Business Matters: “Building Brands in Property”

John McHugh, MAG Property’s head of strategic and commercial marketing, discusses the importance of brand in the property industry.

Virgin, Nike, Coca Cola, Apple; just a few of the successful names that are often referred to not as businesses, but brands. Their prosperity is built on passionately delivering great products with a proposition that places the customer experience firmly at its heart.

In the B2C sector, names like these are easy to think of and increasingly, many B2B companies are unlocking the power of their brand. Forbes’ annual list of the world’s most valuable brands is dominated by technology, followed by financial services, consumer packaged goods, automotive, and luxury and retail. Property doesn’t feature. Strange; when you consider research by Savills in 2016 revealed, at US$217tn, world real estate accounts for 60 per cent of all mainstream assets.

Perhaps it’s important to note here that, when we talk about brand, we don’t mean logos, product names and elaborate brochures. These are merely some of the numerous outputs that should reflect and communicate a company’s overall proposition. A great brand is a powerful platform; one built on a solid understanding of product, service, values and a mission that combines to meet the needs of an intended audience. It’s the DNA of a company, the essence of which should permeate every touch point of the customer journey.

When it comes to property and brand, it’s safe to say our industry has, historically, been guilty of dragging its feet. It’s a domain where product has always taken centre stage, with size, location and price dominating the performance. Unfortunately, the stage is crowded full of intrinsically similar buildings, each claiming to be unique. The result? An audience with much to choose from, but very little to catch their eye.

Fortunately, the late 1990s and 2000s saw the seeds of change being sown, albeit slowly. Companies like Bruntwood, Urban Splash, Argent and Allied London realised that establishing, packaging and delivering a more holistic brand proposition would offer a competitive edge. Instead of selling just the physical attributes of their product, they actively began promoting a way of doing business that was benefit driven; one with which the consumer could easily connect. The perfect example being Chiswick Park, whose successful ‘Enjoy Work’ vision was one of the first to embrace the fact that people are more important than bricks and mortar.

It was investors and developers like this that looked to the market and customer demand to help shape what they were selling, rather than adopting the ‘build it and they will come’ approach; a phrase heard much less post 2007. Many who weathered the financial storm that ensued did so not just because of sound financial planning and property management, but because of the solid foundations on which their brand was built; a combination that helped many emerge with both their reputation and portfolio intact.

In recent years, as our industry has to respond even more quickly to the changing needs of both the market, economy and occupier expectations, it’s encouraging to see more property companies shifting their focus towards brand. Doing so helps differentiate themselves from the competition, as well as ensuring their offering matches the increasingly nuanced requirements of occupiers and their staff.

In this respect, MAG Property is no exception. The solid foundations we’ve built during the past 17 years as the property and development division of the UK’s leading airport group, means we’re well placed to harness the existing success of our brand. Now, we are focused on developing this reputation and our people by capitalising on the unique offer we have within the property industry.

As airport property experts, our distinct market position means we can deliver and communicate a proposition that is defined by a clear and engaging vision of where our strengths and the opportunities meet for our partners and the wider economy.

Doing this has helped us move from being regarded as an airport company that happens to own property, towards a PropCo which specialises in airport property. One that is proud to have companies like DHL, Harrods, Swissport, Handelsbanken, dnata and Hilton enjoying the benefits of being a customer.

Ultimately, your brand helps define what people think. Taking it seriously, and doing it well, can help you build customer confidence, which is essential to business success. But don’t just take my word for it, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos summed it up nicely when suggesting, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

The upside of this is the fact that today’s technology means many of us are in the same room at the same time; meaning great brands can travel fast. The downside being, bad news travels much, much faster.