In the past couple of years, we have been hearing more and more about the evolution of hybrid shared living models. According to numerous industry experts, this will be the next step of the industry, regardless of where you are looking from. Whether it is PBSA, co-living, or hotels, it looks like the boundaries between these schemes are destined to become increasingly blurred in order to accommodate communities that go beyond the generational limits, appealing and adapting to different situations whenever is needed.
In practical terms, this means that the key to success or “industry disruption” (somewhat of an abused concept) is creating an all-encompassing brand to which students want to belong to, but also professionals, tourists, and more, it has to become something more.
There are some factors defining this shared living evolution that everyone should consider. Let’s see what they are by taking as an example a story of success. The Student Hotel (TSH).
A strong branding
The Student Hotel has a powerful image that is conveyed through colours, text, and values. As Simon Sinek says, they too, like many other successful brands in different fields, start with “Why”.
The company is naturally an early entrant, being established in 2006. This was probably instrumental in allowing them too to shape the industry themselves. In the words of the founder Charlie MacGregor the fact of being ‘outsiders’ meant coming into the industry without any constraint or mental construct about what their reality should be, and ultimately led to other brands trying to emulate their model and identity.
Going back to the visual and social identity, however, the Student Hotel gravitates around a distinctive, and most of all, consistent design. This makes it recognisable in any location. Above all is the use of a bright yellow and bold signage that is found both outside and inside their building as well as throughout their digital channels.
During one of my trips, while in Amsterdam I was almost lost searching for the hotel. As soon as I saw a bright yellow sign, and even before reading it, not only it caught my attention, but I also knew instantly that it was from TSH.
Secondly, an effective communication strategy conveys what the brand is all about. But what is it that makes it so appealing?
Four major factors contribute to this successful strategy. The first is Focus. Many competitors, sometimes with overlapping statements, hint at improving the lives of their students by giving them what they want (and they might ask themselves “do they know what we want?”), or simply offering great experiences, either vaguely or with a very broad range of topics, TSH focuses on one thing, and that’s connection between people.
In doing so, not only the brand is instantly memorable, but it also offers itself indirectly as a Solution to a Problem. A better life is surely a great thing, but very difficult to define, and very different for every person. Creating human connections is the one thing that is often a serious problem in modern society, that opens possibilities, and it is the idea that the brand stands by.
This brings us to the third point, which is Audience Definition. TSH does not appeal to everyone, at least in their communication. It explicitly defines who it is talking to. And it is someone that people want to be, or that they want to think of themselves. Its audience are the curious, the ones that want to learn, travel, stay connected, and work digitally around the world.
Finally, because entrepreneurial, and connected people can come from any path of life, a big chunk of TSH communication is also dedicated to reminding everyone that they are more than a hotel or a student accommodation. They want to be the place for every step of life. So, everyone who wants to feel part of this thriving community is invited to join.
This, of course, is not just a statement, but it is reflected in their actual model.
The Hybrid Model
The Student Hotel does address different generations with similar mindsets. According to MacGregor, they were born as a hybrid brand. This was initially dictated by Dutch regulations which forced them to be established as a Hotel brand and ultimately might have turned into a key to success.
Even now, in fact, while the major focus remains the student accommodation, the brand’s offering expands. Usually, their accommodations offer more rooms for students, but a certain number is offered for short stays with hotel services, and others, furnished as proper studio flats are thought for longer stays.
Along with the bedrooms differentiation, there are numerous facilities composing the TSH complex. Meeting rooms, game areas, restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, and so on. The last step has been to add dedicated co-working spaces called TSH Collab. This gives the brand a 360° offer.
*Source: The Student Hotel
When it comes to interior design, hybrid space has multiple meanings. It can indicate functions as well as the length of stay. Communal areas should adapt to even more diverse needs and preferences. Naturally, this makes even more complicated to develop a proper interior. But there are some expedients that can be used.
The main factor is again flexibility. A space used for breakfast should always be suited for lunches, dinners, group activities as well as study or work (even if informal) if someone desires so. Small tricks and changes depending on the different moments during the day can help adapt a space. For example, a big and organised bar counter could suit those different activities. And internal partitions in big open spaces can help to reduce the size of the room and make it cosier when needed.
Additionally, designers should create an environment that can appeal to people in different periods of their lives. So while a playful and bold style (as in the case of TSH) can appeal to a certain demographic, functionality, and ‘form-follows-function’ principles should always be kept in mind. One simple example of this is placing plugs in every space where they might be needed, regardless of its ‘basic function’. So, every table whether it is in a meeting room, restaurant, or communal lounge should have a plug available so that residents who might need to can work or study everywhere.
Another important factor is the space layout. Integration between different spaces should be as fluid as possible, to give people the opportunity to use freely the space as they see fit. After all, is not always predictable how some will prefer to use a specific area or room.
Certain use of colours, furniture, and lights can use achieving the desired result. Especially movable furniture pieces and different lighting solutions are great elements to modify a space according to momentary needs.
The Student Hotel offers an interesting example of success and innovation in shared living. Despite its advantage as an early entrant, there are several characteristics within its strategy that most likely contributed to this success. Certainly shaping a brand to attract different age groups, and wider demographics that share similar values and principles is an essential factor that helped TSH distinguish itself from the rest. The formula has been such a success that other companies as well are bringing their own interpretation of what a hybrid space should be. One is surely Greystar with OurDomain, that we talked about before. More solutions will likely start appearing soon and it will be interesting to witness what the next step of the industry will be.