The untapped potential of brand in property

February 16, 2015 / Alice / No Comments

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In real estate, brand is often treated like pixie dust. Labelled “lifestyle,” it gets sprinkled over more meaningful details like location, square footage and views in an effort to attract tenants and make sales. But as pixie dust, brand doesn’t last…and last is what it needs to do to provide the greatest benefit to both people and place.

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In general, brand arrived late to real estate. In the 15 years I spent in the property industry, I observed brand go from being strictly the preserve of hoteliers and retailers to what is now a design and development buzzword. Far from the immersive brand experience offered by hotels and shops, however, the demand for brand by residential, commercial office and shopping center developers has largely been limited to adding gloss to the sales and tenanting process.

The truth is, for many developers and owners, that’s probably enough. If it gets tenants and buyers in the door, it doesn’t really matter if the “brand” is skin deep. And when the development equation doesn’t extend much beyond the point of sale, it’s hard to argue for investment in a longer-term, more deeply rooted solution.

But it does mean untapped benefits. There’s a big difference between marketing a property and its brand: Marketing might be the reason people buy, but brand is the reason people stay. All those desirable markers of a successful long-term business model like repeat sales and renewed leases can result from brand. The elusive social currency like loyalty, ambassadorship and referrals: They also come from brand. So how do you get it?

1. Start by calling it “experience”.

In the general sense, brand is the impression or feelings people have of a company or product. In property, these impressions can most closely be described as experience. Experience is completely personal to the user and involves every aspect of a place, from the sounds, smells and sights to the operations and programming. For this reason, a brand cannot exist in a building or a place without joined-up thinking, a clearly defined story, and a genuine commitment to telling that story across every user touchpoint.

2. Don’t let it be an afterthought. 

To create a holistic experience, a brand must be defined at the start of the development process. All too often, developers will seek to “create a brand” for a new development far too late…long after the market research has been done, the building designed, and the construction half-way complete. To be truly effective, brand must be woven into business and operational model, executed through every aspect of the design, and fulfilled by the marketing strategy. It should be rooted in an understanding of the market needs and desires. Every decision should be vetted against it.

3. Step away from the context.

Property lifestyle brands all seem to come from the same source: context. While it’s a noble gesture to root experience in local history and location, the experience of a place cannot end there. Not only are there not enough distinctive locations and interesting histories to give every property a unique position, but also the effect is only skin deep. Calling a riverfront property “River View” might be appropriate, but it does not a complete user experience make. Dig deeper to create a truly differentiated offer that addresses an untapped need in your target market.

4. Reach into your own brand.

One of the challenges of branding properties is knowing the role of the developer/owner brand. Even the most well-known property companies might not have a consumer brand, so drawing from those values doesn’t always seem useful. But it’s worth a re-think. Shopping center developers like Westfield have leveraged their own brands to provide a richer and more meaningful experience for shoppers and tenants. It could be a good opportunity for you to strengthen your corporate brand while giving your users something deeper to buy in to.

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