Empowering the Future of Coliving through Image

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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 3 of 3).

The Power of Image

A picture is worth a thousand words. In coliving it is no different, whether it comes to product or lifestyle images, and all marketers should consider this their mantra. Suffering from information overload, in the 21st century we have quickly learned how to scan, judge and choose content that is relevant for us. In a society where we seem to have less and less time to focus on long descriptions on a website, ads or brochures, it is imperative to utilise the power of image to communicate with our target audience. In fact, research shows that only 20% of our attention is focused on product descriptions, whereas an impressive 60% of our attention is put on photographs. The power of image is evident in the business model of rental giant AirBnb, which matches photographers with hosts to increase the quality of images and boost their bookings as they found out that properties featuring high-quality photographs are booked 24% more than listings with lower-quality images. The hosts with professional photos have understood what positioning can mean for their income, as they generally earn almost double of what other hosts (with less professional photography) in their area make.  

The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text and they stay longer in our memory. Thus, the conclusion is clear: as we consume the majority of information through visuals, the quality of them matters. 

Photography in marketing is therefore one of the main factors contributing to the booking decision of a potential resident and can lead to higher occupancy rates in a coliving property. At Spatial Experience we work with professional and industry experienced partners from all over the world to set up the marketing efforts of our clients for success by providing bespoke photography and videography packages that capture the essence of the coliving spirit. For this article we interviewed Stefan M. Gerard, a creative director, photographer and videographer, to guide you through the secrets of effectively connecting with the audience through crafting a compelling visual message. Stefan M. Gerard and Spatial Experience have collaborated on several occasions to articulate the essence of a brand through image and video.

Why and where to use photography and videography in coliving? 

Stefan (S): Coliving is a fairly new subject for most people that are looking to rent. In my real estate work, I use three main pillars: product (the edifice, amenities and rooms), lifestyle photography and videography (the community aspect) and atmospheric shots (the bigger environment). In the real estate sector it is now possible to create amazing renders, which are often made long before the delivery of a development, aiming to inform all stakeholders that are involved in the early stage of a project. As realistic as these renders are becoming, there is still an element missing: the human element. People identify most strongly with other people, especially when these people look like themselves. That is where high-end lifestyle photography comes in.

Yes, I love to shoot well-styled and ‘clean’ interiors. However, I want to offer prospects more than a high-end IKEA catalogue. You ultimately want your prospects to imagine living there, instantly. In coliving, it is the ‘other’ that sparks the imagination. These are the persons you will be sharing a home with. When I say home, I mean it in the biggest sense of the word: a local community of ‘others’ that you bump into at the reception, launderette or in the communal lounge. The real question most interested renters in coliving want an answer to is: “who will I be going to lend a cup of sugar from if I choose to live here”? “Who will I entrust with my cat and plants when I go for a city hop”? Interaction is the magic word and my job as a photographer, videographer and most importantly as art director is to capture the interaction in the most striking light possible. I sell desire.

An often overlooked feature of storytelling are atmospheric shots. No man is an island, and the same applies for a coliving space. A new development is emerging and embedded in an existing context, not just the land plotted around it, but its neighbourhood and in its greater sense: the promise of the city. A promise for entertainment, adventure and the occasional mischief: the bicycle madness on Leidseplein at first morning light to the twinkling red lights of the city’s late night vibe.

What makes a great photo, considering the variety of stakeholder needs? 

S: Taking a photo is something most of us do every day. Taking a deliberate photo is an act of dedication. Taking several photos to tell a coherent story takes a dedicated team. I start with the end in mind: a timeless collection of images that are of such quality to last for several years, and of a quantity that will allow you to post and advertise uninterrupted for months on end. Imagine your brand as a family. And your family has a joint Instagram account. What would your feed look like? Who are the members of the brand family? Do they like cats, or dogs? What are the values that drive them? What did he/she have for breakfast this morning? How often does she use the tennis court? Did she forget to do the laundry again? What has this couple been dreaming of for years?

The process can be divided into three stages. Pre-production, production and post-production. After establishing the budget, pre-production starts with the creative proposal, a collection of moodboards, storyboards and the visual language. The visual language is the look and feel of your deliverables. It concerns the colour treatment, depth of field, angle and cut. It will help ensure that your feed lives and adds up to expectations, and ensures that in the long term, your images will whisper the developers brand name, without having to name it explicitly. 

To build cohesion between the images in a real estate business’ image bank, we try to use the same models in different settings and use recurring props like a pair of sunglasses or a certain coffee mug. Most importantly, we use a set of limited recurring colours. These main colours are embedded in the creative proposal and are used by the stylist and props masters during the days of production. For example, if the main colours are pink, gold and green, the model could be lounging on a green couch in a pink kimono with a golden mug. In a different shot, she could be wearing a green dress with a pink bag and a gold pair of sunglasses. All these colours will be calibrated in post production. 

Once the creative proposal is established, it is time to put together a list of (external) locations and a casting call of actors (models, residents, etc.) that will represent the brand, which we will sign off with the relevant brand stakeholders. Based on the confirmed locations and models a shot list can be established to ensure highest return of investment. After the production date is established, the producer will put together a team of creatives (photographer, stylist, make-up artist, props master, models, videographer and assistants) and provide a daily call sheet for the team.

The creative proposal, casting call, shot list and the daily call sheet ensure that we get the most out of the production day. Each team member will know where and when he or she is needed in blocks of fifteen minutes, established by the producer. It is then up to me in the role of photographer and art director, to make sure we put in place the vision that we created for the brand. The production day will be a race against the clock and ultimately we will ‘wrap’ when we lose the last sunlight. In the days after, once we have created a safe backup of all the raw images and video, our production crew returns the lighting equipment and our stylist returns the garments. I will be sitting down with our post-production crew to put together the colour treatment and video edits. In the next few weeks the finished image bank and rough-cut will be presented to the client.

As you can see, this is a timely process. Some marketing teams might want to purchase stock images instead. The upside of using stock images is that the process is quick and often cost effective. The downside is that these images are generic, and possible competitors can use them. A well-defined visual language can confer a feeling of lingering trust. The decision to invest in brand equity in the long term is ultimately a choice of the coliving marketing team.

Photos or videos? When is the best moment to invest in a good video? 

S: Due to the short attention span of most consumers, moving content becomes a matter of survival. Video is an amazing medium to catch the consumer's attention and most importantly, to get your message across. The combination of music, moving image and a voice over can be a highly potent way to establish an emotional connection with your could-be renters. With productions like the ones  described above, I would always advise to co-shoot your video on the same set. For a coliving project in Cape Town, we produced such a brand video. By using slow motion equipment we created a video where two young professionals meet and fall in love, taking snippets out of their first day on the premises. The message: Welcome to the rest of your life. In my professional opinion, creating a video-bank by sharing the production resources of the day is a great opportunity for the operators’ marketing team.

What is the importance of storytelling in photography and videography? How does it manifest itself in your work?

S: The importance of storytelling cannot be understated. For CampusKey, our team completely restyled one of the apartments to match the standard and colours we put forward. We recreated several scenarios in matching light, from early morning yoga poses to late night phone calls. What makes an apartment if not the city? Half of our time and resources were directed to shooting in the city of Stellenbosch, catching the hustle and bustle of cappuccinos at noon and afternoon vanilla ice cream. In addition, we rented a wine venue to recreate the ultimate coliving excursion: an adventure that included a dip at the pool and champagne sundowners with friends. To me, coliving is not a word, but an experience. And it is my vocation to reach the hearts and minds of could-be colivers.

Creating a compelling visual story is a thoughtful process that takes time, commitment and industry expertise to be effective. A good understanding of all elements of this process by investors, asset managers, developers and operators leads to investing in long-term value through photography, videography and  storytelling in general, as this positively impacts the success of a coliving product. It is a well known fact that the first impression matters. It creates the initial image of a brand in the customer's mind, which, in order to stay relevant, needs to be aligned with the real life experiences. What matters even more is the long-lasting mark in the audience’s mind, which is only possible to make if we connect with them on a deeper level of constant desire. 

Conclusion

Branding, marketing and image are powerful tools to create success.  When well executed and in the hands of experts it can elevate your business to new heights. In perspective of the future, it is crucial to keep your end customer in mind and align all business stakeholders to adopt a human- and planet centric approach from construction to operations and beyond.

At Spatial Experience we go through a deep process of understanding the needs of our current society and where the diverse forces that move our economy will lead upcoming business decisions. We collaborate with experts that share our mission and work with companies that are ready to make a change and disrupt the market. For us the real estate industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world, as it sets a precedent in the way we experience the living environment. With such power comes great responsibility and this is what drives our actions: through experience, evergrowing curiosity to understand current context and future trends, evaluating results and deeply connecting to the needs of current and future generations, we innovate in the craft of creating living experiences. 

This set of articles has been written in cooperation by  team members of Spatial Experience and includes the participation in interview format of a trusted collaborator. 

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