Spatial Experience

Branding and Communication in student housing: interview with Bart Sasim from Spatial Experience

The student housing sector has been growing very fast in recent years and there has been huge focus on brands: revamping old ones, differentiating existing ones across different markets and also creating new ones. Why is the brand and brand identity so important? What do we need to consider when we plan communication to our target audience? We have talked to Bart Sasim from Spatial Experience to get his expert view.

Bart, tell us about SPX and what you do.

We are a team of interdisciplinary, ambitious and experienced professionals dedicated to providing specialised market expertise and helping brands adapt to the fast-changing landscape of the student housing, co-living and co-working industry. A one-stop shop for creative solutions, Spatial Experience aims to present our partners with a hassle-free experience where all the marketing tools needed to turn concepts into commercial real estate projects are at arm’s reach. Our services range from concept creation & strategy to branding, online & offline marketing, digital & print and new media solutions. Recently we have even introduced innovative tools within new media such as 360-degree video & photo production, drone shoots and virtual tours to help our partners adapt to the digital-driven times and attract the nomad generation as well as the Gen Z student. We believe this is the way of the future.

What is your experience within the student housing sector?

For the last 6 years we have shaped and built student housing and co-living brands from their early beginnings to their grown-up states. We brought student housing concepts to life and assisted and managed their growth as part of their internal team. At the rise of the PBSA movement, SPX was brought into a collaborative project with The Student Hotel to help introduce its new hybrid model of long-term student housing meets short-term guest accommodation to the market. Over the course of a 2-year partnership, I became an extension to their internal team, helping to fulfil their aim to build a connected community through the execution of online and offline marketing campaigns among other activities, that appealed to their target audience of millennials. We gained extensive knowledge of the market during this time and developed innovative processes to facilitate the creation of top-notch strategies and implement them in our marketing and branding solutions. The success of these innovative strategies is evident in our creative partnership with Staytoo Apartments. From the time the brand launched in 2016 to the present day, Staytoo Apartments has gained significant brand awareness and popularity amongst local and international students alike. It has also achieved remarkable scale with five locations already in full operation and plans to move into international (other) markets. We’re very happy to have been a part of such great collaborations!

Why is a brand so important for a student accommodation operator?

For student accommodation operators possessing a strong and recognisable brand creates more success, it adds significant value & ensures faster growth. People fall in love with brands, they form relationships with them, and develop trust because something from the brand story relates to them on a personal level. Students today are looking for versatile life experiences that will foster their personal and professional growth. What speaks to them isn’t just finding a place to eat, sleep, work and repeat- it’s the promise of community, convenience, & global connectedness embedded in your brand identity as a PBSA operator that ultimately convinces them that they have to choose your brand over another.In the end, your brand is what defines the value that will make you stand out in a densely crowded marketplace.

What is your view on brand identity and communication?

There’s a saying that goes “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” How a brand is perceived is ultimately what creates the make or break factor in determining whether a brand is going to succeed. The ideal goal for operators is to make their guests co-creators of their brand. Today word of mouth marketing is one of the most powerful tools a company can leverage, but results are only seen once a powerful brand positioning strategy is put into place.

In a market that is continually changing, positioning takes advantage of changes in demographics, technology, marketing cycles, consumer trends, and gaps in the market to find new ways of appealing to the target audience. We guide our clients in activating touch-points that present the best opportunity to engage with their customers and create unique and positive experiences throughout their customer journey. We’ve adopted practices from the hospitality sector in terms of creating memorable encounters at every step of the client acquisition process and long after they’ve left- offline and online. These are the areas where we believe new media solutions will have the greatest impact.

 What are your top 3 advices for operators that are starting to create their own brand or going through a process of re-branding?

  • Be flexible and aware of the changes happening around you. Immense generational shifts are taking place around us- in terms of a new way of thinking, communicating, and living. Each generation connects to brands in a different way – and its crucial to stay on top of these differences.
  • The integration of characteristic spaces in your PBSA offering is vital; each space should showcase well-thought out design and unique flare. Technology is a huge part of our daily lives & you need to find a way to find the balance between the digital space and the space that you’re offering. The “Instagrammability of spaces” will be the factor that pushes your brand recognition to far-reaching corners online and offline. #staysocial
  • Make your customers co-creators of your brand & involve them in every aspect of your brand story. Go above and beyond to create an experience that they’ll want to share with their peers and foster a true sense of #livingthebrand.

You often talk about consistency, especially when we use the brand across different channels, why is this so important?

Indeed, consistency is our mantra and we pay significant attention to strong & consistent messages. I believe that especially nowadays (digital/information age) there is a need to stay consistent throughout various media, both online and offline, in order to unify brand message. Whether you use print, digital, owned or paid media you are essentially sending messages and if this communication uses different “radio waves” the receiving party will struggle to read and understand the full picture.

End customer (especially new generations, Gen Y & Z) trust brands they recognise. Therefore, brand awareness is not just about getting brand name out there. Coherent language whether it is visual or spatial plays a big role in perception of a brand, it adds value and strengthens brand recognition. How a brand is perceived influences its success, regardless of whether it is a real estate start-up, a large hospitality organisation or a product. Our team, as part of the core target group, helps end customers to navigate through overwhelming amount of information to get to know and connect to brands in the most efficient and consistent way, projecting brand attributes and forming stronger relation with their customers on a personal level.