Place brand and communications in the age of blurred lines
According to predictions, by 2050 almost 70% of the world’s population will be city dwellers. This densification, coupled with the disruptive impact of new technologies and working patterns and structures is radically altering what people expect from places.
This is playing out across all sectors of the property industry.
The residential market faces a distinct set of challenges, characterised by a growing affordability gap and housing supply shortage, alongside the rise of alternative housing solutions within the Build to Rent sector including co-living and multi-family products.
These innovative products require a whole new approach to placemaking and place branding. Places need to be actively shaped, managed and curated to continually delight tenants, and attract new occupiers over time. Residents are more demanding about the types of lifestyle, culture and wellbeing amenities and services that they expect and all of these factors contribute to how the place brand is experienced.
More widely, UK policy makers continue to seek ways to embed good design principles at the heart of the planning system and housebuilding strategy – including public spaces that engage communities, better infrastructure to improve accessibility and mobility, and ‘third-spaces’ that create activation and community ‘buzz’. All of this aims to create cohesion and a sense of civic pride. It does require a long-term commitment though and lessons can be learned from entities such as the Great Estates – who have a patient approach built in to their operations – and those developers who take a proactive approach to placemaking and community / social impact.
Similarly to residential, retail has undergone significant upheaval in recent years, to the extent that it is now difficult to conceive of a standalone, pure retail bricks-and-mortar place.
The retailers that have evolved, adapted, and succeeded in this challenging climate have clearly adopted a people-first approach that focus on the factors that are key to consumers today: price, accessibility, provenance/exclusivity and, importantly, experience – including digital and physical integration. Bricks and mortar still has an incredibly important role to play, but this landscape has changed what ‘retail places’ look like, and the future of retail is looking increasingly mixed-use – including leisure, residential and workspace elements.
Put simply, integration of leisure, housing, offices and services are driving the footfall and increasing the dwell time that retailers and leisure operators rely on. This is a key consideration for both placemakers and place brands, as well as retailers themselves who are seeking to activate their own brands and create compelling customer experiences online and offline.
At the same time, the commercial office sector has seen its own sea change. Working patterns and the impact of technology continue to evolve, and the flexible, co-working and serviced office market has grown in line with this socio-economic development.
Operators have both responded to and have helped to further blur the lines between live, work and play and the role of the office is now increasingly linked with leisure and lifestyle.
People buy into the experience of working in these types of locations and, to a degree, seek to benefit from the brand halo effect of operating in these places. There then is the question of how to brand these places – whether an umbrella brand to cover all products (for example WeWork), which has the advantage of global appeal and recognisability but run the risk of homogeneity, or location-specific bespoke brands that must be created depending on the site and market. Each branding approach conveys a significantly different approach to the placemaking strategy which underpins the spatial offering.
Taken together, a common thread that is emerging is that property and placemaking is ever more about people-centric experience. It is the role of place branding to define what this experience will be, and the role of place storytelling to deliver those experiences and ensure a place’s reputation matches up to the brand promise.