Building customer loyalty and engagement in a Build to Rent brand

Since launching the Simple Life Homes single family housing brand, Marketing Director for Sigma shares five tips to building a Build to Rent brand.

Simple Life Homes single family housing brand community event held at one of its developments | BTR News
Simple Life Homes SFH brand community event held at one of its developments.

With single family housing (SFH) becoming a very attractive part of the Build to Rent sector, amongst both Build to Rent providers and investors, Vicky Hurcomb, Marketing Director for Sigma shares her top five tips for building a Build to Rent brand, since launching the Simple Life Homes SFH Build to Rent brand five to six years ago.

By  Vicky Hurcomb, Marketing Director, Sigma

1. The importance of having a brand 

It might sound obvious but firstly, I want to highlight the importance of having a brand in the first place, as I have seen new Build to Rent providers neglect this very important need. Your brand is at the centre of everything you do – it holds everything together. Without it, arguably, you’re just another private landlord with a large portfolio of homes. The professionalism expected from a Build to Rent landlord is lost without its brand to communicate your ethos, values and promises. Additionally, brand values have to be true, not something that just sounds attractive to be used as marketing ploy. It won’t be long before your customers feel the disconnect between who you say you are and who you actually are.  

We have also found that it reinforces the sense of belonging for residents – we’re all human and it is within our nature to feel the need to belong. We have residents that actually refer to themselves as Simple Life Families, which not only demonstrates the value in perception of a brand but also displays how it can become something that residents feel empowered to get behind and proud to be a part of. 

A brand helps to build awareness in the long-term. Google searches for variations of our brand and development names has led us to the point where we’re now gaining more leads consistently each month through our own website, even over the likes of listing portals like Rightmove and Zoopla (something I hadn’t anticipated as a possibility previously!).  

2. Building genuine communities 

Like most Build to Rent providers, building an authentic community is important. On the one hand this is slightly trickier in the SFH space where you may have sites with smaller numbers of homes and a vast number of locations (last year each of our events visited around 60 developments). Logistically this can become challenging, so keeping your events simple is key. On the other hand, there is something about housing developments that attract a genuine community feel much more naturally – whether that’s from the excitement of a new journey to moving in with others on the development, or generally being more visible to one another on the driveway or back garden.  

Your job as a landlord is to ensure you are offering the tools for a community to develop, but not always being at the forefront of that community, otherwise is it really genuine? One of the reasons we created our mobile app with a forum for each development was to make it easier for direct neighbours to get to know one another. The forum is now seeing residents’ groups such as walking clubs, cat-sitting clubs, drinks socials etc. What is important here is ensuring that as much as possible we’re encouraging residents to take ownership of their own community.  

A sense of belonging through community removes the ‘transitory’ perception that people have of renting, and cements it as a long-term prospect and alternative to owning with the same benefits of stability and sense of place.

It’s therefore important to consider the wider local community – for example, supporting local schools has a positive impact on children’s education, overall school performance, makes the area more desirable, children become settled and the family has put down roots and stay.

3. Not forgetting about your existing residents  

Churn is healthy and also provides many positives within Build to Rent, but once you factor in end of tenancy/re-marketing costs, it is important not to forget your existing residents. Like we see time and time again with the likes of phone contract providers, often older customers can get forgotten, so it is important for us to recognise our long standing existing residents too. Our events, competitions, added value content, and affiliate offers are all examples of how we are continuing to nurture our residents. 

Another advantage SFH Build to Rent providers have is the unique ability to accommodate for the ever changing needs of customers (quite literally!). With one bedroom apartments to four-bedroom homes, across multiple locations across the country, Simple Life has become uniquely placed as one of the only Build to Rent providers that can accommodate residents through various stages of their life cycle, such as upsizing, downsizing and relocations. By tracking residents’ reasons for leaving us, we can see that a proportion of residents are not actually leaving us at all, but choosing to move within the brand. 

Recommendation is consistency within our top three sources of enquiry, and we have over 100 residents who have set up their own Instagram account dedicated to their Simple Life home. In a world where everyone is on social media, where reviews carry a lot of weight and everyone longs for authenticity, this natural (and free) marketing via our own residents is powerful! Thus, it’s your residents who become your natural brand advocates and very own influencers.

4. Customers, not tenants 

Somewhere along the way, renters have felt to some degree beholden to their landlord, not reporting maintenance fixes in fear of being seen as a nuisance, or worst, being served notice. They also often feel like the landlord is doing them a favour by allowing them to rent their property. Of course, this is where a Build to Rent landlord comes in. Treat your tenants as valued customers, and not numbers – simple! 

As a Build to Rent operator focused on SFH, building a rapport can be a challenge. Unlike your city apartment blocks, it’s unlikely to have a concierge or permanent on-site office. Ensuring we look for opportunities to build relationships where possible is crucial to us. For example, we will have one specified point of contact for each development and branded handymen who become well known and trusted by residents. 

5. Managing complaints

Finally, I would urge everyone to invest in crisis management and comms – you can’t please everyone, and things won’t always go to plan especially when you’re so reliant on third parties to meet with your standards, but it’s about how you respond when things go wrong which speaks volumes.

Someone’s home is such an emotive part of their life, so it is ever so more important that when something comes in to conflict, it is handled with care. Complaints in Build to Rent can be very tricky as the customer can share their truth, but often due to GDPR and professionalism, you are very limited in being able to convey your side of the story in a public forum. Remaining personable, reasonable, demonstrating understanding, not being afraid to say sorry and taking ownership (where it is due) rather than placing blame on others, will always work in your favour. Plus, it’s not just about who you are responding to, but all the prospective future customers who may be reading your responses.