Premium developers need to take a bold approach to branding, setting luxury consumer trends rather than following them, says Hanni Randell-Bateman of global brand consultancy Industry…
Against a backdrop of global market volatility, London witnessed a 40% increase in prime residential developments in 2016. It is now near-impossible to walk through the City without stumbling across luxury developments as they shape a new, modern skyline.
With each district playing host to a plethora of new developments, prime developers are investing heavily in creating distinctive and compelling brands to ensure their buildings stand out, are remembered, and are valued at a premium. The question is, in a market seeing such rapid growth, how to differentiate?
As the pursuit to transform the ordinary into the iconic becomes the holy grail, we’ve looked at London’s top 20 prime residential developers to see how brand is being leveraged to secure interest and investment; who’s doing it well and what can be done better.
What’s en vogue?
At first glance, it’s noticeable how safely the majority of developers are approaching brand. They stick rigidly to premium and fashion brand orthodox, making their target audience clear.
Developer’s logotypes, largely typographical, are dominated by two main schools of thought: Firstly, a classic serif (see Berkeley and Almacantar), marking heritage and prestige. The second, a modernised open sans (see Westcombe Group and Native Land), with well-spaced and considered typesetting.
The logos too are modeish. Property elements have been adapted to create elegant symbols: Hadley favours a floorplan-style H, while Canary Wharf have taken inspiration from the towering buildings of their namesake location. Meanwhile, others have opted for letterform logos derived from their name; in true Gucci or Chanel style, Newcourt’s and Black Onyx’s logos wouldn’t look out of place on a designer handbag.
By making their identities deliberately reminiscent of upmarket brands and fashion houses, they give their audiences a clear visual cue that their brand, and by virtue their properties, are luxury.
Prime developer colour palettes lean heavily towards dark blues, greys and blacks – shades all synonymous with prestige. These are complemented by modest use of other heritage and premium colours, including reds and golds.
While there are very few who challenge this convention, upon entering its website, Black Onyx’s strong use of black and gold, its unusual name, and its abstract photographic style differentiates it from the traditional mass resi developers entering the market.
The use of colour to influence perception dates back centuries; the Tudors relied religiously on a colour-coded social hierarchy to distinguish the upper echelon of society from the common man. This subtle demarcation of wealth and class still carries weight today and prime developers are capitalising on this subliminal prejudice to communicate exclusivity and prestige.
- Photographic style
When you are in the business of selling property you have to showcase your product. So, inevitably all developers use photography. But does it have to be the same?
For many it is. If you take an image from the homepage of Native Land, Residence One, Westcomb and Newcourt Residential, although they’re all appealing images, they are not distinctive. Each image could belong to either brand. Adding a personal twist to your images – something categorically you – can make all the difference in helping people buy into and fall in love with your brand.
There is an elegant balance to be struck between being different and memorable, and reassuring potential clients of your capabilities.
A deeper dig into the Black Onyx site sees the photographic style shift from abstract to literal, showcasing a set of meticulously groomed apartment interiors. They strike a perfect balance between impact and practicality; while recognising the need to differentiate, they haven’t forgotten their purpose, and are continuing to whet their audience’s appetite with a stunning visual representation of the properties they are there to sell.
- Developer brand versus development brand
Should developers lead with an identifiable corporate brand that conveys their core values and quality, regardless of location, development type or size? Or should the corporate brand become subservient to the individual development, providing creative freedom to communicate the individual personality and character of the development? Different companies pursue different strategies here.
Black Onyx present a shamelessly sleek, sensual and moody personality across their entire prime London portfolio, characterised by dimly lit interior photography, a combination of blacks, browns and golds, and words like ‘conceal’, ‘encompass’ and ‘exude’ to create a definite feeling of exclusivity, privacy and intrigue.
Conversely, Galliard’s platinum collection holds host to a range of individually-branded, unique developments that bear little resemblance to their parent brand. The Stage development in EC2 boasts Shakespearean twists while adopting a vibrant magenta on black colour palette, while Galliard’s Harley House development in Regent’s Park adopts a far more stayed tone and visual style, akin to its surrounding neighbours.
- Brand proposition
Whilst similar language is often used – the words ‘quality’, ‘exceptional’ and ‘luxury’ feature heavily – some developers have succeeded in adding their own twist to distinguish their brand.
Residence One brothers Nicholas and Benjamin Wilson paint a compelling scene as they talk of their ‘obsessive passion’ for property, ‘innate skill for finding hidden gems’ and ‘masterly quality’. The language oozes with luxury, giving readers a sense of their meticulous craftsmanship to create a picture of the uniqueness and opulence Residence One properties possess.
Banda seek to suggest an expert touch through everything they do. Guided by the maxim, ‘design for living’, their homes are ‘built for life’. The language of their brand proposition mirrors their interior design style, website photography and even their logo: projecting an idea of uncomplicated elegance. While other brands exude wealth in an obvious fashion, Banda create a sense of understated, thoughtful luxury.
- Challenging convention
Although the norm is to aim for luxury, in some cases developers are bucking this trend, with brands like Mount Anvil taking a more playful approach to its visual identity, adopting a vibrant green and blue colour palette. Will customers see this as refreshingly different, or simply, not premium?
Residential developer, Galliard Homes have carved out a Platinum Collection that differs wildly from their day-to-day brand to bring a more upmarket feel to its five-star living properties. The tone of voice on this section of the site shifts as Galliard talks instead of ‘handpicked finishes’, ‘cutting-edge architecture’ and ‘sought-after addresses’. The accompanying images switch from construction sites to smart townhouses, all to realign the brand to the premium market it’s trying to attract.
But would they have done better creating an entirely separate brand for the premium market rather than trying to stretch the Galliard brand?
- What does good look like?
How does one developer differentiate from the next? Today, if you visit the websites of most premium developers and cover up their logo, can you really tell one from the other? Probably not. As the mainstream developers enter the fray, how can the premium developers stay differentiated. It’s a problem witnessed in fashion, where high street fashion chains are quick to mimic what’s coming off the catwalks.
Advice for developing a new prime residential brand? It needs to be premium yet timeless, and above all, authentic. That means executing it brilliantly across every touchpoint. When the right photograph and the right copy can clinch a sale, brands can’t afford not to invest in it.
The brands need to be confident and bold. The best luxury brands are brave, they set trends not follow them. Mistakes have been made where developers have rolled-out inoffensive, mass-pleasing solutions which aren’t as successful as they could be, because their ‘blandness’ fails to intrigue and captivate the hearts of those who view them.
In tune with a wider mood that is rejecting globalisation, we can expect to see a new focus on local heritage, character and authenticity. Drawing on this trend, prime developers will need to tap more deeply into the history and understanding of the unique characteristics of local areas, giving their developments an interesting back story which buyers can connect to. In essence, we can expect a shift from global lifestyle marketing to local place making, where developments are part of the wider neighbourhood fabric.
Hanni Randell-Bateman is a consultant at global brand consultancy Industry
Louis Vuitton image by Mathieu Lebreton
Views of Contributors are not necessarily those of PrimeResi or its Publishers