While the main focus of a branding initiative is to create awareness with the home buying public, the first task is to establish the brand internally.

Jack Shoptaw, president of Hammer Communications, says: "The only way for external to be branded is for the internal to get in line first." Shoptaw says this is especially important in the home building industry, which continues to experience a wave of mergers and acquisitions. "Decisions have to made quickly. Do you keep the local brand or shift to the national brand? As soon as there is a hint of a merger or acquisition, you should establish a brand research team."

One of Shoptaw's clients, Hovnanian Enterprises, typically retains the local brand and adds the phrase, "a K. Hovnanian Company."

However, Shoptaw says this traditional approach was challenged when Hovnanian Enterprises acquired Washington, D.C.-based Washington Homes, which owned two home builders in the North Carolina market. "Westminster Homes has a first-time buyer focus and Fortis Homes is an upgrade builder," Shoptaw says. "The question was whether both could survive without confusing potential home buyers."

Shoptaw says that nine months were spent on due diligence, interviews, and surveys with potential customers, business leaders, and members of local media.

"The outcome was to keep the brand separate but to invest more in public understanding of their distinct differences in the industry," Shoptaw says.

The result, Shoptaw says, is that both brands are now in leading positions in their respective markets in North Carolina.

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