Commercial property owners and managers often think of their buildings as unique, yet market them like commodities.
A look at many real estate company websites reveals how entire property portfolios are showcased in the same light, focusing on interchangeable amenities, and displaying properties, in a similar way, regardless of size, prominence, or stature.
This online brand portfolio strategy can be understandable in terms of website efficiency, but without a supporting or equivalent building website to match traditional advertising and marketing initiatives, mixed messages are sent and efforts to maintain a property’s brand positioning suffers.
First impressions are lasting, and with the Internet’s global reach, real estate research is increasingly conducted online, making website branding ever more important to create premium pricing and speed sales.
A real estate company website is a unique opportunity to showcase management strategy, including the presentation of the entire line-up of its portfolio. An on-line branding strategy that might work for one company, however, may not work for another.
There are three broad online brand portfolio models: the One Company Model; the Endorsement Model; and the Parent Company Model. Few companies follow these models exactly, however variations of these may be widely found online today.
The One Company Model
Perhaps the most commonly used online brand portfolio strategy is to umbrella the majority, or entire, property portfolio within the owning company’s corporate website. Each property is tightly connected with the owning company’s brand. Properties are displayed with a regimented consistency to ensure maximum brand impression for the company, as well as harness efficiencies in site development and maintenance. The overhead costs to modify the site are lower as the layouts are all the same. While some brand segmentation may be done to identify types of assets, e.g. retail vs. office, or by state, those customizations are minimal. This approach, seemingly favored by many REITs, in theory should facilitate cross-marketing. However, by interchangeably displaying content, such as amenities and square footage, from property to property, the effect can be to commoditize the assets themselves. An upside is that by ‘flattening’ the brand stature of the entire portfolio, those properties ‘below’ grade may be perceived as elevated by association. However, the potential downside is a homogenization of the entire portfolio and loss of brand value at the property level.
Related to the One Company Model is the Endorsement approach. This strategy permits more flexibility to express the unique character of a property, sometimes even going so far as to have stand-alone property sites. However, each property follows a brand structure that promotes a company’s ownership (and management) throughout, and ensures cross-branding continuity from webpage to webpage, and property to property. This strategy allows for more opportunity to express the brand character of the building, and with stand-alone websites there is more opportunity to enhance search engine visibility, promote and advertise separately, and customize content. The downside to this approach can be the added cost of customization and supporting additional website addresses.
Parent Company Model
A Parent Company brand strategy is where the brand focus is on the properties themselves, with little to no visible reference to the ownership of the property. Few companies have approached online portfolio branding in this manner comprehensively, but many are practicing this strategy in part, and doing so for varying reasons. This model is where the owning ‘parent’ company’s brand and website is at ‘arms length’ from it’s property assets, and where brand visibility is supported at the individual building level. In many cases companies create a corporate website, list their properties and provide hyperlinks to separate stand-alone property sites. Each property site contains a complete set of background materials relating to the building such as amenities, space availabilities, neighborhood information, maps, photos and video, links and references to nearby businesses, and much more. As stand alone websites, the property site is less constrained by the corporate brand, permitting more freedom to showcase the property as distinctive.
The Parent Company strategy is comparable to brand architectures used in other industries, including insurance, manufacturing, retail, auto, and consumer package goods. Procter & Gamble is a leading example of this model where each brand speaks for itself. Company websites can reference the totality of its portfolio of properties, without getting into the individual asset details like space availabilities. Instead, the company site can link to free-standing sites that contain more extensive and up to date details. This model can be especially useful for complex ownership arrangements, low profile corporations, and icon-filled portfolios. The downside of this model is the added expense of maintaining additional websites, yet stand-alone property websites more than compensate by contributing to a building’s brand equity. And, in terms of overall marketing and advertising costs, a stand-alone property site is a bargain.
Whatever the motivations for presenting a portfolio online – communicating with investors, attracting partners, promoting leasing and sales, or managing tenant services – an online brand strategy and website model should be carefully considered both at the portfolio and asset levels. Questions should be asked to determine which strategies will work best for a company’s longer range business interests including managing and growing brand equity at the company, portfolio and asset levels. As the use of websites and online media in real estate continues to grow, establishing the right online brand portfolio strategy will increasingly be important to successfully managing a real estate company’s entire brand equity potential.
by Raleigh Green