Having a specific brand message can help apartment owners differentiate their company and properties to fickle customers during a recession, said executives on the "Branding Blueprint" panel at the 2008 Multifamily Executive Conference this week.

"If you can get someone to be loyal to your brand, they'll be loyal to you through the good times and the bad times," said B. Kevin Thompson, vice president of marketing at AvalonBay Communities. "The company doesn't define the brand as successful; the consumer does."

Brands are mostly about consistency, Thompson added. Katherine Sabroff, vice president of marketing and operations at the Gotham Organization, a boutique New York multifamily developer, agreed, adding that brands must grow organically and change regularly to be successful.

That doesn't mean there's no return on developing a brand. That's especially important in tough economic times. At AvalonBay, Thompson said that having a specific message helped the firm cut marketing costs across the board by 15 percent. "There is an ROI on investing in your brand," he said.

At Mark-Taylor Residential in Phoenix, President Dale Phillips says the most important way to disseminate a brand is not by the CEO?it's in getting buy-in by employees at the property level. "Your brand has to permeate everything you do and be authentic," Phillips said.