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Charlie Smith Design

Charlie Smith Design


Go with the wild card: Why fresh eyes will bring exciting results for your property brand

You want a property brand strategy that sets a new agenda, avoids a cookie-cutter response, and helps you negotiate bumps in the road? You need someone who’s got lots of experience – in other sectors

By Charlie Smith, creative director, Charlie Smith Design

If you’re an agent or developer looking for a brand design partner to work with on a major new project, chances are you’ll be considering a property specialist, someone with a proven track record of marketing and branding developments. It stands to reason – they’ll have a broad understanding of the sector and know what works best. They’ll probably have spreadsheets full of statistics that demonstrate the effectiveness of their tried and tested approach.

But if you want to push the agenda, make a difference and stand out, looking beyond the confines of a specific sector can lead to more interesting and effective outcomes. While it might feel like the safer option to stick to home turf, safe rarely elicits the most innovative results. So perhaps you should consider broadening your search and employing an agency with a cross-sector modus operandi.

Right now, the property market is full of brands that look pretty similar. Perfect-bound glossy brochures, branded hoardings, classic logos. Often with a limited palette, a serif typeface, and a slick corporate vibe. It’s a safe formula, and it has remained largely unchanged for decades.

An agency used to working in the sector will, of course, know what does well. But, there can be a tendency when operating within your comfort zone to take the path of least resistance. Similar routes are explored and things can end up looking a bit same-old-same-old. Why take a risk?

An agency outside your sector won’t have such a pre-tailored viewpoint and is therefore more likely to try different things and come up with new angles. (Plus, you’ll have a motivated team, ready for a fresh challenge!)

Branding’s broader role

There’s no doubt that the traditional methods work well for particular consumer profiles (we wouldn’t still be seeing them otherwise), but property branding has the potential to play a much broader role – and these days, that’s increasingly important.

It can do so much more than communicate fixtures and fittings, square footage and local amenities. Done well, property branding can smooth the way for developers moving into new areas. It can persuade local communities that the people who have moved into their neighbourhood, thrown up hoardings and set about transforming their surroundings understand and care about who they are and what’s important to them.

The right branding – one with a tone of voice that demonstrates sensitivity and community awareness – has the potential to make people feel acknowledged and heard. Without it, resentment can build up, communication can break down, and that isn’t good for communities or developers.

When we worked with Cadogan on its hoardings for a development in London’s fashionable Chelsea, we wanted to create something that a) made sense in that chic retail district and b) didn’t shout out brand messaging to every passer-by, many of whom didn’t fall into the target consumer base (they were just shopping). The results expressed the brand message in a modern, nuanced way – and acted as an interesting art installation for everyone in the vicinity.

Similarly, on a project for the same developer on King’s Road, redeveloping the iconic Habitat store which had been a major fixture since 1973, we wanted our work to reference the fact that the world-famous street had played host to some of the most celebrated fashion moments of the last century (miniskirts, punk, Vivienne Westwood’s Sex boutique). The results respected the area and spoke to the people who love it. It let them know that the development would be good for the whole community, offering cinemas, pubs, bars, offices… It wasn’t simply about flogging units for a property developer.

Using bespoke illustrations gave both of these projects more of a gallery presence, and were miles apart from ubiquitous developer-branded hoardings.

A new storey

Of course, we can’t talk about all this without acknowledging that the pandemic is going to play a significant role in the way the property sector – commercial, residential, private sale, rental – communicates with consumers, stakeholders and other affected parties.

A few weeks ago, the government gave the green light for the sector to start operating again, albeit with strict precautions in place. But how should consumers be addressed during this time? Run at with a hard sell just as they emerge out of lockdown, or approached with a more human tone of voice?

Brands across all sectors are having to communicate more than ever, whether that’s explaining business moves and structure, how they’re working with their employees, or what they are doing for their consumers and the wider community. Being a trusted presence is so important. When the future feels a little uncertain, people respond to strong and confident voices that they can believe in. To establish yourself in this new environment, taking a new tack can achieve standout and help build traction.

For property in particular, which has historically relied on face-to-face methods, there’s a need to master the virtual space, too. Other industries have been doing this effectively for years and so, again, could show property developers a thing or two. 

Instead of pdfs of the hardcopy brochures being emailed out, more interactive digital versions could be created, including greater use of video and animation.

Looking to the worlds of art, fashion, travel and sport would be a good place to start (virtual catwalks, try-before-you-fly holidays, gallery tours, stadium visits where you meet your favourite sporting legends). The options are endless.

The next months will be tough for many in the sector, not least because we’re heading into a recession, so perhaps now’s the time to take a risk. As we emerge from hibernation and gear up to take on the world again, those taking a braver, more adventurous approach, and communicating in a modern, relevant way, will push ahead.

The world’s changed shape over the past few months. Perhaps now’s the time to go with the wild card.

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