Business cards have pretty much gone the way of the bustle. According to Michael Zaransky of MZ Capital Partners, it’s time to bring branding in line with today’s digital trends.

Behold the simple business card. It is in many ways a relic, an artifact of a bygone era. I still hand them out, though sometimes I wonder why.  Not only that, but I wonder how much longer I will be doing so, given the fact that I can just share the same information with a business contact through text or email.

But the business card survives, at least for the time being. It is one of the last vestiges of a time when companies were branded and marketed in a markedly different fashion than they are today. That very much includes MZ Capital Partners, the Northbrook, Illinois-based private equity real estate firm for which I serve as managing principal. 

In the fast lane

We operate in the multifamily space and have done so since 1979. That means we have seen branding evolve from the print era to the digital age. Everything is online now. Everything is immediate. There is an accent on speed, speed and more speed. All our touch points — our website, mobile app and social media feeds — must be on point.

Here’s an example of the way things have progressed: We used to print out, on glossy paper, a brochure that listed our bona fides, and we then shared it with potential business partners. Every year we would go to great lengths to update this thing, and for a long time it was a valuable tool.

However, about two years ago we realized that we no longer had any use for them; we were left with a box of extras at year’s end, which we just had to discard. Now, I have the same information listed on a PDF that I keep on my phone and iPad. When someone needs or wants it, I can share it with them electronically.

Besides the business card, about the only other item we have in hard copy anymore is a handout we give to those potential tenants who take in-person tours of one of our properties in the Chicago area, Tennessee or Texas. People still seem to like having something in hand when they visit a place. (And I would emphasize that while virtual tours are very much in vogue — and, as a result, very much a staple of every real estate company’s website — there is still considerable value in seeing a place with the naked eye. You get a sense of what it might be like to live there, what the surrounding area is like, how easy or difficult it might be to access public transportation, supermarkets, shops, entertainment, restaurants, etc.)

All digital, all the time

Other than those two things, it’s all digital, all the time. Our marketing team, which used to be involved with such matters as negotiating newspaper ad rates and placing those ads, has now developed an expertise for digital design and the like. Moreover, the members of that team are keenly aware that we must stay current. Social media posts must always be updated and announcements and specials must always be listed on our website.

This is in keeping with the larger digital trends. Lease execution and rent payments take place online. Service calls can be made via web portals. Residents gain access to their units — not to mention common areas, business centers or exercise facilities — via key fobs, and those receiving a package in the mail are alerted via text message.

Personally, I feel I am well-versed in digital matters, though not as well-versed as my 7-year-old grandson. And it is digital natives like him who have and will comprise our client base going forward. They expect everything to be on their phones, and it is up to companies like ours to meet their needs and expectations.

Consistent and persistent

It is up to us to differentiate our brand online. We must be consistent (not to mention persistent) in doing so. I’ve heard experts say that it has reached the point now that people are buying experiences rather than just the brand. When people go to McDonald’s now, they’re not there necessarily just buying a hamburger and fries; they’re there because of the speed and the ease of using the kiosk and that whole experience. Same thing with Starbucks: It’s an experience.

I think that probably applies to multifamily properties. You’re buying the experience of a place to live. You’re not just buying a box apartment to live in. You’re buying the amenities, you’re buying the look and feel, you’re buying the public spaces, the community events that are planned. You buy the on-site management for people to bond with the community. You’re buying the overall living experience.

That being the case, we have to be attuned to prospects’ preferences, something that’s possible to do through conversations, surveys and by collecting data. We also have to establish what we stand for and communicate that across all channels. And again, we have to be consistent.

In short, the means and method of branding have changed markedly over the years. But the bottom line has stayed much the same: You have to deliver quality. You have to ensure that your brand stands for something of substance. And you have to make that abundantly clear to consumers.

Michael H. Zaransky is the founder and managing principal of MZ Capital Partners in Northbrook, Illinois. Founded in 2005, the company deals in multifamily properties.

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