I recently wrote about the idea of a “community brand”—what it is, why it matters (and it does), and how you can build and strengthen yours. The community brand concept applies powerfully and uniquely to real estate and property developers. With a strong community brand, a developer can forge authentic, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the neighbors of the spaces where they wish to build.
The special challenges that developers face in communities
A developer—whether an individual or a business entity—takes ownership of land, changes or updates its use, and, ideally, enhances a community as a result. If done right, this process can be smooth, effective, profitable, and embraced by the existing community.
And by “done right,” I mean done with a deliberate intention that the project will mutually benefit the community (who will have to live with the developer’s work for decades to come) and the developer (who wants to make money and/or build a community-serving project).
That’s what sets developers apart from most other businesses. Typically, the objectives that inform and shape an effective community brand are focussed on a place where a business or individual is already a permanent fixture.
Developers on the other hand, come into places, do their work, and then often move on to the next community and project. They can be easily viewed as outsiders whose sole motivation is profit and who at best pay lip service to community concerns.
To anyone involved in property and real estate development: I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. You and your projects can be welcomed into neighborhoods. You should be. And the long-term outcomes can be mutually beneficial.
Developers: You NEED the neighbors.
Consider again: You are coming into a place that isn’t yours. You are disrupting the life of that place simply by proposing change. Your success absolutely hinges on your neighbors:
- The closer they live to your project, the more power they hold in determining its success.
- The better organized they are against you, development in general, or outsiders, the harder you will have to work to create common ground with them.
- Their attitude and response to you is informed by recent, past experiences with developers.
Remember: This is their place, not yours. It is incumbent on you to deal with the place and its people as you find them, not as you wish them to be. When you have a strong community brand, it paves the way for sustained mutual respect, cooperation, and success.
And here’s what you can do.
Establishing your community brand isn’t a matter of the things you do to get your project approved by the local authorities. It’s not about getting the paperwork right at city hall.
As a developer, your community brand is ALL about the way you interact and develop person-to-person relationships in the neighborhood.
In a nutshell, you have to establish yourself as a different kind of developer—and you have to prove it. How?
- Begin with plans that prioritize the needs of the neighborhood—jobs, shopping, services, shared green spaces, etc.—that will demonstrably invite, include, and benefit current neighborhood residents, families, and businesses. People will want truthful answers to their question, “What will be my place in this development?”
- Have a track record of cooperation, collaboration, and collegiality in working with other neighborhoods on other projects.
- Show up ready to demonstrate that you will represent and live out that track record on this project.
- Cultivate community allies from past projects who can expertly testify that you’re a true community partner, not just another developer.
- Do the work of creating and building authentic, person-to-person relationships inside communities.
Your Community Brand IS your reputation when you’re doing development.
I won’t call it “reputation management” because everything you do as a developer, from the project approval process to construction, is out in the open. Your actions, not any spin you put on them, define your community brand.
Here’s the difference a strong community brand can make for developers:
When you have a strong community brand, people will talk about you and your project the way you need and want them to—without you having to ask them. When local neighborhood members embrace your project as a result of your community brand, they become advocates for you. Their advocacy amplifies your project’s benefits for the community and brings more community members and influencers along.
A strong community brand sets you up for long term success in the communities where you seek to site your projects. People will seek to invite you in because of your relationships and reputation with the community. They will see you as a true partner for the improvement of the community.
I’ll leave you with this:
Months, years, and decades after construction is complete, people will remember how you treated their neighborhood every time they see your building.
How do you want to be remembered?
Through your community brand you show that you regard your projects as existing beyond the transactional. You are here to be part OF a community, not just to build IN a community. You have a vision for the community and a mission that’s rooted in an authentic understanding of the community, its character and essence, and its needs.
As a developer your community brand embodies and expresses your respect for the communities where you wish to build.
Answer 8 questions and we’ll assess the strengths of your community brand and the areas where it needs strengthening. It’s an exercise that every developer who wants to be a true neighborhood partner will find worthwhile. Request your Community Brand Audit.