by Donna DiMaggio Berger, ESQ. / Published July 2014
When you are asked to think of iconic brands, names like Nike, Apple, Starbucks, and Coca Cola probably come to mind very easily. These companies all engaged in costly, strategic, and sustained brand building over many decades to ensure that their company names would convey a recognizable, memorable, and successful image to their customers and potential customers.
Companies certainly use branding to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Apple did a masterful job in portraying its users as young, hip, and creative while painting Microsoft fans as stodgy fossils. Undoubtedly, Microsoft would have liked a different image in the marketplace, but it was forced to play defense as a result of Apple’s more nimble use of branding.
When you think of community associations, do some communities do a better job of branding themselves than others? Should more communities be concerned about building their brand before the market or their detractors pick one for them?
If you think branding is irrelevant to your community, think again. Chances are you already have a brand, and it might not be one your board or previous boards have carefully cultivated. Do you want to know how your community’s brand manifests itself? Start by asking what kind of reputation your community has in the market. Is your community seen as a trendy, upscale high-rise catering to young professionals in an urban area or is your community more the laid-back, family-friendly suburban enclave?
Often a community’s brand is related to the unique community components supporting a specific lifestyle with equestrian, marine, and country club communities being a few examples.
When was the last time you asked neighbors outside your community, local realtors, and others in your area how they would describe your association? Is your community seen as stodgy or hip? Flexible or rigid? Upscale or budget-friendly? The list of possible brand permutations is vast.
What goes into branding? Successful branding really tells a story about who you are and why folks should want to associate with you. Among other avenues, your story is told by the way your community looks and functions; your signage; the communication portals you use such as newsletters and websites; your approval process; the manner in which you handle a number of member issues, including welcoming new residents, helping neighbors in need, and dealing with collection issues; the way your employees perform; and the types of events you host. Your association members are certainly essential to your community’s brand, and their contributions can change your brand for the better or the worse over time depending on how happy or unhappy they are. The professionals you choose to serve your community can also be critical components in how your brand develops.
Some communities are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to building and nurturing their image. While developers will often choose a name, location, and amenities with an eye toward creating a certain lifestyle to attract purchasers, the ultimate branding of a community takes place after the developer exits stage left. Think of the most upscale community in your city, and ask yourself how you know what you know about that community. The communities with the best-known brands carefully cultivate their image and take the steps needed to protect their brand with not much being left to chance.
What are some of the things you can do to start building your community’s brand?
One of the easiest things you can do is to secure your community’s Web address, which is also known as your URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Securing your association’s URL is relatively inexpensive and prevents others from using the same to either create confusion or, worse, set up a site, which denigrates your community.
Take a look at your signage both physically throughout the community as well as your letterhead, your website, and all other printed and electronic material. What kind of image does your font and logo portray? Is there consistency throughout all your communication portals or varying approaches, which create disparate images?
Speak with your association attorney about the types of policies you wish to create to support the brand you are building; these policies can pertain to security, occupancy, volunteerism, common area usage, civic involvement, ecological sensitivity, and more. You will also need legal assistance to trademark your logo, craft an employee handbook, and create the proper protections on your association website and other communication portals.
Decide if social media is something you could manage to further enhance your brand. A Facebook page and Twitter account might attract new purchasers and employees, but they can also detract from your brand if those channels are left to languish. Social media is not something that can be managed sporadically; successful use of this medium requires constant tending and the right tone. Again, your attorney can assist in ensuring that your passwords and accounts are owned by the association.
If your community is professionally managed, address your branding expectations in your management agreement, and revisit those expectations on an ongoing basis.
It is no coincidence that communities with the most positive brands are also those with the greatest level of volunteer involvement, the highest property values, and the most membership satisfaction. Your community’s branding (or lack thereof) will go a long way toward attracting or repelling the purchasers, renters, employees, and vendors you want. Isn’t it time your community started thinking about your brand and took the steps needed to strengthen that brand?