Opinion / 28.03.18 / 4 min read

The game has changed for student accommodation

We thought we had it good…

The game has changed for student accommodation

Cast your mind back to your student days. And more specifically, your student accommodation. You find yourself plonked with a bunch of strangers in a boxy old halls complex, single bed, messy kitchen, you name it. Second year. You probably migrated into a slightly dishevelled yet charming house, surrounded by mismatching furniture, booze bottles and toast crumbs. A little damp wasn’t enough to dampen your spirits! And that overgrown garden grew wild and free, like your housemate’s dodgy beard.

The reality is that you probably paid over the odds for lacklustre student living, through lack of choice. That was the way of the world – we all accepted it and went about our lives without batting an eyelid, because we’d been fed a narrative all our lives that student life meant crummy accommodation, and that was that.

Oh how times have changed!

Standards high, saunas hot

Having worked in the student accommodation industry for many years on brands such as Unite and Victoria Hall Management, we have witnessed an evolution of market and audience first hand.

Deluxe student living, from HIMOs to purpose-built halls, is on the up. Student accommodation today boasts saunas, gyms, free breakfasts, room cleaners and a programme of enviable social and wellness events – as standard. And students are indirectly demanding more than just a place to lay their heads.

“The role of accommodation in social integration and making friends is important. 45% for those planning to live in private halls.” (Unite report)

Student housing standards are higher, particularly in the private halls market, and with more and more purpose built accommodation complexes vying for students’ attention, we are seeing a shift towards a brand experience model, for companies wanting a bite of the pie.

Awareness and value

The reality is, both UK and international students are more discerning now than ever before.

These days, the cost of student life is eye-wateringly high. With increased course fees and fewer maintenance grants comes higher student loans. And with an under-supplied housing market per number of students, comes higher accommodation costs. Students are paying more and as a result, are increasingly concerned with value – both financially and socially. Studies, lifestyle and wellbeing are all front of mind, leaving archaic perceptions of boozy student life in the dust. Students are studying harder and drinking less on the whole – with one-fifth of them now teetotal, the popularity of alcohol-free halls is also on the up.

‘With an increasingly competitive graduate jobs market and the rising cost of higher education, discerning customer behaviour is causing universities [and accommodation brands] to rethink the whole student journey’ (Deloitte)

Tough questions, honest answers

The key to building a solid brand experience lies in fully understanding your target audience. Gathering on the ground, consumer research. And lots of it. A website wallpapered with shutterstock images of students just doesn’t cut the mustard – so why are brands still churning it out? Strategic input is essential to achieve real cut through. Brand experience needs to start at the root of your brand identity, flow through your entire online experience and manifest in the students’ living experience, in order to truly set you apart, generate trust and increase market share.

Brands need to ask:

“How can we get to know the student audience better?”

“How can we make life easier for them?”

“Is our customer experience truly better than the competition? And if not, what needs to change to ensure that it is?”

A whole Host of success

Mr B & Friends completed a brand transformation programme for student accommodation provider Victoria Hall management Ltd, delivering a new brand positioning, name, identity, trademark, brand guidelines and transactional website. Rebranded as Host, derived from the functional idea of ‘homes for students’, the brand positioning centres around ease and hassle free customer experience. Creatively speaking, the iconic branding system uses an H as a ‘pause’ device, with playful imagery and key messages.

Louise Cant, Marketing, Sales & Communications Manager of Host said the company was: “thrilled to see the results of the last 18 months of hard work and collaboration. We needed a brand partner that truly understood our business, had a passion for our vision as a business and of course could develop a new brand that excites the market.”

As leading experts in the student accommodation industry, we’d be happy to talk to you about your branding and strategy requirements. Contact Paul, our Business Director, on:


0117 4400 600

Sarah Dennis

Marketing Director