The City of London is changing beyond almost all recognition. Where once at weekends it saw little activity beyond the odd pigeon flying through streets of deserted office blocks, today it is buzzing, not with tourists or workers, but with people who actually live there. The residential population of the Square Mile and its immediate environs is exploding.
This means that price per square foot of residential property in the City – the engine of the UK’s property industry – has never been higher, and for developers this is presenting a once in a lifetime opportunity, as well as a significant challenge.
The opportunity is to design, build, market and sell property quickly enough and so produce a substantial return. The challenge is that this is a specific window of opportunity and the competition to take advantage of it is intense.
Pick up a copy of the Sunday Times property supplement; flick through as many as 80 pages of adverts for new property developments, many of them ultra-high value developments in central London. In such a geographically narrow market there are few competitive advantages provided by location. Furthermore, they are all at the top of the market, so build quality, whilst essential, can rarely be used to make an ad or a development stand out. In this rarefied market it is original marketing that is the crucial source of competitive advantage – it is this which will determine who maximises return from this window of opportunity.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Yet, return to your copy of the Sunday Times. Flick again through those ads, and notice just how similar they all look. Property developers spend significant sums on media space: a full-page ad in the Sunday Times property supplement will cost around £10,000, and that is just one media outlet on one day. Given this, it is remarkable that so few insist on creative that makes the ad stand out.
For those willing to step outside of the status quo there is a real opportunity to reinvent themselves.
Take just two examples of developers that have taken a different approach and created marketing materials with impact: Helical Bar with Barts Square and Rydon with Mettle & Poise. These developers see creative design not as an unavoidable cost, but as an investment.
The result is that they have produced marketing materials that stand out, that make potential buyers, both here in the UK and in the important overseas markets, sit up, take notice, and invest. Ultimately those developers have seen the impact on the bottom line.
New office advert gets top end design treatment
me@dave were also commissioned to announce the launch of Savills’ new office in Chiswick, London. The design shows just how well Savills know their patch, with this hand illustrated typographic map tracing the nuances of the area, with messages and jokes replacing traditional geographic landmarks, creating something rather more personal. You have to do something different to be noticed!
BRANDS WITH IMPACT
So, how do they do it? It is what we have been doing at me&dave, day-in, day-out since 2007 and we believe we have refined our process. We never begin believing we are working with a blank canvas. Every development already has a brand. People form an idea of a development based on its location, the developer, local media reports, and so on. The first step in creating a brand with impact is to discover this starting point.
From there it is a process of research to get into the heart of what makes this development unique and interesting. It is essential to remember that a brand that works for one product will not work for another. Successful brands celebrate their point of difference, they unearth fresh, authentic expressions, not faded imitations. We are not in the business of imitating success; we are here to create it for our clients.
So we immerse ourselves in the development, understanding the developer’s vision, the impact it will have on the community, any history we could draw upon. But then we look beyond the sector taking in sub-cultures, fashion, music, food and drink.
Finally, the best property brands are a collaboration between developer, agent, interior designer, architect, and design agency. From the original creative spark it is a process of agreeing brand strategy, then bringing that to life across a distinctive name, identity, visual and written language, ultimately illuminating the appropriate marketing channels. Through this inclusive approach a brand is born that is not only consistent and coherent across mixed channels, but also one that makes the very best of the project team.
A NEW MARKETING MODEL
Above all else, developments like Barts Square and Mettle & Poise have had more than mere marketing materials. They have had brands. Outside of property the notion of a brand is commonplace. Manufacturers of German cars, premium jeans, or Scottish whiskies know that the differences between their products are marginal, and so the battle for customers is fought on the field of branding.
How effectively they create a brand that consumers notice, care about and want to share, is what determines sales, profits and share price. In the white heat of the 2014 UK residential property market, the most successful developers are also adopting this approach and forging a new model of property marketing.
Case study 1: Barts Square
Savills is marketing Barts Square, a £250m redevelopment of the iconic Barts Hospital by Helical Bar. 3.2 acres now provides 230,000 sq ft of offices 200,000 sq ft of residential and 25,000 sq ft of retail space. As the first foray into residential property for Helical Bar; there was much at stake.
The development is rich, complex and intricate, but it needed a unifying creative concept which would convey the sense of an intimate, almost romantic, enclave in the financial heart of the City, steeped in 900 years of heritage. That was essential to underpin all marketing communications and ultimately drive sales.
That creative concept – that essence of the brand – was the ‘flaneur’. A word rich with gentlemen of leisure strolling along nineteenth-century Parisian boulevards, this street-level explorer provides the archetype that distinguishes Barts Square from its high rise competitors, and tells the story, helping visitors discover it, experience it, fall in love with the brand.
Six printed brochures adopted the style of a traveller’s journal with third person factual information alongside the flaneur’s handwritten first-person intimate discoveries of the square. This journalistic style continued into the website. The exhibition and marketing suite eschew the floorplans and computer-generated images of traditional property marketing, drawing visitors into their own path of discovery. This innovative approach yielded results. To give just one figure, an ad placed in the Sunday Times produced more than 1000 registrations, a startling statistic when you consider that comparable ads often produce as little as five responses.
Case study 2: Mettle & Poise
Mettle & Poise is a redevelopment by the developer, Rydon and housing provider Family Mosaic of the former Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney. The building is a major part of local history and the brand needed to communicate its heritage as well as the improvements that make this such a fantastic place to live.
The name, ‘Mettle & Poise’ encapsulates the stoicism of the traditional East End and the effortless style of the new generation of residents. The logo with its contemporary feel underpinned by detail from the original iron railings of the building, provides a sense of symmetry.
JLL and Currell are joint selling agents. The marketing brochures had an editorial feel with articles on ‘Best Old Man’s Boozer’ and other in-the-know detail, giving potential buyers a sense of the history of the site and a feel for life in the gritty East End of London. Online content, such as a ‘lifestyle movie’ from the model shoot and footage of the local area, demonstrates the stark contrast between elegant, clean-cut models and the real-life East End settings.
Brand development and pre-marketing work on this project has been so successful that it is on track to sell all 116 private homes without the need for overseas sales, a marketing suite or even a showhome.
Have a look at the websites for these two developments to see the difference that design makes: www.bartssquare.com and www.mettleandpoise.com