

Similarly, we developed creative that aligns with established tentpole events, such as March Madness, where we tailored the creative to be more contextually relevant, like comparing the odds of picking the perfect bracket to picking the perfect apartment.

To make Brad’s presence known throughout everyday life and remain top-of-mind among consumers, we’re using extensive out-of-home placements in 15 markets on bulletins and posters, rail/subway stations, wrapped trains, transit shelters, and street kiosks.  

The goal now is to narrow the target audience to those who are most likely to interact with Apartments.com in the short term.

4) Cater to intenders

For our in-market approach, we aimed to convert the awareness generated in the initial branding phase into action. We employed an audience-centric programmatic campaign targeting users who have demonstrated an intent to rent. We’re leveraging our world-class technology stack to uncover this intent and identify an individual’s desire to move, which can be inferred by pinpointing the occurrence of life events like engagement, birth of a child, or a new job. 

Beyond the media, we’re aggressively pursuing renters who begin their search on search engines using the largest search engine marketing (SEM) program in the apartment industry. The combination of organic traffic and aggressive SEM ensures that we will attract a dominant share of the renter audience searching on the Internet for an apartment.

The first week showed a 99% increase in site traffic. We also saw a 7,000% increase in our Facebook impressions and a 32,000% increase in post-engagement. Brad is well on his way to changing the world.

5) Key takeaways from the Apartments.com experience:

  1. Develop a strongly branded identity consistently across all platforms
  2. Create a breadth of messaging across media channels
  3. Produce unique, thoughtful content based on where the placement lives
  4. Synchronize all marketing disciplines with your brand platform idea—one  voice that connects one to another

About the author:

Mark A. Klionsky is SVP of Marketing at CoStar Group Inc, parent company of Apartments.com and real estate’s leading provider of information, analytics, and online marketplaces. He has over 30 years of marketing and communications experience, including more than 25 years in commercial real estate.

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