When you are asked to think of iconic brands, names like Nike, Apple, Starbucks and Coca Cola probably come to mind very easily. These companies all engaged in costly, strategic and sustained brand building over many decades to ensure that their company names would convey a recognizable, memorable and successful image to their customers and potential customers.
Companies certainly use branding to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Apple did a masterful job in portraying its users as young, hip and creative while painting Microsoft fans as stodgy fossils. Undoubtedly, Microsoft would have liked a different image in the marketplace but it was forced to play defense as a result of Apple's more nimble use of branding.
When you think of community associations, do some communities do a better job of branding themselves than others? Should more communities be concerned about building their brand before the market or their detractors pick one for them?
If you think branding is irrelevant to your community, think again. Chances are you already have a brand in the market and it might not be one your board or previous boards have carefully cultivated. Do you want to know how your community's brand manifests itself? Start by asking what kind of reputation your community has in the market. Is your community seen as a trendy upscale high-rise catering to young professionals in an urban area or is your community more the laid-back, family-friendly suburban enclave? Often a community's brand is related to the unique community components supporting a specific lifestyle with equestrian, marine and country club communities being a few examples.
When was the last time you asked neighbors outside your community, local realtors and others in your city how they would describe your association? Is your community seen as stodgy or hip? Flexible or rigid? Upscale or budget-friendly? The list of possible brand permutations is vast.
What goes into branding? Successful branding really tells a story about who you are and why folks should want to associate with you. Among other avenues, your story is told by the way your community looks and functions, your signage, the communication portals you use such as newsletters and websites, your approval process, the manner in which you handle a number of member issues including welcoming new residents, helping neighbors in need and dealing with collection issues. the way your employees perform and the types of events you host. Your association members are certainly essential to your community's brand and their contributions can change your brand for the better or the worse over time depending on how happy or unhappy they are.
It is no coincidence that communities with the most positive brands are also those with the greatest level of volunteer involvement, the highest property values and the most membership satisfaction. Your community's branding (or lack thereof) will go a long way towards attracting or repelling the purchasers, renters, employees and vendors you want. Isn't it time your community started thinking about your brand and took the steps needed to strengthen that brand?