We are often asked by our clients and prospects when they should begin brand strategy for a ground-up development or repositioning.
Unfortunately, most of the time, it’s begun too late. We frequently see brand strategy kick off during or even at late stages of architectural design, when many decisions have already been made, and TCO deadlines have begun to loom. Floor plans and unit mixes are set. Built amenities are decided. Finishes are chosen. Sometimes without clear understanding of who will want to live there, and why.
The answer is: sooner than you think. Much sooner.
In a perfect world, a brand strategy should be one of the very first steps of the development process, kicking off before architectural design. Here’s an important to-do list, typical building blocks of an asset’s brand strategy:
1. Understand your future tenants – One component of a thoughtful brand strategy should include a data-driven analysis of your most likely addressable market, and their key characteristics. For instance, with a multifamily project, within an approved radius of your development site, what is the total population and what is the breakdown by age groups? More importantly, how many people are there at different income levels who could afford the rent range of your intended unit mix? Within that subset, how many already own a home, and would they be willing to sell? What about families? Do they have small children at home or are they soon to be empty nesters? What do their lifestyles likely look like? What does each segment value and find meaning in? Understanding all of these key factors can have critical impact in what you build, who you’re building it for, and why.
2. Identify your competitive edge – In today’s amenity war environment, it can be hard to keep up and stand out. As development in the U.S.’s top emerging markets remains strong with cranes swinging around each other like dancers on a stage, determining how to own a corner of your (micro)market has never been more important. In a rigorous brand strategy, you should have a thorough understanding of who the existing and intended competitors are and where you can claim authentic, compelling white space to attract and retain key audiences. Identifying core differentiation opportunities as a result of a detailed SWOT is a critical step.
3. Design the ideal lifestyle experience – Having identified who your target renters are and what they want and need and aligned on your key competitors and where they’ve left a white space, you can then begin to design for truly relevant and differentiating built spaces, programming, amenities, FF&E, and even artwork, as a holistic vision and designed experience. For instance, if your addressable market study is telling you the neighborhood is most attractive to certain age and income ranges, likely to be in a specific household situation and work at three key nearby employers, you can design floor plans, unit mixes, and common areas that map well to their most likely needs and wants. Perhaps rather than putting a TV on the roof and kegerator in the lobby only to realize your top three competitors offer the same (or better), you can take a disruptive approach to amenity design and come up with something truly exceptional, brand concept-aligned, and differentiating.
A smart development strategy that will deliver a highly relevant and differentiating asset that will enable you to charge top-of-market rents and reach stabilization more quickly.
We’d love to hear from you. When do you normally start brand strategy? And what’s keeping you from starting it sooner in the process?