The sundeck at Cottonwood Bayview, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Courtesy Cottonwood Residential The sundeck at Cottonwood Bayview, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

There’s a misconception that a product rebrand is done solely for the purposes of transforming your public persona. In actuality, it can also be about empowering your team.

At Cottonwood Residential, we’re in the process of rebranding many of our communities as we transition our portfolio from primarily Class B assets to Class A. Part of the rebrand, naturally, has included discussions about the name we planned to attach to our communities.

We can poke a little fun at ourselves, because we considered several esoteric names that had nothing to do with us. We went through so many different words, names, and brainstorms before realizing the answer was right in front of us: “Why don’t we just use ‘Cottonwood’?”

Built With Pride
Using our company name in our developments works for us because our team has progressed to the point that we have such immense pride in what we build—and in our internal culture—that the Cottonwood name as a brand feels right. And to be honest, we’re not certain if that would have felt right five years ago. Maybe not even one year ago.

Where branding helps us the most is not with our residents or investors—and make no mistake, it does help with those—but probably with our employees. There’s pride in having the company name attached to our communities, the signage, and additional materials that go along with them. Rather than a made-up name that doesn’t have any real meaning, this holds a true significance for our staff.

First, Make Sure You’re Ready
The next–most valuable piece of wisdom we learned throughout the rebrand process is not to go forward until you’re ready. The rebrand was something our operations people had been pushing for a couple of years, but when it first came up, we didn’t really feel we were in the right place to do it.

We knew the decision to go forward really needed to be tied to an overall strategy change. So we started a metamorphosis over the past three years with the type of assets acquired and the structuring of our portfolio.

We had something of a workforce-housing portfolio in our early days, but for the past five years, we’ve been carefully and strategically upgrading the quality and location of what we own. We also systematically enhanced our personnel on the operational side. After making these improvements, we were finally to a place where branding makes sense.

Poolside at Cottonwood Westside in Atlanta.
Courtesy Cottonwood Residential Poolside at Cottonwood Westside in Atlanta.

Best Face Forward
While the internal benefits of rebranding certainly make the process worthwhile, the consumer-facing side of the effort also carries significance. Whether the community is in a swanky urban locale or a more-modest slice of suburbia, your brand name has to convey a quality living experience. But it’s not an overnight process, and the desired impact won’t be immediate.

Patience is key. Just like any marketing effort, you must give the process room to breathe.

We’ve started by implementing our new branding in communities that are urban and new, starting with Cottonwood Bayview (in St. Petersburg, Fla.) and Cottonwood Westside (in Atlanta). We’re still deciding whether to rebrand our less-urban and older communities, or whether we’ll choose a secondary brand for those assets instead. We’ve given ourselves the leeway to make some of those decisions on the fly so we’re not pigeonholed to a certain plan.

Backing Up the Name
As we quickly discovered early in the process, there’s much more to a rebrand than simply renaming your communities. If you want your brand to convey quality, the upscale apartment interiors, high-end finishes, and top-of-market amenities you’re promoting had better be there. That pertains to your service levels, as well.

Consistency is key when building a brand. Even if 80% of your portfolio is living up to the image you’re aiming to convey, you’d better find a way to make sure the other 20% is on board as well.

Because we’re just a midsized REIT, a rebrand is a significant step for us. The established titans in the industry might play around with branding, but many of them have already carved out their niche in the sector. As a midsized company, Cottonwood hopes to build more and more scale in various cities and create a customer experience that’s brandable.

A rebrand pertains to every portion of your portfolio—and your company. It can empower your current team members and help attract future employees. It can improve the experience of your existing residents and convey quality to prospective tenants.

It can help establish your firm as a significant player in the multifamily world.