Affordable Housing Deserves Great Branding

Contributed by Anna-Lea Dieringer, Virtual Marketing Officer

I read a fantastic book a couple of months ago: John Cary’s Design for Good: A New Era of Architecture for Everyone. Being in the real estate marketing space, I expected to be interested in the topic, but I didn’t expect to be as intrigued by it as I was or as moved by its stories. I found each case study fascinating and inspiring ­– I was hooked.

John recognizes that architectural design, and especially good design, has been seen as a luxury, the province of the rich, not the poor.

He argues this shouldn’t be acceptable to those of us in the design fields, nor to those affected by design that doesn’t consider human aspects.

I agree with him, and I would extend his argument even further – to branding.

Thoughtful, human-centered design is essential to creating great places for people to live and work. Thoughtful brand strategy grounded in people’s values, desires, and identities is also critical – and the brand concept often guides architectural design in diverse, crowded, and competitive urban environments we typically work in.

Brand concepts should be grounded in prospective and current residents’ wants and needs, key strengths authentic to the property and the land it’s on, and points of differentiation between this home and the others around it, neighbors or competitors. In our multifamily and commercial office work, the brand concept should precede architectural design stages or at minimum should be done in parallel, inspiring and influencing the other. Brand strategy, including positioning, value proposition, name, and visual identity, should inform other built space design decisions, such as resident amenities, events, and interiors, including furniture and artwork choices.

I often see affordable housing projects with unimaginative names and uninspired visual identities, and it both frustrates and saddens me. At VMO, we think affordable housing and the people who live in them deserve the same degree of imagination and inspiration that market rate housing and the people who live in them deserve. Terrible names and logo designs often cost about the same as good names and good designs, but without the reward.

Every person deserves to feel proud of his or her home’s unique identity. Its concept. Its name. Its wordmark, and its symbol.

A friend introduced me to John, and I had the pleasure of chatting with him a couple of months ago about this topic. John was very supportive of my interest in branding affordable housing with equal care and creativity to market rate projects. We talked through a few ideas for ways to help, and ultimately, he suggested I reach out to a developer I know who has affordable housing in his or her portfolio already.

So we did.

One of our favorite clients has a robust affordable housing portfolio as part of his asset mix. He is passionate about creating and managing high quality affordable housing for several communities in the Pacific Northwest region. We’ve approached him about providing discounted and pro bono brand strategy, naming and logo design services for his affordable properties, and we’ve begun to discuss the possibilities ahead of us.

We hope to partner with an enlightened developer to deliver a top-notch brand strategy – including a great name and logo – for an affordable asset by end of year.

I’m excited about the idea of VMO giving back to communities and people, as well as the industry, in this way. We work on multifamily projects all the time, and we know how important brand strategy is to residents feeling connected to and proud of their homes. An attractive, compelling, and differentiating brand helps drive interest, satisfaction, and retention. Not only that, it instills a sense of place. Of pride. Of ownership, even when leasing.

We can’t wait to tell you more about our first affordable housing brand strategy.

And we want to hear about yours.

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