The following article has been included in the sixth edition of Coliving Insights - Fostering thriving communities in shared living. Download your full copy of the publication by clicking this link.
Building a community requires a holistic design thinking approach. This includes getting all the stakeholders around the table and developing both B2B and B2C strategies for your coliving concept. In this article, Aitana de Jong, Managing Partner at Spatial Experience, breaks down their hassle-free 360 degree approach to supporting the emergence and flourishing of shared living communities. We take you through our 5-step method of building specialist real estate concepts and brands, and the importance of a thorough stakeholder-driven approach along the way.
In our lively coliving arena we often debate about how community is intrinsic to the concept of coliving and we continuously highlight the importance of building community to create authentic and sustainable businesses. However, we may not have been given enough attention to the importance of starting to build community even before onboarding the first resident.
Residents are one of the most important stakeholders in coliving, but building community must go beyond that dimension. Community needs to be integrated into every aspect and encouraged by each individual involved in building a coliving company. Easier said than done: embedding community into business DNA is an overarching process which necessarily permeates B2B and B2C dimensions. Focusing solely on residents when establishing, growing and maintaining a coliving business can create a misalignment of purpose among stakeholders. So one might ask: “how can we approach community building in a way that involves all coliving stakeholders – both B2B and B2C – in the process”?
Developing and building a coliving concept that is able to foster genuine communities and achieve scalable growth requires a tailored strategy from the very beginning. It is fundamental to understand that the essence of coliving is the community, even before the first brick is laid. One of the first aspects that may support the initiation and facilitation of a community in coliving is properly understanding and defining the product. Once the context of the market and its business opportunities are identified, the next logical step is to define the positioning of the coliving concept. At this stage, the coliving identity is born, and alongside it, its brand in its full spectrum. When developing a coliving brand, the first step should be understanding, envisioning and defining the industry and market context as well as the ecosystem that will accomodate a genuine community; the feeling, atmosphere, essence, promise and ethos that it should evoke. The community is formed by individuals – groups of individuals – but also other stakeholders (e.g. companies, global and local organisations, among others) that have something in common or are trying to solve greater societal challenges. Being very clear from the beginning about what the common thread of the community in making is will set the path for the rest of the process.
Envisioning and defining a future coliving community consists of understanding who you want to attract, and identifying their needs, objectives, goals, preferences and nuances. This phase requires in-depth research which will allow for data-driven decision-making during the pivotal stage of concept development.
After the ideation of the desired community ecosystem, it is crucial to identify the full spectrum of stakeholders that will be involved in its nurturing and growth phases. This is the time to form strategic partnerships that will support, enhance and elevate the coliving business to its maximum potential. Investors, asset managers, planning authorities, local communities, developers, architects, designers, operators, technology providers, suppliers, etc.; a well defined stakeholder matrix will lay the foundation for your coliving concept to thrive.
When creating a network of partners, a coliving business is in fact building its B2B community. The importance of developing and aligning a complete stakeholder community in coliving may often be overlooked in the industry. Neglecting the purposeful building of a B2B community will decelerate the development of a thriving B2C community and the creation and maintenance of a sustainable business. Strategic connections will strengthen a business and its brand’s efforts, driving stability and amplifying opportunities. It takes a community of stakeholders to build an outstanding coliving brand, so once partners understand and take an active role in the inception and fostering of their B2B community, creating a community amongst residents becomes much easier, and a higher value is added to the product and brand experience overall. Stakeholders – and shareholders – need to be embedded in the community itself and, most importantly, they must understand its identity.
We can conclude that the foundation of any coliving business lies in the initial B2B community and the consolidation of strategic alliances that understand the necessary processes to building, facilitating and empowering a genuine community.
And what if a coliving space is already up and running but the community does not feel engaged? Operators can struggle with understanding how to spark a sense of community and give support in a way that fosters organic growth. It can be a challenge to inspire residents to collaborate, interact with each other and the space, join events or learn how to solve conflicts. Scaling community through technology and growing without losing touch with members are also issues faced by coliving businesses. Activating and facilitating community in an already established coliving company requires strategic re-alignment on the business stakeholders level. Once again, the B2B community has the responsibility and capability to understand and regulate certain elements that can positively influence the emergence and organic growth of a unique coliving concept.
Creating a thriving community on any level (business level, resident level, neighbourhood level) requires a methodology. Jumping into the water with no clear goals, lack of experience or fundamental knowledge can lead to frustrations, misalignments, lower ROI’s and fragmented results in the long term. Applying a contextual framework to building communities ensures a higher probability of sustainable and durable success. Understanding the need to guide our partners and clients through the process, we have defined a clear method that can be applied to multiple cases. In essence, it ensures all stakeholders involved are consciously partaking in the roll-out of the venture from its very beginning.
Deeply rooted in design thinking, growth driven design and enhanced with know-how and business intel baggage, SPX’s method consists of three phases: understand, explore and materialise. Each phase emphasises the objective of building unique, thriving and sustainable coliving concepts and brands in concert with community on every level of the business. Within those three phases there are five strategic steps that start from Envisioning and Concepting, go through Development, Deployment and Marketing, and end with Updates to stay relevant in the competitive and dynamically evolving specialist real estate sector.
This phase encompasses one of the most crucial moments in the creation and emergence of a new business. Here is where we dig deep and ask the difficult questions. We go through a process of envisioning the experience of the new concept to be. Envisioning is a phase dedicated to understanding the context of the current situation and exploring the potential of ‘the idea’ our partners come to us with. It is the moment to align all stakeholders, keeping in mind their objectives, and visualising how they fit within the intrinsic process of creating a new concept – or enhancing an existing one. During this phase the focus is set to put into perspective what the business stakeholders are about to create – through market research, analysis of current and upcoming trends as well as examination of internal and external forces. Only then is it possible to start ideating the strategies that will shape the path for development and materialisation, its positioning and quintessential identity, defining the opportunities and identifying what is unique about the place that will attract new residents, partners and other business stakeholders. At the end of this phase, a clear understanding of the goals is attained and by contextualising the idea its opportunities emerge. Here is where the (new) coliving brand starts to exist.
Similar to engineering work, this phase focuses on designing the identity of the new concept and prototyping its mechanisms. Put in straightforward language: this process covers all aspects that define the brand, from its visual language, to brand alignment with architects and designers and campaign strategies. Overarching, as well as dedicated strategies are developed in order to ensure a smoothless execution later in the process. Following the outcomes of the previous phase, such as brand opportunities and initial assumptions on target personas (and community personas), we can craft brand systems and assets, define experiential touchpoints and the toolsets needed in order to bring the concept to reality.
Developing and deploying all the brand assets is one of the most time-consuming, but also a legitimately valuable point in the process, as it contributes to increasing the company's value through generating lifetime assets that will serve future stakeholders. This phase takes a hands-on approach to designing, developing and implementing the needed tools to deploy the business brand and concept. By defining experiential touchpoints – both on a B2B and B2C level – we are able to determine and design the different mediums where the brand will communicate and interact with its stakeholders. From collaborating with architects, interior designers and space programmers, to defining marketing channels and online platforms, or elaborating on operational best practices that can elevate the experience and potentially encourage sustainability among the communities; this phase puts to use all the materials needed in order to fully support the emergence or repositioning of a coliving brand.
This stage reveals the moment of truth. After thorough preparations and having fine-tuned all touchpoints, the brand is ready to be demonstrated to the world. This phase encompassess all activities and efforts related to communicating with the various stakeholders of the coliving business: revealing the (new) concept online, gathering interest from your future residents, initiating the sense of community and belonging and attracting relevant partners to enhance and elevate the product, among others. All assets developed and deployed are being put into practice, utilised and, in the future, repurposed to meet the brand and business objectives.
Long-term success is substantially determined by the ability to adapt and evolve. It involves continuous monitoring and testing on how the product is being received and experienced by the larger spectrum of stakeholders (from potential residents, to brand ambassadors). This is the moment to assess whether the on-premises community, together with the B2B community, is thriving or if it needs to be supported by any further facilitating tools or processes. A brand and the community around it are a living organism, so gathering feedback, fine-tuning and adjustinging accordingly are part of a relentless maintenance process. Most specifically, to uphold a thriving community one may facilitate and guide but never impose.
It is the responsibility of operators and other partners involved to consciously listen and fine-tune to foster an authentic community that relates to and engages with the built environment. Similarly to the flower that needs water and nutrients to bloom, the community building process, rooted in the brand, is a continuous loop of nurturing, supporting and empowering. In some cases, there might be such a major shift in priorities and context that an update actually turns into a new strategic development cycle – time for envisioning a new reality.
Crafting a brand for or around communities ensures long-term engagement, better positioning and creates loyal residents as long as each and every touchpoint provides unique on-brand experiences for all stakeholders involved – from your community of investors, to employees, to residents, to neighbourhoods, both offline and online. A human-centric approach to community building always starts with a deep understanding of the audience and their needs. That is why creating a stakeholder matrix and defining the expectations of these stakeholders is one of the first steps in the community building endeavour.
Activating a community, or stimulating an existing one, is not an effortless process. Without relevant experience and knowledge, it can be a journey full of hurdles, disappointments and poor investment decisions. Thankfully, there are many niche-oriented free resources, insightful books and coliving-specialised organisations to guide and support throughout the process.
Going alone into a dark forest without a compass is risky; it takes a community to build a solid business and brand. By giving profound meaning to company endeavours and consciously defining your brand positioning, partners and other company stakeholders will join the journey in crafting a thriving ecosystem for a community to bloom and prevail; a community of B2B coliving enthusiasts that advocate for the common vision and mission, are aligned on the strategic process and who will ensure the stability and growth of business.
From conceptualisation to complete design and final realisation, at Spatial Experience we make it our mission to elevate coliving businesses from envisioning to updates phase, creating impactful moments of truth, turning every touch point of the stakeholder’s journey into a change-making experience. We work closely with our clients and partners to help bring their concepts to life, while ensuring that they are feeling positive about the brand and their desire to create and offer it to their key stakeholders. We assist, advise and manage their business growth, making sure to deliver high quality services combined with a solution-driven attitude in every step of our partnership.
If you are starting your coliving business and in need of comprehensive expert support or if you are already an established coliving company looking to realign your business and brand strategy, reach out to Spatial Experience and find out how we can support you in reaching your goals.