Most people would argue that marketing starts only when there is a finished product. When it comes to the real estate-industry we believe that this should not be the case. Unlike many other sectors, the 'product' can only be experienced in the place in which it exists. As opposed to having to compete for space on a supermarket's shelf or secure a good retail location, deals are hard fought over a one-off piece of land. Within this context, the potential role of marketing is often overlooked, or regarded mistakenly as being synonymous with sales.
However in other sectors, a marketing-led perspective more frequently provides companies not only with a raison d'etre but also greater profits. Marketing departments hold the responsibility for understanding the customer and developing the products and services which that customer will continue to want and pay more for; they are just as involved at the inception of a product as well as during the sales phase.
The real-estate industry in contrast sells the single most expensive thing most people will ever buy, yet does the least amount of research into understanding what people really want.
The singular nature of land, the leveraged financial model of development and a reactive, unpredictable planning environment undoubtedly combine to make it harder to devote time and effort to ensuring that the customer's voice is heard and responded to. Crucially, the omission of a marketing-led perspective from the core of the process ensures that the customer remains mute. Without a clear vision of who the customer is and what they want - sometimes intuitively understood by entrepreneurial founders - there is nothing to champion the customer's voice in the development and design process. The customer's voice may never feature in the conversations between client, financiers, agents, architects, and other consultants.
But what if marketing in its fullest meaning - "Identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably" (source: Chartered Institute of Marketing) - is brought to bear early in the development process. How much more attractive and distinctive could a scheme be? Not just for the direct customers or buyers, but for the wider range of users and stake-holders? How would the overall design process be different if all consultants were working to interpret a shared understanding of the customer and a vision the kind of place that they were working to create?
These questions are particularly apposite given the first year's anniversary of the Government-commissioned Farrell Review into architecture and the built environment. The Review seeks to improve the quality of the places in which we live, work, and play through collaboration and connectedness across the industry. The role played by marketing departments in other sectors, to bring together different disciplines to turn a shared vision into physical reality, is one that those involving in making places would do well to consider.
The reality is that marketing can never start soon enough or end too late. It should become as much a guiding philosophy as a specific activity.
Author: Nick Jones