BUILDERS WHO THINK branding matters only when you're selling coffee, cars, and sneakers haven't been paying attention, says Mark Stevens, a White Plains, N.Y.–based marketing expert and author of Your Marketing Sucks. The added value of a builder's brand can be summed up in one instantly recognizable word: Trump.
“Until recently, builders had been brain-dead about branding,” says Stevens, who counts among his clients Hobbs Inc., a luxury builder in New Canaan, Conn., and Intrawest, a Vancouver, B.C.–based resort-property developer. “And then they woke up and said, ‘I hate Donald Trump, but damn, he puts his name on a building and adds an exponent to the price per square foot.' It's not Donald and his ego, but his ego-driven brand concept that drives his margins tremendously.”
Real estate branding guru Dave Miles of Denver-based Milesbrand begrudgingly says he has to agree. “[With Trump] you know what to expect,” he says. “Talk about a brand ... .”
Now, builders have another powerhouse name to watch in the industry—Martha Stewart. In fall 2005, KB Home announced a long-term relationship with the goddess of gracious living. Her Halloween decorations festooned KB model homes nationwide last year, and a collection of New England–style house plans inspired by her own homes and her design sensibilities debuted in KB's Twin Lakes: Homes Created with Martha Stewart, in Cary, N.C., in October 2005.
At the debut of their community in Atlanta in July 2006, Stewart said her work with KB was a natural extension for her company.
“This is the ultimate way to showcase our talents,” she says.
IN THEE WE TRUST Branding isn't just for the big guys. It's important for builders regardless of volume. A builder's brand is the crystallization of its identity, whether as a green builder, a “bigger house for less money” builder, a “stickler for details” builder who never cuts corners, or a builder who holds the customer's hand from beginning to end.
Ric Bonasera, general manager and partner at Frey and Son Homes, a custom home builder in Bonita Springs, Fla., says he knew the company's brand was secure the day he played golf with a client at a country club where Frey and Son had built several homes. As they walked the course, the client could pick out the Frey and Son houses from the back.
“He told me, ‘I can always tell which houses are yours because the backs are very distinctive,'” Bonasera says.
That's because Frey and Son is known for its attention to 360-degree architecture and its willingness to make extensive changes to its plans.