December 7, 2007
CBA Insights speaker profile: Linda Berman
By BARBARA TRAVERS
Linda Berman is not your conventional “brand consultant,” although Disney, AT&T, Coca Cola, MTV, FedEx and the NFL, among others, have called upon her to explore new opportunities for their brands. She has mastered the approach of finding points of intersection between cultural shifts, consumer trends and a company’s own uniqueness to explore new business. Her philosophy is that the future of real estate development is about building more than just places it’s about building places in the heart of the guest.
When do “brands” work?
Hugely successful brands such as Apple, Nike and countless others really work because they offer their customers emotional connections. There is something in those brands that actually transcends the very products they sell. When a brand really understands who they are and the emotional real estate they own in the heart and mind of their consumer, they create a personal, “this is who we are” brand.
Brands are like people. They need a rich, resonant voice that speaks to people in an intimate way, forming the kind of trust that is implicit in any personal relationship. That’s when a brand can make the leap to the next level.
What traits do successful brands share?
They share the knowledge that their “meaning” looms larger than their products. They represent something to their audiences and have touched them. Once a brand reaches that kind of stature then they have permission to develop new products and experiment and command premium pricing. They even have permission to misstep occasionally, whereas a more fledgling brand can’t do these things without great risk.
Successful companies don’t abandon the roots of their philosophical positions and they craft something so distinct that it creates, and maintains, its own standard.
How does this translate in the real estate business?
In the context of real estate, it isn’t embarrassing anymore to speak about emotions. Before you can expect people to buy, you have to get people to buy in to your philosophy and point of view. This applies in building places as well.
Typically, developers, especially retail developers, draft off the brands of their tenants and don’t feel the responsibility of building their own brand. They think branding is naming their property or doing advertising. It’s much more than that. Branding of places, when done in the right way, is creating value separate from tenants. However, it may attract better ones, creating a certain magic. But it’s in the details the design, programming, events, etc. All the details.
In creating successful places, be it retail, commercial or residential, there needs to be an understanding of what’s meaningful to people. Go beyond bricks and mortar and beyond architecture and crack the code of creating places of meaning.
Tell us about your new company, Team I-Sight.
We’re a special kind of branding agency focusing on creating strategies for communicating the meaning and message of products and places. We seem to be doing a lot of work in the area of “place-based branding” working with developers and their teams to ensure that the projects they are building will be differentiated and embraced in a new way. And, working with brands who want to touch their customers in a more visceral way through experiences, exhibitions, pop-up stores, retail, etc.
We strive for places that have personal qualities touching people and inviting them to connect, stay longer, and come back again and again.
What is “place-based branding?”
It’s making the experience of a place positive and exceptional. Differentiating you from other places. Making people, once they get there, feel as if you’ve crawled inside their heads and hearts. Showing sensitivity to what they desire and care about. Details. Big ideas, little executions.
In real estate, branding has typically been perceived to be the same as marketing. It’s not. Branding is about staging experiences and making sure the brand and its philosophy is orchestrated across everything that touches the audience. It’s an all-inclusive process, and it can impact everything from the government and community relations process to design, marketing, events, communications and the physical environment.
How does a company tap into its property’s “place branding?”
Authenticity is at the heart of all of this. We identify what the authentic story is not a made-up contrivance or silly narrative, that’s just a veneer. I come from the consumer products world, where you can’t just pass a product off as being valuable just because you say it is it has to deliver.
The consumer has always been in control and we take that into the real estate world. People can detect manufactured messages. A brand is like a rubber band you can stretch it so far before it breaks. You have to keep it real. A brand’s elasticity only goes so far and if you go beyond that, there will be a disconnect. People feel that.
It’s a competitive sport getting people to come to your “place.” They may come once, they may even come often, but if you want them to choose you above all others and make your place their own, you need to make that happen. You have to offer a place of excitement, vibrancy, as well as intimacy and respite. It’s achievable and the great places in the world always pull it off. They create places that feel like the people they intended to attract had a hand in the process.
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