In the 100 years since Lloyd George declared Britain should build homes ‘fit for heroes’, housing in this country has been transformed. It is now a massive market, an economy of its own sustained by housing stock worth almost £7tn. At Housing 2018, the 3 day event that brings everyone associated with the sector together, the list of speakers, sponsors and exhibitors spans a myriad organisations including banks, tech firms, law firms, construction companies and consultancies that Lloyd George could barely have imagined. The sector has benefitted from modern management processes, from innovations in technology, new ways of thinking about tenants or owners as customers, new financing and business models.
Despite the modernisation of so much of the sector there is still one area in which it lags behind other commercial or even non-commercial sectors. It has not yet fully embraced the importance of brand building. Strong brands not only benefit companies, they also change perceptions of the sectors in which they operate. Technological advances might have driven the development of the personal computer but it was brands such as Apple that drove their popularity and penetration. Technology might have bought us increased connectivity but it was the boldness of brands such as Orange in its time and more recently O2 that drove more of us to use our mobiles. Even charitable sectors are boosted when strong brands are developed – think NSPCC, WWF or Cancer Research. It is difficult for any category to brand itself. It ultimately relies on strong independent branded organisations to do that.
“Strong brands not only benefit companies, they also change perceptions of the sectors in which they operate.”There are a few brands in Housing as a whole with reach and recognition. Mostly, though, the power of brands seems little appreciated. For many people working in the sector, brand seems still associated with a logo or at best with marketing communications. This fails to harness the power brand-led thinking can bring to companies, their customers and indeed their employees.
Put simply, your brand acts as a unique promise of an experience that must be repeatedly delivered, wrapped in a distinctive identity that must be relentlessly used to remind people who you are and what you stand for. Brand-led thinking is a customer-centric, employee-motivating approach that creates sustainable value for owners, whether they are shareholders or trusts. It cannot be achieved by communications alone. It is the result of an enterprise wide effort. The consultancy McKinsey described a brand as a great ‘organising principle for business”
The best brands are bold brands. In our book On Purpose we explained the three principles of such brands. They ‘stand up’ clearly for something. They stand out by delivering something dramatically distinctive. They stand firm by fostering cultures that empower people.
“The housing sector has not yet fully embraced the importance of brand building.”They also have a strong view on how they should serve and change for better, the sectors in which they operate. In doing so they change perceptions of those markets. We don’t look at coffee chains in the same way since Starbucks. We don’t look at sandwich shops in the same way since Prêt A Manger. We don’t search the Internet in the same way since Google. Some people find it hard to understand the relevance of these well-known names to sectors which have not traditionally had strong brands. But the truth is any organisation in any sector has the opportunity to create a strong brand for itself, in doing so, it can help the category to grow. If any organisation involved in the development of the housing sector follows the three basic principles of bold brands I’ve outlined above, it would be transformative. They would organise around a purpose and a proposition to the ultimate end user, the tenant or owner. They would prioritise and accelerate decision-making by reference to that purpose. They would develop governance that would be fit for growth. They would be agile, ensuring that they remain relevant to changing needs, whilst remaining consistent to their overall purpose. They would do so with a distinctive and attractive brand personality. Apple’s success was not just due to its user-friendly products and services but also because it understood the importance of graphic design, of tone-of-voice in making things more human.
Our work has taken us to sectors as diverse as regional aviation leasing, academic publishing, construction, fintech and fashiontech. In all of those sectors there are people who do not see the importance of brand-led thinking but the people who lead those sectors, do. Building brands makes any sector more appealing to customers, employees and investors alike and builds sustainable growth. Brand-led businesses can build more and better homes. Homes fit not just for heroes but for everyone.
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