Empowering the Future of Coliving through Brand

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Your brand is the spearhead of your product. By implementing strong design principles – particularly in an era of ever-changing consumer tastes and behaviours – you will be able to scale your impact, spread your message and position yourself ever closer as an industry leader in a competitive arena. However, we first must step back and evaluate all those critical elements that go into constructing an award-winning coliving model, piece-by-piece. 

Our Founding Partners at Spatial Experience explain the fundamental ins-and-outs of the brand development process, how an effective marketing campaign can serve to drive maximum exposure and the benefits of utilising visual imagery to communicate with your target audience. Supported by in-depth research, conversations with sector stakeholders and a wealth of experience, this three-part piece will guide you through your successful branding journey, step by step (part 1 of 3).

The power of brand

Long gone is the perception that a brand is just a logo. Those knowledgeable about branding understand that establishing a lasting brand requires a long process of design thinking, business acumen and ecosystem approach. A prevailing brand is imperative to reach its audience, stay relevant in a crowded marketplace and build meaningful and powerful business relations. Throughout this article, we explore the boundless power of brand and how this positively impacts the real estate business at various levels. Why Are Brands Important in The Coliving Scene? Generally, brands have three principal functions:

1. Navigation

Brands help consumers choose from a bewildering array of choices.

2. Reassurance

Brands communicate the intrinsic quality of a product or service and reassure customers that they have made the right choice.

3. Engagement 

Brands use distinctive images, language and associations to encourage stakeholders to identify with the brand.

In real estate, brands are the medium through which property developers and operators communicate, connect and bond with their audiences and wider business ecosystems. Through brand, a business can create an ecosystem of communities that share one thing in common: trust, faith and belief in its brand values. Or if you look at it bluntly, it’s through the power of brand that we fill and keep our beds occupied. 

Branded real estate gained relevance around a decade ago, becoming in recent years a much discussed topic and a stronger point of interest for partners and investors. Several market leaders have bet into developing branded real estate: from operating companies (OpCos), for which the brand is a bargaining chip and ‘to be or not to be’ in property management tenders, to established real estate firms with the owner-operator model, who have realised long ago the value of a brand, as they utilise branding as a business strategy for both their single assets and larger multi-property portfolios. 

Brands have another important strength: while a building decays over time, a properly cultivated brand rises in value. That is why it is paramount to start building a thoughtful brand and its equity from the very beginning. 

Building brand equity

Creative ideas and futuristic brand concepts can sometimes be tempting to implement, but it is necessary to ensure that they are feasible, viable and desirable when confronted with reality. When you get down to earth from the big exciting ideation phase and move on to implementation, you often find that coliving start-ups have overseen the value of time when building a brand: the value of staying relevant not just here and now, but for years to come. The concept of a valuable brand and its lifespan is closely related to brand equity. Brand equity is not only a well-executed brand identity, the look and feel or catchy mission 14 statement, but most importantly, it is the business intelligence, know-how, competencies, processes and brand assets that make this brand alive, the so-called ‘software’. 

By definition, brand equity refers to a value premium that a company generates from a product with a recognisable name when compared to a generic equivalent. Brand equity can be directly reflected into financial value. Firstly, brands with positive equity are attracting consumers that are willing to pay more for the product, service or experience, as the consumers gravitate towards brands with a good reputation. Secondly, investors are willing to invest more in companies with positive brand value. The value of a brand can be measured and recorded and contributes to a company’s success. 

Developing long-lasting brands

Brands are fluid as they evolve over time. Throughout the lifespan of a business, its brand(s) go through different phases and challenges. Sometimes a company may decide to change the name of its brand, or pivot to another niche, or it may need a refreshed look and feel. A merger or acquisition, or corporate reorganisation may also be factors that call for reviewing a brand strategy. 

It is equally important, especially for brands that are just entering the market, to approach their branding process holistically and diligently with the involvement of relevant stakeholders and readiness to invest in the future. It starts with a deep understanding of the market, current situation and business capacity, and it finishes with a strong brand foundation that should be constantly nurtured in order to grow. The following steps are necessary for developing long-lasting brands:

1. Conducting research

Following ‘input-output logic’, the more materials are gathered, provided and evaluated in the beginning, the better the result, under the condition that the quality of the input is high. Misleading data can lead to false conclusions and therefore devastating results for the future of the brand. On the other hand, thorough research on industry trends, market forces, competition, user needs, benchmarks and feasibility studies are an invaluable resource and asset for further work during the branding process. 

2. Clarifying strategy

Equipped with knowledge gathered at stage one, this phase focuses on analysis, discovery, synthesis, simplicity and clarity on the insights that are deemed most important. The end product of this part of the process is usually a preliminary brand strategy, which includes elements such as vision, values, promise, differentiation, positioning and message.

2.1. Brand strategy components

Brand Vision

A bold statement that will challenge and motivate business and teams to achieve set goals. It is like a signpost which gives direction to the brand’s activities. 

Brand Promise

The ‘why’ behind a brand and the commitment to that cause. It is necessary to connect with the right audience and develop a strong loyal community.

Brand Values 

A brand’s credo that reflects the beliefs, philosophies, culture and change the brand wants to drive in the world. Brand values determine how the brand is perceived in the marketplace.

Brand Differentiation

This is what sets a brand apart from the other available alternatives. In other words, it is a brand’s unique selling point (USP). By defining and clearly communicating what makes the brand special, it holds a special place in the consumer’s mind.

Brand Positioning

Directly correlated to understanding the consumers preferences, brand positioning can lead to higher consumer loyalty, increasing the value of consumer-based brand equity and the willingness to purchase the brand. Based on a ‘quality versus price matrix’, brand positioning refers to the extent to which a brand is perceived as favorable, different and credible in consumer’s minds. 

3. Designing Identity 

First impressions matter. Brand identity is the ‘look and feel’ of the brand, its visual face consisting of logo, colours, typography, graphics and other media. At this stage, all the previous elements are translated into a visual representation of what the brand is. From reflecting its brand values to the way it is being perceived by its consumers, the visual identity of a brand should be distinctive, spark emotion, trigger memories and facilitate experience. 

4. Creating Touchpoints

When working on a brand strategy we need to understand its context, the audience it needs to appeal to – matter to! – and how to communicate to this audience. A crucial part of the ‘how’ also implicates the ‘where’. Creating relevant brand touchpoints both in the digital and physical realm – such as website, community app, interior design and merchandise, among others – is crucial to building a strong brand. In order to stay consistent, the brand applications must follow certain guidelines and work with harmony. Assets such as ‘Brand Manuals’, ‘Brand Books’, ‘Play Books’ or ‘Spatial Branding Guidelines’ are helpful in keeping the brand image consistent.

5. Managing Assets 

The brand itself can become one of the most valuable assets to a business when thoroughly created, maintained and managed. Over the years it is crucial to uphold high standards and periodically realign the internal teams on the brand. As the brand matures, leverage the strategic value of a brand to increase its market presence and enable business growth.

Brand vs product development

A brand is not a separate entity. It must be firmly anchored in the DNA of the company right from the start of the brand development process, ensuring that the value proposition can be reflected through all touchpoints. For new coliving concepts, the best practice is to draw out the branding process in parallel with product development. In the image below one may notice how certain similar activities are at both business and brand level. However, it is important to mention that this is just an example, and the process will differ from company to company, depending on internal processes, state of development as well as legal circumstances. 

Different stages of brand & product building 

While big coliving brands focus on market penetration with marketing campaigns, events and other activities to increase brand awareness in the market and attract potential residents, this is not the case for emerging players at the beginning of their coliving journey. Prior to having a building, novice coliving operators should concentrate their forces and target their communications towards businesses (e.g. partners, sponsors, investors, etc.), who could help them bring the concept to life. This B2B focus dominates the first, second and third stage of the product development process (market research, sourcing, planning, designing and so on). Thus, if a new coliving operator decides to launch their website very early in the process (e.g. prior to land purchase) the focus would mainly lie on B2B communication and brand awareness during an initial phase of go-to-market strategy. 

After engaging with the right stakeholders and being able to materialise the project (e.g. construction of the first location), the moment of transformation arrives . After leveraging the business relationships – the initial partnership development phase – it is the time to shift the focus towards reaching potential residents by utilising the right channels and message. 

This B2B2C phase is the transition stage between the ‘set up’ phase of a new product / brand and ongoing operations. This strategy should last more or less until the first building opens and the brand gains its momentum.

Brand vs product development process

Finally, the last stage is focussed directly on the end customer. While the first location might still be in preparation for opening, it’s crucial to start targeting the desired audience of potential colivers to build anticipation and spark desire to live at the new location. This can be done using a variety of B2C media from websites (that should be adjusted to B2C objectives and prepared to convert users to colivers, through adding a user-friendly booking system, dedicated support, etc.), to social media and targeted ads, to guerilla marketing, among others. The B2C approach continues throughout operations and management and across the product and brand’s lifetime.

To learn more about the unique methodology to building coliving concepts and brands that we apply at Spatial Experience, engaging the right stakeholders at every step of the way, read our last article ‘It Takes A Community To Build A Thriving Coliving Brand’ published in Coliving Insights No.6, Fostering Thriving Communities in Shared Living.

Key takeaways

Whether you are an established coliving player or an ambitious entrepreneur planning to disrupt the industry with an innovative concept, you must not neglect ‘The Power of Brand’ in the development process. From start to finish, from B2B to B2B2C to B2C levels, all the activities should be aligned to your brand in order to paint a clear picture of what your brand and business projects look and feel like in the mind of its audience. Brand is one of the most powerful assets, most notably within the current context where customer behaviours are strongly shifting towards more meaningful, deep experiences and authentic brands. Brands have more power than ever to bring value to businesses and their wider stakeholders and transform real estate at large.

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