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What Vinyl Records, Cereal, and Real Estate Software Have in Common

White label software is taking over tenant experience

I have no proof, but I’m fairly certain that my first New York City landlord was a retired bridge troll who bought a building in Bed Stuy. He could no longer demand that passersby solve a riddle to get past him, so instead, he got his fix for being irritating by making his tenants jump through hoops to pay their rent. He only accepted checks (no direct deposits or QuickPays) in a deposit box that he only placed in the hallway of the building on the first of the month. And the box was. Never. In. The. Same. Place. His reasoning, I later found out, was that no thief could steal the deposit box if they didn’t know where to look.

Ultimately, my old landlord was so paranoid of electronic payments, or any helpful management technologies that his tenants suffered. Granted my former bridge troll landlord was definitely an outlier, and thankfully he never handled any commercial buildings. But I imagine that I would’ve had a much easier time if he offered an app or web portal where I could pay my rent directly (sans scavenger hunt), just like many commercial property managers are doing now. But most building owners or property managers who offer them aren’t developing and programming it themselves, instead, they’re using white label software.

The vinyl frontier 

There’s an interesting history behind the white label concept: In the age of disco, pre-artwork, promotional copies of records in a white sleeve were distributed to the press and radio stations to pique consumer interest so that the manufacturer could better anticipate the correct quantity of that record to make. This marketing strategy created a phenomenon of exclusivity: only the more famous disc jockeys would have access to these blank test records, ultimately making them worth more than the finished product with the album artwork. And that’s how we got the phrase “white label.” 

“White label” eventually became a term that denoted the permitted replication and rebranding of an existing product. Like the blank record label, the name implies a blank slate that can be filled with the marketer’s own branding. White label products span things like store-brand grocery products (like Wal-Mart’s “Rice Crispers” version of Rice Krispies cereal, or Kroger’s “Toasted Oats” version of Cheerios) or products that are easy to inlay a label on, like stainless steel water bottles or tote bags. 

White label software, however, is a bit of a different story. Just like slapping a design on a physical product, white label software is software that a firm buys from a service provider that they can then rebrand as their own, allowing them to personalize their services in the digital realm. Your logo, color scheme, business name, etc. In the end, the user will not be able to tell it’s not your own work. This frees up the business owner to concentrate on growing and maintaining their portfolio. Hence why property managers are finding white label software to be an attractive solution.

The majority of white label software originates from software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies that lease out the rights to their software or charge a monthly fee. White label is ready-to-go and user-friendly, but most importantly, it’s an opportunity for a commercial real estate developer to showcase their brand. Commercial real estate firms know that a strong personal brand can help brokerages maintain a steady flow of clients while also enhancing their professional credibility. So, they often use white-label software in order to streamline their management services and for the consumer to connect directly with them, not the software company.

Tenant of merit

A good tenant experience is one that’s reinforced by reinvestment into the property and its amenities. Invest in upkeep to keep the building safe and functional and tenants will be more likely to renew their leases. The same can be said for building amenities, and what is property management software if not an attractive amenity?

Proptech businesses are devoting their time to connecting to tenants via their smartphones in an increasingly mobile world. The real stick-and-the-carrot for the optimal tenant experience is really smartphone access control. While tenants might appreciate a while-labeled mug, they really just want a single solution web portal or app. “Ideally, these platforms should support the individuality of buildings,” according to Gabby McMillan, CEO & Co-Founder of Equiem. Since white label software is usually completely customizable, it makes sense that it’s becoming more and more prevalent in the realm of property management.

The luxury of accessing building amenities like making a rent payment or a maintenance request all in one place is now becoming the norm. The same can be said for building owners and property managers who want to post an available property, estimate market rent, and conduct background checks on potential tenants on the same end-to-end solution. But those who are really thinking two steps ahead also understand the most important feature of white label software: branding.

“A commercial building once wasn’t a consumer brand, but that’s demonstrably not true now,” according to Phil Mobley, Director of U.S. Occupier Insight at Avison Young. We’re beginning to understand that buildings are no longer passive assets but active contributors to the tenant experience. By Mobley’s logic, the tenant experience is a rental property portfolio brand experience. 

Branding is what carries a business. White label property management software allows property managers to outsource professionally-developed software that they can label as their own. And just like off-brand cereal, white-labeled products come from the same manufacturers as name brands, which means the white-labeled products are just as good as the recognized brands. Almost every time, customers can’t tell the difference. 

Top shelf branding

Another reason white-labeled software is helpful for building owners and property managers is that the software is scalable as the portfolio grows because different buildings offer different sets of amenities and other experience solutions. When you think about why property managers want white label software, it’s to build a brand of a desirable place to work or live. Depending on the developer, the building owner or property manager can develop the white-labeled software without becoming bogged down in product development and production operations. 

The white label came to represent that its brand was the very absence of a brand. An empty sheet where an album cover should be. Each vinyl “test” record with a white label was often one-of-a-kind, which inspired the hype to get a hold of one. In the digital landscape, the best way to customize the tenant experience is with a mobile app, but most of the people that need property management software aren’t looking to program their own. 

Overwhelmingly, tenants want something easy, no matter the digital packaging (maybe that’s why white label cereal is more sought-after than name-brand cereal). The best tenant experience is one that’s tailor-made for the tenant’s needs and expectations for the specific building that they’re in. As McMillan puts it, “each building is a snowflake,” which is exactly why building owners and property managers want property management software that can reflect their individuality while still maintaining its polished framework.

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