Today, in almost every industry, customers expect a highly personalised experience. Gone is the “one-size-fits-all”, and people even in lower segments of the market, not just the top ones, look for a service that fits their own specific needs. This is a consequence and at the same time, it is enabled by technology. Our daily life through the internet, social media, streaming services, and the likes, are all highly personalised. No one gets the same, and as our real and digital lives become more intertwined every day, companies need a tool to offer the same (or a similar) level of personalisation with their services. This is coming for many in the form of membership.
Memberships are and will play an increasingly important role in the development of shared living schemes, PBSAs, co-workings, and so on.
First, though, let’s have a look at some connected emerging trends that the pandemic brought forward in the past two years.
The pandemic brought some key trends and issues in the PBSA sector to our attention. As others we mentioned previously, for instance when talking about mental wellbeing, some of these were already developing in the pre-Covid years, but the virus breakout accelerated the change. In this context, the development of different accommodation types changed significantly as well in these two years.
Nenad Manasijevic from TP Bennet discussed the topic for Property Week’s Student Accommodation Insider Interview. Generally speaking, the need for safety, social distancing, and wellbeing, created the request for more independence. So, investors have been shifting toward an increased studio provision over regular clusters. Studios have become somewhat of a preferable option in several cases, and some operators have been acquiring studio developments rapidly.
Secondly, it also changed the approach to the organisation of social spaces, favouring the ‘Club Studios’ formula. This consists of smaller studios, still organised around the social living of communal areas like cluster kitchen and living areas, but also offering the option of private cooking and dining. Or alternatively, an alternative type of apartment, which is composed of just two ensuite rooms sharing a kitchen, which still offers the possibility of social interactions with others while avoiding larger groups.
These trends highlight the long-term need for more variety. As mentioned, we move toward an industry that caters to its target audience in a much more personalised way.
So, what we will likely see more and more of in the future is the mix of various solutions for rooms, ensuites, and studios, as well as for communal areas, with shared kitchens and other communal areas either for a few residents, or large clusters that can accommodate up to 15-20 people.
Right within the experience-tailoring theme falls the idea of residents’ membership, which also complements perfectly the strong branding that every property manager adopts to distinguish itself from competitors.
One of the keys to success, in the current market, has been to create a community of like-minded people that in turn translates into a healthy and cooperative group. This also helps to improve brand loyalty. Companies like Gravity Co-Living are already experimenting with different forms of membership.
To these more additional packages can be added or specified to make sure each resident gets exactly what he/she needs.
The subscription opens up possibilities for various models that can follow a person in different moments of a career. From student life to later stages, all while creating a proper sense of belonging. This model took also a further step going beyond the “physical product”. Companies like All Bright, are experimenting with two different levels of service. A more traditional (and expensive) one that gives access to all the facilities and correlated services and events, and a digital one. The digital membership is something that can help property managers to expand their audience and drive more clients. For a fairly low price, people can become part of that special community through social media, digital events, and in some cases by participating in activities organised within the accommodation, or co-working facilities.
Technology is the one tool that through big data made the difference in transforming an experience into a personalised journey. And this too is an aspect of the students’ lives and people living in shared schemes that have been impacted significantly by the pandemic.
During the lockdown, lessons, and courses, have helped people stay occupied and connected, which was extremely important to limit the sense of isolation.
Virtual tours and a wider offer of online services already make the experience more personalised and unique than ever. Digital communities are becoming more important, and virtually every app today has a social component. From the one, you use for the gym to the ones dedicated to specific products. The boundaries between our real and virtual worlds are more blurred than ever. So, access to specific events, or services, given to members and people particularly active within a community can be a game-changer for property managers.
Now, even the world of cryptocurrencies and the latest trend in NFTs are slowly entering the world of shared living. A project developed by Digital Nomads Summit promises access to an exclusive club on an island through the purchase of NFTs from a specific collection. The membership should then give access to a wealth of opportunities in networking, investment, and more. We are not sure how it is going to go, but in this booming market that in 2021 reached a sales volume of $13.2 billion, the opportunities are many. It must be noted that as it is still unregulated and extremely young, the NFT market attracted also a lot of criticism, due to its energy inefficiency with blockchain's transaction validation and subsequent carbon footprint, as well as for the high number of scams throughout the internet. So while very interesting, as a separate topic it must be treated with extreme care.
While this is just an example, it is an interesting case that shows the potential of this technology for new ideas, especially with digital nomads and Gen Z that are buying into it. With the advent of a metaverse, more and more physical assets will have a digital twin, and why not places like co-working and co-living? This is something that was teased several years ago, by early experiments like Second Life. But today, technology caught up to the internet's potential. So we can quite confidently say that we have seen nothing yet.
It is difficult to draw a roadmap of the industry’s direction as technology moves so fast, and new trends emerge every day. However, it might be easier to identify those that are here to stay. Memberships and clubs for residents or digital brand enthusiasts are only in the early stages for the serviced accommodation industry. But they definitely open up a range of opportunities for managers to improve their customer journey personalisation, and in turn brand loyalty.
The contribution of new tech like NFTs and the development of digital spaces through an upcoming metaverse will change the very essence of a customer journey. Establishing a closer relationship through subscription with a highly personalised service could be key to staying afloat while looking for the right direction in this stormy digital sea.
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