Integrated Branding

Don’t leave marketing for last.

By Yolanda Cole, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, Hickok Cole Architects

Here’s how it often goes. You snag a great site; you hire an architect. You discuss the budget, unit mix and amenity program. Maybe you talk about your target market. The architect completes schematic design; a contractor prices it. Next, you hire an interior designer to create a “look and feel.” Maybe it corresponds with the building design, often not. The drawings are completed and you start construction. A month or two before it’s done, you start thinking about marketing. Familiar? And backwards.

There is a better way:  Integrated Branding. After years of designing multifamily projects as described above, we strategically formed a Lifestyle Interiors division to address the miss-match. Drawing on hospitality design, this group focuses on enriching public and amenity spaces in residential projects. Capitalizing on another “ah-ha” moment, we then launched Hickok Cole Creative, an in-house agency to brand and market projects by employing Integrated Branding.

What is it and why is it a good thing? In DC there are 28,000 units coming on line by 2015 and a demand for 7,500 a year through 2018.* They are spread across vastly different neighborhoods, but nearly all are targeted towards the same set of young professionals. Competition is tough, so every project is vying for attention. We propose to address this with an inverted process that starts with the neighborhood context and ends with a building that speaks to a unique brand from top to bottom.

What defines the neighborhood—its name, boundaries or something unique about the vibe? What are its characteristics, iconic features and special places? Who lives there now, and who will live there in the future? What do they do in their spare time and where? These questions address the fuzzy, qualitative aspects that attract people to a place, and keep them there.

Our director of lifestyle interiors, Rhea Vaflor, is a super-sleuth and a runner. She jogs through D.C.’s neighborhoods, poses as a renter or buyer, tours buildings, chats with property managers, shops the stores, lounges in coffee shops, dines in local restaurants and absorbs fuzzy information. This is the kind of information you can’t get from a market survey delivered in a neatly bound book.

Once we understand the neighborhood and have identified our prospects, our dynamic Creative duo, Sarah Barr and Paul Bescher, consider its position and brand. They research the competition and brainstorm with the design team to shape its personality. What shall we call it? Is it more like a Martin, a Muse or a Maven? Which most closely mirrors the people we want to attract? We then consider what architectural aesthetic, amenity program and interior look and feel supports and strengthens the brand concept.

Lifestyle works hand in hand with the Architecture team in schematic design to define the tour route, identify and locate amenities, and make sure there is enough space for the package room (never enough). This collaborative process saves headaches down the road, like when you discover a column in the middle of the cyber café or that the dog spa isn’t big enough to wash a Mastif.

Once settled, we produce the drawings. In design development, Lifestyle returns, and the documents are produced in tandem. This minimizes coordination problems, particularly pertaining to everything that’s crammed into the ceiling plenum. By construction documents, it’s time to engage Creative to generate the buzz. It’s one part design and one part strategy.

These days almost everything is electronic, although we still believe in something beautiful you can hold in your hand. That means some kind of cool print collateral and maybe a clever give-away. You need a website that works on mobile devices, maybe with a short video and/or music. We are currently experimenting with augmented reality to produce 3D images of the building that can be viewed on a phone or tablet.

Once you have all of this great stuff, you need a strategy. When should you launch? Where do you find your prospects, how often should you touch them—and how? We develop a marketing plan that includes email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine and more. It’s mind-boggling, and it’s the way of the new world. We see this as the next frontier at Hickok Cole.

Case Study: The Botanica

This exemplifies Integrated Branding for a building design concept in a wealthy community outside the District. Our team agreed that The Botanica it should be positioned for over-50 empty-nesters and international transplants who want to be near D.C., with the comforts of shopping, dining and like-minded souls.

We named it “Botanica,” to evoke the image of a classic Italian botanical garden, resort hotel and spa. Hickok Cole Creative designed a logo to complement the theme, carried through to the naming of amenity spaces. 

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