Marketing + Communications

Yoinks! Property still has an image problem

Evil developers, foiled by those pesky kids again. The same old story has been repeated, again and again, for decades. Development is evil, developers are nasty capitalists who want to build, build, build with no thought for the climate crisis or the communities and places that they’re building in.

In fact, the opposite is true. I’ve been in this business for over two decades and have never met an Evil Developer. I have met, however, plenty of people who want to leave the world better than they found it – and their vehicle for doing so lies in building new homes or improving town centres. People who run good businesses and treat their people well and do the most good with the resources they have.

How can it be that our mainstream media are still talking about property and development as a bad thing? We have a massive nationwide housing crisis, we have a railway system that hasn’t been updated (outside of London) in over a century, we have unfit energy and waste infrastructure that is causing enormous harm to the environment and not meeting modern needs. And no public sector vehicle able to fix any of those problems.

So why, when our nation relies on the private sector to build our new homes and infrastructure, and maintain and improve what we have, in the face of impossibly bureaucracy and vanishing profit margins, are developers still stereotyped as the pantomime villain?

Property has a branding issue

This is a bloody brilliant industry to work in. We leave a legacy – usually a positive one – improving people’s lives and places, long beyond our own lifetimes. We can pull together experts from so many fields – technology, design, materials, psychology, communications – to create better places.

Everyone within property understands what we do, yet when you talk to someone in another industry they see what we do as building houses (modern houses are all crap, apparently), or as business elites destroying beautiful places to ‘throw up a shopping mall and a car park’.

Let’s be clear, there are a few bad eggs out there, and some high-profile instances of bad behaviour and unkept promises. Targets for new homes missed in unspoiled English villages. Huge swathes of the countryside bought up for land banking. Or unforgivably, tower blocks built with unsafe cladding and housing assets so neglected that a small child died as a result of the black mould.

These events can’t be forgotten. Indeed they should form the basis for changes in policy and there should be consequences for those that had a hand in their happenings. But what we shouldn’t do is tar the whole industry with the same brush because of these outliers.

It is possible to change your spots

As we were told by Mark Farmer in 2017, we have to “modernise or die”. Many have. It’s heart-warming to see the developers, design teams and contractors who’ve got on board with sustainability and social value (properly, mind you, not just greenwashing). And I’m relieved to see that diversity and inclusion have become standard considerations in most settings. And it’s now delightfully rare to hear “Give us a smile, love!” being yelled from a construction site (or is that just a benefit of middle-aged invisibility?).

But why are we still seen so negatively?

Tech has managed to address its ‘bro’ culture and talked openly about the harm it brings to businesses and the solutions they develop.

Retail has kept up, mostly, evolving with the sustainability demands of their client base and leaping to keep up with technology (internet shopping wasn’t just a fad after all).

Travel firms, from Avanti to EasyJet, seem to take joy in providing the worst possible customer experience that they can get away with, whilst enjoying some serious shareholder returns.

And yet, despite our advances in recent years, we are still the [whipping boy] of the mainstream media and an easy villain trope for TV dramas.

It’s not just about our spots

Reputation is definitely more than skin deep. Our reputation (or brand) rests on everything we do, at every touchpoint of a person’s journey with us. From our web copy to engaging with communities, and from construction to sales and occupation, every representative of our business must be on message and on brand.

People will talk more about a negative experience with a company than about a positive one – and that’s especially true of news stories that appear in popular media. A story about a student housing development that’s been built without the right fire safety systems gets far more traction than a tale of 1,000 affordable homes delivered on time, to budget and exceeding all regulatory requirements.

We have to acknowledge that things go wrong. What matters is what we do about it.

Company culture, social responsibility and leadership all have a role to play in building a seamless customer experience.

So what’s the solution

There’s a lot of good that comes from carefully considered development. When done well, it can reinvigorate towns, stimulate commerce and provide affordable, high-quality homes for all income brackets. So how can we get those wins out there and into the minds of the general populace?

We need to carve out a new image for ourselves and for the industry. That means crystallising our messages, joining the conservations that matter and singing about our successes. Our industry has a big part to play in the future of the UK. From sustainability and net-zero to the levelling up agenda, many will be looking to us to lead the way in making a difference.

So we had better be prepared.

This is where a well-planned marketing and PR strategy comes in. But it can’t just be smoke and mirrors. It has to reflect what you do, not just obscure what you don’t want others to see. Audiences are savvy and will spot insincerity a mile away. Its exactly these discrepancies between statements and actions that serve to encourage the villain narrative. Just think of the bad guy at the end of a Scooby Doo episode, the mask falls away and the ghoulish duplicity of the villain is laid bare.

If you’re living your values and making the world a better place, a proper strategy will be equip you to go out into the world and win hearts and minds.

Need a marketing agency to help you put the best version of yourself out there? Give Luma Marketing a call and we’ll set you on course for success.

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