By Mark Davis, co-founder and creative director, property branding agency me&dave
The relationship people have with London has always shifted over time, but right now we’re heading into uncharted waters. How can brand strategists help developers negotiate the new landscape?
The towns and cities in which we live are constantly evolving, and nowhere is this more acutely felt than in London. Neighbourhoods go from rundown to affluent and back again over decades. Demographics and industries change. New districts seem to materialise out of nowhere. (A few years ago Fitzrovia didn’t exist and Canary Wharf was part of the Isle of Dogs. China Town was in Limehouse and no-one had ever heard of Bankside.)
The way we interact with our surroundings shifts, too. Lockdown ushered in a major spike in remote working, and many industry commentators are now predicting that businesses will seek to downsize by around 20% when they return to office life. Whatever happens, we’re likely to see some big changes in the upcoming months and years.
What does all this mean for property developers – commercial and residential – and their brand strategist partners? How do you reimagine a development’s relevance when the area in which it’s stood is being redefined, or the way in which it’s used is changing? Brands need to evolve and respond to reflect change. If they don’t they risk losing relevance and receding into the background, rather than grabbing attention for all the right reasons and maximising profitability.
When One Crown Place (a mixed-use development with two residential towers on the City fringes) first came onto the market, we were asked by the developer to cast City living in a new light. The campaign focused on what we dubbed the ‘Golden Hour’ – that time at sunrise and sunset when the skyscrapers are bathed in an amber glow and corporate zeal takes a brief backseat. It was all about the new work-life balance to be had in this historic enclave, which had always been regarded as all work and no play. Things were changing, and the City was giving its more residential neighbours a run for their money (including its scruffier but cooler sidekick, Shoreditch).
And now things are changing again. The City has taken off its tie and Shoreditch has smartened up its act. In the past, the two neighbourhoods were polar opposites, rubbing alongside each other a bit awkwardly. Now the boundaries have been blurred and there’s a new common ground. And as the way we live and work continues to evolve due to Covid-19, the differences between the City and its neighbours could well continue to fade.
Hot off the press
When we started work at OCP we created a quarterly newspaper called The City Scene so people could keep up with what’s going on in the neighbourhood. We’ve done eight editions now and in that time we’ve started to notice some pretty big changes in the types of businesses setting up in the vicinity, and the kinds of shops, bars and restaurants (tentatively) opening their doors. It occurred to us that, these days, if you took away the postcodes you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between the City and Shoreditch. So what did that mean for a property like OCP and its target consumers?
It meant revisiting the brand so that it continued to make sense. Where there was an elegant, corporate palette, we injected vibrancy and colour. We loosened up on the use of language and gave the graphics a more energetic feel. In other words, we made OCP and its hinterland chill out a bit and reflected the City’s new, cooler edge.
A new chapter
If a big part of having a brand strategy in place is to tell a story and paint a picture of what life in a place could be like for a potential buyer or tenant, it needs to make sense and have the right context. And that means keeping an eye on cultural and social manoeuvres and the general vibe of an area or development – and then responding to that in the brand strategy and creative strategy.
All of which is especially important right now, as the people who live and work in London rekindle their relationship with the capital and everyone works out what life will be like in the future – work, rest and play.