Posts Tagged ‘branding’

Branding Real Estate

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

We’ve all heard the term “branding” but for most of us it’s seemed like just another name for the familiar business of marketing. Some people think it’s the packaging around a product – the logos and colors; others think it’s the sum total of the advertising that promotes a company. Both are wrong. Interbrand defines brands as “a living business asset, brought to life across all touchpoints which, if properly managed creates identification, differentiation and value. The key word there is “living”.   At its fundamental level, branding involves giving an inanimate object –a company, service or product — human properties. It allows you to relate to it at a human level. While marketing pushes a product to market (through the 4 P’s of Product, Price, Promotion and Place), branding is what creates its emotional appeal, its narrative.” A brand is what makes you insist on an Apple iPad as opposed to the well-reviewed Barnes & Noble Nook HD; a brand makes you covet an Audi S4 over the highly-rated Hyundai Genesis. A brand is a mist of memories, associations and aspirations that corporations spend millions of dollars trying to understand.

Modern brand management has its roots in the 1930s at Proctor & Gamble but it’s only in the last 20 years that we’ve seen it become the preeminent creed of effective marketers. For corporations, the implications of branding are enormous for this simple reason: a strong brand commands a premium in the marketplace (consider that the Ipad can command a price of more than $100 more than the Kindle Fire which is lighter, has better resolution, more RAM and a better camera). No wonder then that branding is entering the world of the biggest-ticket items.

Branding is still evolving in the real estate industry. We’ve seen companies like CBRE, JLL, and Hines do a fine job of conveying their scope, financial strength and expertise but rarely has it been applied at the product level. This is changing. One of the early adopters is Forbes, the eponymous business magazine, which will now put its name on commercial real estate. It has chosen the Philippines as the site for the world’s first Forbes-branded office high-rise — a partnership with a local developer. The 646,000-square-foot Forbes Media Tower will be located in the suburb of Manila. The project is expected to be part of a network of Forbes Media Towers around the world. It’s a tantalizing concept. While premium Class A buildings are sometimes branded under their anchor tenant (like the Time Warner Center in New York) or their vanity name (think of the Rookery in Chicago), the vast majority of the nation’s commercial real estate stock isn’t; it’s viewed as a commodity separable only by practical concerns like location, technology, lease rate, incentives and buildout. Clearly, it is an idea worth exploring: the Forbes brand has equity — a hundred year old company that is associated with hard news on “business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership and affluent lifestyles”. According to Omniture, reaches 47 million monthly unique visitors, while Forbes Magazine, Forbes Asia and Forbes Europe attract a global audience of more than 5 million readers. It would appear to be the ideal brand to extend into the realm of premium office space. Plus, the concept of the branded tower has its precedents (albeit mostly in residential real estate) — most famously with the Trump organization which has licensed its brand across a vast portfolio of real estate. One report has the value of the Trump brand alone at $3 billion.

So, how do you brand? We start with a full-scale brand audit of an asset, looking at its perception in the market (including it’s positioning, identity, personality, reputation) by talking to brokers, CREs, investors; then we look at competing buildings to see where we stand in relation to them. Once we have a very detailed snapshot of the asset, we undertake the actual branding process which starts with a SWOT analysis (and maybe a PEST analysis to see where the market as a whole is going) and proceeds to lay out all the aspects of the brand that will make it personal and unique. Think of it as an onion with layers – a vision, mission, positioning statement, personality, promise, values. The deepest layer is the brand idea or unique selling proposition. It is the DNA of a company of a product or company and motivates all of its messaging. To clarify, here are the most famous USPs in history:

Jaguar – styling
Mercedes – Engineering
Volvo — safety
FedEx – overnight
McDonald’s – Kids
Burger King — grownups

This simple idea is the spark that fires the look and feel of the brand, its expression in the market and the target audience. Think of Volvo and how every ad you see in some way references safety.

Case Study
Most recently, The Alter Group wanted to rebrand one of its signature buildings in downtown Chicago, Dearborn Plaza. Built in 1999, the 385,000 SF office building in downtown Chicago’s River North neighborhood was known across the industry as the Chicago headquarters of Google and winner of numerous architecture prizes. With the Google space becoming available in 2015, Alter knew that they needed to brand the asset as the best tech space in the best location in the city. However, when the Alter marketing team did their audit of the asset, they found that the brand didn’t reflect the status of the building.

Firstly, in our research we found that everybody knew the building as 20 West Kinzie and not Dearborn Plaza. Secondly, the brand expression , including its logo, signage and messaging didn’t convey what was special about the asset – the fact that it had a Michelin-rated restaurant and a boutique hotel in the building and was located in a spot with more nightclubs, restaurants and art galleries than anywhere in the city. After an exhaustive study , we re-engineered the brand under the Unique Selling Proposition of “Primetime Office” to convey the prime space and the notion that the building remained vibrant well into the night when the area became the center of the city’s nightlife. As part of this we introduced a new logo, new brand colors, and monument signage that still gestured at the building’s unique architectural lines. To cap it off, the building’s new web portal is one of the most content-rich sites ever done for an individual building with a look that evokes the most stylish tech companies like instagram, pinterest and tumblr.

Looking ahead, we are now seeing the second major revolution in marketing after branding – namely social media. Make no mistake, it is a sea change. And the biggest part of this is the internet and social media. Consider that 93% of B2B customers now begin the buying process with an online search and 48% participate in industry conversations online. In 2011 there was a study of 600 chief executive officers and 70 percent of them stated that they thought their chief marketing officer was on the wrong track. The reason is because the nature of the sales process has changed entirely. Customers now make 60 percent of their buying decision online before they even engage with your company. The reason for that is because we have moved from the old model of marketing—institutional marketing and the broadcast model, where the company would create a slick campaign and beautiful marketing materials and push that to the audience. This was effectively a one-way conversation. Now, we have moved from that owned content model to earned content which is about engagement.

For 20 West Kinzie, we have to go beyond branding to engaging with tech firms through twitter, LinkedIn and other channels and through very targeted banner and PPC ads. We produce meaningful content through our blog and podcasts and then combine that with presentations at conferences and through the press. You have to be useful and you have to be authentic in this marketing space. The new watchword is interaction not interruption.

In the end, branding real estate , whether it’s the Forbes or the 20 West Kinzie strategy is powerful and a natural extension of the branded environments we’ve become used to in the retail and hospitality industry. Whether it’s the marbleized no-hassle restraint of Nordstrom’s or the design-conscious eccentricity of Target, our energy and attitude is subtly altered by branding. We feel different in these spaces by virtue of the brand. Forbes is a pioneer in trying to do this within office space. It will be a great test case for the influence of the b-word.

Tom Silva is Principal of Silva Brand, a strategic branding agency based in downtown Chicago. Previously Senior Vice President of Marketing & Strategy for The Alter Group, he has branded major corporate campuses and downtown high rises, including 111 West Illinois, a major high-tech office tower in River North ( and 625 West Adams (, a 490,000 SF, 20-story office building. His writing on branding and business strategy has been featured by Reuters and in his regular column for the Huffington Post.


Tom Silva
Silva Brand

Chicago 2016 Had its Rewards, But Also Risks

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

So Chicago was eliminated in the first round of International Olympic Committee voting as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a source of great surprise to many, particularly in light of Barack Obama making the final pitch personally.chicago202016

Still, one thing bears repeating:  no city hosting the games has ever made money from the Olympics. Los Angeles’ $233 million surplus only took direct expenses into account; it did not include indirect expenses such as security and infrastructure.  Montreal took 30 years to pay off their Olympic debt.  Nagano, Japan’s Olympics were so costly and controversial that the city’s Olympic organizers destroyed the games’ financial records.

“There has never been an Olympic Games that has made a profit,” notes Robert Barney, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario and co-author of Selling the Five Rings:  The International Olympic Committee and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism.  Add in all costs and revenues “including federal allotments, state allotments, it’s always been that a debt has to be paid somewhere.”

On the plus side, Chicago 2016 would have been a tremendous boost to the city’s international trade, (though it would have impacted tourism only slightly).  Then there’s the unquantifiable brand enhancement.  Chicago 2016 might have been the catalyst to wipe away the moniker of the City of Al Capone forever.

In the spirit of good sportsmanship, we send our congratulations to the host city of the 2016 Summer Olympics – Rio de Janeiro.  The first South American city to host the games, few in Chicago can begrudge Rio its victory.

Chinese Companies Face Branding Dilemma

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Over the last 30 years, China has become the world’s factory floor, offering a massive and highly mobile workforce, fast turnarounds and low production costs.  The “Made in China” label can be found on virtually any product sold across the globe, from shoes and clothing to power plant components and process control systems.  Even products labeled “Made in USA” — such as medication — are frequently born of Chinese-made components.

Most Americans are now well-acquainted with Chinese-made products, for better or for worse.  Yet how many Americans can name a single Chinese brand?  Lenovo might come to mind, or perhaps Tsingtao, one of China’s favorite libations.  But any list of the top global brands is invariably devoid of Chinese names.  How is it that a country of 1.3 billion people with the world’s third-largest economy has not produced any true international brands?

Newsweek offers up a few possible explanations. Their recent article on China’s branding dilemma focuses on Huawei, one of the world’s largest electronics and telecommunications firms and “the best company you’ve never heard of”.  Huawei,20090202_made_in_china_label_18 founded in 1988, is so substantial that they are “poised to overtake Nokia Siemens as the world’s second-largest maker of telecom hardware, after Ericsson.”  In fact, “one out of six people on the planet use Huawei hardware”, but most consumers outside of China can barely pronounce the name, let alone recognize the company’s products.  Huawei’s problem?  According to Newsweek, the firm sells few products directly to consumers, does not engage the public, and spends little effort or capital on marketing.

Meanwhile, the branding challenge appears to be systemic in China.  Newsweek names four key forces that are preventing Chinese brands from emerging on the world stage:  “cutthroat domestic competition”; tough cost pressures from foreign brands; “weak protection for intellectual-property rights”; and, of course, a bad reputation for quality after the perpetual product recalls and safety violations.  After all, it was Chinese-made products that helped familiarize the average consumer with melamine in the wake of the massive Chinese milk scandal.

Branding remains an unfamiliar concept in China, so Chinese firms attempting to sell to the international consumer face an uphill battle.  Chinese firms expend quite a bit of energy copying foreign brands rather than investing in innovation.  Many of China’s major companies grew using technology or branding “borrowed” from established foreign multinationals.  Of more consequence, the Newsweek article fails to point out Huawei itself allegedly stole quite a bit of Cisco Systems’ source code.  Cisco filed suit against Huawei  in 2003 for IP infringement, a case that was settled when Huawei agreed to alter its product line.

Already, there is a major push in China towards value-added industry and innovation.  After all, China can’t rely on cheap exports forever, especially when faced with the decrease in consumer spending in traditional export markets.  As such, the branding dilemma is likely to play a major role in debates about the future of the Chinese economy.  China’s success or failure at creating international brands will have huge repercussions for the global economy.

Richard Gould is AlterNow’s China correspondent.  He is manager in the Guangzhou office of CBI Consulting, Ltd.,
Investigations, and Brand Protection in Greater China. which also has offices in Shanghai and Taipei, Taiwan.  CBI is a leading provider of Business & Competitive Intelligence,