Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to start building a valuable brand for your community association? Part II of our Branding Series!

My last blog discussed why you should start considering your community's brand and how you are viewed in the marketplace by potential purchasers, vendors and even your local government officials.

Today's blog will focus on the steps you need to take to build a brand that will make you proud to call your community home.
  • One of the easiest things you can do is to secure your community's web address which is also known as your URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Securing your association's URL is relatively expensive and prevents others from using that URL to either create confusion or, worse, set up a site which denigrates your community. Once you do set up a website for your association, you will find that site to be useful in terms of disseminating information about ongoing community projects, increasing transparency in your association operations and facilitating participation by your members. The most successful association websites have residents coming back again and again to check on news, list items for sale, download requested information and to participate in surveys about ongoing and upcoming projects.
  • Take a look at your signage both physically throughout the community as well as your letterhead, your website and all other printed and electronic material. What kind of image does your font and logo portray? Is there consistency throughout all your communication portals which convey a consistent and polished image or are there varying approaches which create disparate and even confusing images?
  • Speak with your association attorney about the types of policies you wish to create to support the brand you are building; these policies can pertain to security, occupancy, volunteerism, common area usage, civic involvement, ecological sensitivity and more. You will also need legal assistance to trademark your logo, craft an employee handbook and create the proper protections on your association website and other communication portals.
  • Decide if Social Media is something you could manage to further enhance your brand. A Facebook page, Instagram andTwitter accounts might attract new purchasers and employees but they can also detract from your brand if those channels are left to languish.  Social Media is not something which can be managed sporadically; successful use of this medium requires constant tending and the right tone. The effective use of Social Media can portray your community as a harmonious, well-run neighborhood and it can do this in a fraction of the time that old-fashioned networking and social events would take to build a similar image. The point of Social Media should be to start a dialogue not to make a point. Social Media portals are becoming more and more important for communities with a significant percentage of absentee owners as a necessary tool to keep those people informed and involved. If you do decide that Social Media is right for your community, your association attorney can assist in ensuring that your passwords and accounts are owned by the association.
  • If your community is professionally managed, address your branding expectations in your management agreement and revisit those expectations on an ongoing basis. In fact, your choice of management company and other professional advisers also contributes to your community's branding. A self-managed community will naturally present a different image than a professionally managed one. A folksy feel in a 15-lot HOA might benefit from a brand perspective from self-management. However, a high-rise tower's brand might suffer entirely in the absence of professional management. An on-site manager, a portfolio manager, a handyman who lives in an empty unit, a bookkeeper sitting in the association office and valet and concierge service all bring different aspects to your brand. A community lacking in retained advisers such as attorneys and accountants can also detract from your brand building efforts. Finally, it is important to remember that the reputation of the advisers you choose also contributes to your brand so choose them wisely.
It is no coincidence that the 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. Successfully branded communities also enjoy greater involvement with local public policy makers. Your community's branding (or lack thereof) will go a long way towards attracting or repelling the purchasers, renters, employees and vendors you want.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Building and protecting a brand for your community association-Part 1 of a 3--part series on Association Branding!

I just returned from the TOPS Software CAMfire conference in St. Petersburg and was mightily impressed with the entire program. I was honored to have been one of four keynote speakers as well as having been asked to teach a class along with Pilera Property Management Software owner, Ashish Patel, and to serve on a Social Media Panel with some very talented ladies: Gina Holbrook of Premier Property Management; Andrea Drennen of TOPS, and Ashley Capps of Trapp Online.

Not surprisingly, Social Media was a very large focus of the conference. For my keynote speech, I decided to address a topic most people would not readily connect with private residential communities-branding.

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.

When you think of iconic community brands you might draw a blank. You might not even understand what the concept of branding has to do with the private residential community you call home. Whether you realize it or not, the community association in which you live or provide services has a brand in the marketplace, it just might not be the brand you ultimately want associated with your community.

Think of the most upscale community in your city and ask yourself how you know what you know about that community. The communities with the best brands carefully cultivate their image and thee the steps needed to protect their brand with not much being left to chance.

If you think branding is irrelevant to your community, think again. Branding (or the lack thereof) goes a long way towards attracting or repelling potential purchasers, quality renters, talented employees and honest vendors.

Want to know how your community's brand manifests itself?  Start by asking what kind of reputation your community has in the market. When was the last time you asked neighbors outside your community, local realtors and others in your area how they would describe your association? Is your community seen as stodgy or hip? Flexible or rigid? Upscale or budget-friendly? Is yours the trendy upscale high-rise catering to young professionals in an urban area or is your community more the laid-back, family-friendly suburban enclave? The list of possible brand permutations is vast.

In Part II of our Branding Series, we will discuss some of the things you can do to start building your community's brand.