By Brent Stojanovic, Director, Navana Property Group
Brand is an underused resource in the Build to Rent sector. While the positioning of a development is considered, the focus for Build to Rent teams is typically on delivering a great living experience for tenants once they have moved in. This is important but it also risks overlooking the power of a good brand and the role it plays in helping to attract as well as hold onto residents. A more proactive approach to brand development would not only enable developers and operators to retain income but grow it too.
Unlocking brand power
So, what is brand and why should it matter in a Build to Rent setting? Brand encapsulates your product, and the values or lifestyle choices associated with it. It’s easier to think about it in terms of the part it plays in our personal purchase decisions, from the goods we buy, to the restaurant chains we visit. We gravitate to those items or experiences which we think best represent us.
Build to Rent is a consumer product just like a new car, pair of trainers, or a burger and fries – and yet it can take three to four years to position and design a meat-free burger versus just 12 months for a Build to Rent home. There are obviously differences between the world of FMCG and property, and while this is a slightly crude comparison, it illustrates a key point – our sector is missing a trick by not seeing brand as a vital sales driver.
More than ever Build to Rent businesses need a clear and distinctive offer. There are over 167,000 Build to Rent homes complete, under construction or in planning across the UK, -that’s a rise of 22% year on year. That means more choice for residents who will prioritise places and communities that they feel reflect them.
Discussions about brand need to start from the outset of a project. A development’s positioning should inform everything from design, amenity mix and interiors all the way through to the colours and logos on marketing materials, and finally to the resident experience and service delivery.
Build to Rent teams may argue that these conversations are already happening – the problem is that they aren’t deep or nuanced enough. Yes there is analysis of population data, viability assessments, and financial modelling aimed at understanding which demographics a development is targeting. This tends to group people by socioeconomic status. What age ranges and life stages are our homes for? How much are our target residents likely to be earning? Prospective tenants’ income is essential to know, but what they are doing with it is perhaps more important.
We need to build a detailed understanding of the people behind the numbers. People are far more likely to identify themselves and the groups to which they belong by their shared interests, their hobbies, the clothes they wear, and the food they eat than by their salaries or birth years. These are emotional purchase motivators.
Of course rational economic decision making will always play a crucial part in where people choose to live – what the commute is like, the size of their budget and so on. But Build to Rent teams that stop at this point are only looking at half of the picture at the expense of a more cultural and, dare I say, human perspective.
Bringing more diverse thinkers into the sector will help to address this. Build to Rent typically attracts ‘left-brained’ people – logical, systems thinkers, finance experts, project managers and investors. Their input is vital to making sure a development stacks up commercially, but this must be combined with more creative minds who can interpret demographic data and apply it in the real world. They can look beyond the averages to create places that are unique.
Developers and their partners mostly have access to the same data. It’s what you do with it that counts. Having a blend of thinkers will make Build to Rent more intelligent.
For a sector that promotes its ability to create communities, supported by shared amenities and spaces, we need to do more to recognise and act on the fact that residents are buying into a peer group and a lifestyle, not just a place to live. This is especially important as the market matures and resident choice grows.
Developments that target groups of people based on what interests them, not just what the socioeconomic data says, will be the ones that thrive. Brand should play a fundamental part in getting this targeting right, guiding design, delivery and experience.