Why property developers must cement stronger consumer links

The biggest programme of housebuilding in 30 years is under way after new Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week pledged to build 3 million homes by 2020.

The announcement comes at a time when the Office of Fair Trading is looking at the housebuilding market amid fears consumers could be getting a raw deal, and as developers grapple with a raft of legislation designed to cut CO2 emissions from new homes.

There have been fears that hikes in interest rates will affect developers, and a host of mergers and acquisitions mean that the market is constantly changing. Taylor Wimpey became the country’s largest housebuilder at the beginning of the month following the merger of Taylor Woodrow and George Wimpey.

Jan Gooding, a branding consultant at Antennae, has just written a report on marketing for a major developer. She says/ “The reason marketing has been so terrible is because companies are so fragmented, regionally and locally.” She believes developers need to create a brand identity to make them more recognisable on a national scale because “brand can offer a lot of comfort”.

Developers are increasingly recognising the importance of marketing, according to Jo Weston, marketing manager for The Home Builders Federation. The Federation created the New Homes Marketing Board (NHMB) in 1982 to promote the benefits of new homes and has plans to ramp up its activities.

Weston believes one of the main areas of focus for marketers will be to explain the concept of carbon neutral housing. “There will be extra costs for developers which will need to be passed on to customers, but that will have to be justified, she says. “Explaining why you should live in a new home that is carbon neutral, versus an old home, is going to be a big challenge.” 

She also believes that an explosion in housebuilding is going to have a big impact on existing communities that are likely to be against new developments. “It’s not just about building homes but building community relationships,” adds Weston. “You need to think about the whole community aspect.” 

Community centred
At present, developers are required to contribute to the local infrastructure with a “Section 106” payment to the local council. One housing commentator says promoting what a developer puts into the community rather than what it takes out will play an important part of any marketing strategy.

Experts believe traditional methods of marketing such as marketing suites, public relations and advertising will continue to be important in selling houses but will have to become much more sophisticated. Developers have a reputation for being late bloomers when it comes to embracing new forms of advertising, but the tide could be turning.

Developers are starting to create community websites to tap into the popularity of social networking and they are also beginning to use mobile phone technology. City centre developments with limited outdoor advertising space have started employing Bluetooth technology that allows information to be downloaded onto a mobile phone.

Cost of the catch
Providing an incentive is also going to become the norm, thinks one marketer. Integrated kitchen appliances and fitted carpets are now expected by most buyers and some developers are even offering to pay stamp duty, deposits and legal fees.

It seems that the UK’s top developers, such as Barratt, Persimmon and Bellway, are going to have to evolve their marketing strategies if they are to be successful in promoting the benefits of new homes. Weston adds: “Traditional marketing will still, obviously, play an important part, but developers will have to spend more time talking customers through what they are buying.” 

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