Real estate branding

Recently, a client sent us a link to one of their competitors’ websites. He asked: “Why do you think this building is still empty – the brand looks good, the site is informative, the floors are handed over fitted out, visionary architecture, decent facilities management – what’s gone wrong?”

We’d already started investigating this particular building and, likewise the first impressions were pretty good. A great concept, the developer had invested in the branding, commissioned some great photos – complete with stylist input and models. It was packaged stylishly, and up went the website. Then, the developer sat back and waited for the tenants to roll in and sign up to their highly desirable product. It didn’t happen.

Here are a few reasons why we think it went south:

There’s a disconnection between the brand and the reality

The reality and the brand are as far apart as Bengal is to Southampton… and that’s quite a way! The building is pretty much constructed, but the brand was built on the promise of what the tower offers today, not in 2-5 years when the building and surrounding infrastructure was finished. Drive in to the building and you’ll see what we mean. You can’t. It’s impossible to access the car park. The few tenants occupying the building have to park a number of metres away from it, trawl through the sand, and dust down before starting work. Not good.










The premium brand positioning and leasing rates contradict each other

Premium brands command premium rates, regardless of whether you are buying a watch, car or a property – the principle is the same. If a real estate brand shouts about its construction and finishing standards, top notch facilities management, international architecture, etc you wonder why the leasing rates are rock bottom. If the product was a watch, you’d ask yourself: “Is this a fake, will it stop working after a month, what’s wrong with it?” In dropping the prices, perhaps they shot themselves in the foot? Lowered the value of the brand? Given off the wrong signals?

There’s no evidence of a marketing campaign

Armed with their wonderfully crafted product brand, it seemed to have stopped there. The website sits there doing nothing. We suspect the budget didn’t stretch to strategic marketing, or any marketing at all for that matter. Building a product brand and not marketing it is a grave mistake and a waste of money. Unless someone stumbles upon it by chance, who’s going to know about it? In this case, we searched Google for offices to rent in the masterplan – nothing came up apart from a 3rd party listing on page 4.

No construction updates for a year

Another oversight we often see is when real estate developers insist on having a news/construction update page that they don’t update for long periods of time. In this case, a year had passed. SEO issues aside, what message does this give off?

Lack of relevant messaging

This particular real estate brand screams style, style, style. We wonder if it’s a case of style over substance? We couldn’t find a single message within the literature that echoed anything other than style and vision. Largely de-sensitized to glitzy brochures, prospective tenants want to know more these days. Detail is king.

Don’t ignore the context

Although they may feel like it at times, developers can’t complete the work of the master developer. Tell prospective tenants what you are doing to lobby the developer to deliver their part of the deal. It’s a mistake to mislead and paint a rosy picture of a visionary masterplan if it’s still under construction.

Successfully branding and marketing real estate developments is a complex matter that requires a high level of strategic planning on all fronts – a surface-level branding exercise might look good, but lasting success requires a lot more than that.

When we meet prospective clients, we’re always asked: “how can you help us?”

Tell us your story to date – your challenges and successes and we will prepare you a bespoke proposal with your specific needs and budget in mind.

The Brand Foundation is a Dubai-based branding agency that specialises in the real estate sector.


The word ‘community’ is a common part of real estate marketeers lexicon these days.

Marketing buzz aside, what does community mean to you?

Has the reality lived up to the hype?

For better or worse, how has your real estate community enhanced your life? Has it enhanced your life?

We’d be delighted to hear your views as an end-user (tenant or owner).


The Brand Foundation is a Dubai-based branding agency that specialises in the real estate sector.

6.Your real estate brand is not an oasis
Presumably, you also have a corporate brand. Think about how project and corporate brands can compliment each other. What standards and values do they share? Leverage the strength of your development brand against the corporate brand, and vice versa. Create a brand architecture chart and clearly define the relationship. If you intend the two (or more) brands to stand alone, and some do, the rationale should be clear and solidly aligned with the future objectives of the company.

7. Listen and engage
Where real estate branding is concerned, listening and engaging with tenants, stakeholders, buyers and owner’s associations is paramount.

There’s nothing more damaging than when your real estate brand is positioned as offering a luxury, when the reality is that the maintenance team a) never turn up, b) turn up after a week, c) turn up after a week and cannot fix the problem, or even worse – there’s a sewage pipe nearby that omits a foul smell. This is why authentic brand positioning is vital, not to mention planning!

8. Think carefully before you jump on the bandwagon
If your development is a premium one, why charge 50AED per sq ft just because everyone else is? Look hard enough and you might find out just why the competition have dropped their prices so much – it may not always be attributable to market demands. Think about the possibility of long-term damage to the brand before you jump on the bandwagon. Once you bottom out on pricing it’s difficult to go up later. A tricky subject to generalize about, but if you truly have a premium product and can justify the price premium – stand firm.

9. Allow brand flexibility
Avoid rigid brand guidelines – markets and moods change. Rapidly. How many times have you been prevented from communicating a vital message because your brand guidelines don’t accommodate your ideas? It’s a fine line, I know, but you don’t want to be stuck with rigid guidelines that cannot flex organically – as you may need them to, especially during uncertain times. It’s best to see branding as a continuous corporate activity, extensions come and go as new opportunities arise. Don’t take your eye off the ball, even if you have just spent millions on a re-brand – that’s not the end of the story for 5 years, I’m afraid – not if you want to stay relevant and at the top of your game.

10. Be relevant
Stay current. Keep abreast of what’s going on locally and internationally – not just internally, in your corporate bubble. What are people talking about on the ground? What does a sustainable commercial real estate brand of the future look like? How do people wish to work in and contribute to their environments? What do they expect from you? The strategies of old might not cut it anymore. Neither does a surface-level branding approach.

The Brand Foundation is a Dubai-based branding agency that specialises in the real estate sector.

Research what they are offering. View their developments where possible. Investigate what they’re doing well and not so well. Compare what the actual offering is as opposed to the brand offering on their website and in their brochures. What’s their USP? What are their leasing terms, who are their tenants, what’s the infrastructure like, at what stage are they leasing; shell and core or fitted out? Do they have active campaigns running; where and in what languages? All of this and much more is vital… as I mentioned in a previous blog, a luxury property brochure and flash website isn’t enough these days. How can you plan and implement an effective strategy that exploits opportunities if you don’t know what the competition is up to? You can’t.

Know where you stand in comparison to the competition. A thorough analysis of tip 1 will help clarify this, and along the way unravel your brand weaknesses, strengths, opportunities and threats. The results will be a solid brand positioning matrix and a SWOT analysis – these will aid the brand-building process later on.

Establish your target market. Avoid a catch-all marketing strategy (geography and sectors) unless you can afford to implement it. Even if you do have the budget to implement it, the ROI may not be that great. If tip 1 and 2 are done well, your ideal target market will begin to surface during the process. And when it comes to your media plan, the media mix and ad spend is also focused, leaving less to chance.

If your real estate development is well designed but not architecturally iconic, don’t over go over the top. If your PMS is no more than a magnetic card entry system, don’t brand it a ‘smart building.’

A real estate brand has a long lifecycle. Think about how you intend to ensure the brand standards are maintained over a period of 10-20 years or more.

The Brand Foundation is a Dubai-based branding agency with partners, associates and support services in the UK, KSA and India.

The Brand Foundation wholeheartedly believes that strategy and sustainability are vital to success, they always have been, but even more so now – in the Dubai real estate sector, for example, the market is saturated and developers are literally scrambling to unravel their point of difference.

USP’s are important if they are genuine, and so is competitor analysis, positioning analysis, SWOT studies, and focused targeting – it’s lazy and probably a waste of money to say ‘we want to target the whole of Asia’ because the Chinese, Indian, Iraqi and… economies are doing well. The Brand Foundation understands the pains the UAE real estate sector is continuing to face but don’t be tempted by a ‘catch-all’ strategy, unless of course you have a massive budget and the time to plan and implement it! Talk to us and we’ll work with you to plan and implement a strategy that works within your budget and will give you a good ROI.

For real estate developers re-launching projects, we can’t turn back the clocks and start again but we can help you improve the situation you’re in.

Real estate branding

When a branding agency and its clients share the same values the results are outstanding. If you share our passion for excellence and you believe that trust, transparency and strategy are the determining factors of success in the context of a major economic downturn, and one where the key challenge lies in an organisations’ ability to create a sustainable brand that delivers on its promises – we are the branding agency for you.

PS. We advocate stylish property brochures, but not as a standalone solution.


The render above was directed by Lisa Knight, with assistance from James Mattison and produced by Adam Covell.


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