Speaking Sense

August 12, 2017

 

Buildings are the essential backdrop to city life. If you’re describing one - or even the plans for building one - it should include stories about who it houses, what types of relationships it fosters, and how it fits into and improves the neighborhood. But that story, one with strong emotive value, often doesn’t get told. Changing this and ensuring that projects are the subject of compelling stories is a key step in reducing the chaos and risk inherent in development project approvals.

 

There is a tendency within the real estate business - from developers to bureaucrats to activists - to rely on the use of metrics to describe proposed projects: 40,000 square feet, 125 units, a parking ratio of 0.8, 15% affordable at 60% AMI. This plague of features is similar to the problem the technology industry suffered through in the early 2000’s, when they were reduced to touting searches of higher and higher gigabits per second. It’s empty language. In the real estate world, it not only alienates the lay people that are critical to a project’s survival, but leaves brand equity on the table. The result: proposed projects are undervalued and under-supported.

 

Lacking a compelling narrative, the standard development approval process is slower and more combative than it should be. Instead of presenting a cohesive vision with a specific focus of benefits and - this part is crucial - tailoring that story to each audience type, project rollout goes sideways. Each audience group has differing concerns and desires and the project story needs to be adapted respectively. Neighborhood groups, for example, are primarily concerned with minimizing the symptoms of change: increased traffic and parking, demographic fluctuations, overtaxed services. Elected officials want to thread the needle between avoiding constituent unrest and allowing them to be at a ribbon cutting. And municipal permitting agencies want to hear that your project conforms to city policies.

 

Creating a continuity of mission and the ability to describe it in the right words to the right people is the cornerstone of Zero Partners. We work with development teams to identify and hone a brand story that can be communicated throughout the arc of the project’s development to drastically improve support and awareness of the project.

 

How do we get there? Zero Partners’ has a five-step real estate brand strategy process:

  1. Site Research: A thorough study of planning documents, site history, and community priorities

  2. Persona Development: Fictional character composites - based on stakeholder interviews - designed to shed light on what resonates with different audiences

  3. Positioning Statement: An internal strategy statement that focuses on project differentiation

  4. Brand Story: A brief, compelling project narrative

  5. Targeted Messaging: Concise versions of the brand story crafted to speak to the priorities of each audience type

 

The deliberate process of forming this brand strategy stems from real estate development’s reliance on approval decisions made by real people responding to emotional arguments. Messaging that is crafted in the language of the audience, that uses the words they need to hear to assuage their specific concerns, draw their interest, and transform them into proponents,  is the key first step in reducing your risk profile and getting to a ribbon cutting on time.

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