21 June 2024

Destination Branding: When is a residential development a brand, not just buildings? 

Chloe Beckett

Most normal humans will say they don’t want their neighbourhood to be a brand, and they probably have a point. 

When people think about brands, they think of Apple, Nike, or McDonald’s (this is certainly the case in every workshop ever), so it makes perfect sense that people do not want their homes to turn into a Nike ‘House of Innovation’. 

But this isn’t what we mean when we talk about residential development branding. Residential developers face two, often conflicting, challenges: to sell homes, and to create happy and thriving communities. For both, a well-positioned brand can be the answer. 

Signs a development is nailing its brand 

So what do we mean by residential branding? Here are the tell-tale signs of a development brand that’s getting it right: 

  • Locals remember its name – not just ‘the new estate near Tesco’, but popularly referred to by the name it was gifted 
  • Locals refer to it fondly – it’s a feature of pride, and it’s accepted as net positive in the community 
  • People enjoy spending time there – not just in the homes, but in the areas between the homes 
  • It takes on a life of its own – people make it theirs, grow their own spaces, and the area around it blossoms 
  • It has a vibe about it – that intangible personality that people just get. When done right, ‘brand’ and ‘atmosphere’ are inextricably linked 
  • The sales team enjoy telling the story – not just ‘stunning 1, 2 and 3 bedroom homes…’ 

How do we get there? 

Naming 

Consider this: would the Barbican occupy the iconic status that is has today if it had been called Granite Court? 

 First name  Birthday 
Ashen Green 
Briar Fields 
Cedar Square 
Dover Gardens 
Elm Gate 
Forest View 
Granite Place 
Harmony Grange 
Ivy Village 
Juniper 10 Quarter 
Keystone 11 Heights 
Lark 12 Grove 
Meridian 13 Hill 
Northridge 14 Rise 
Oak 15 Vale 
Pine 16 Wharf 
Quail’s 17 Mead 
Royal 18 Crescent 
Saxon 19 Park 
Timber 20 Meadows 
Unity 21 Acre 
Vista 22 Yard 
Willow 23 Lawn 
Xavier 24 Parkside 
Yardley 25 Quay 
Zenith 26 Wood 
  27 Riverside 
  28 Hall 
  29 Farm 
  30 Brook 
  31 Drive 
What’s your out-of-city development name?

Well perhaps – it comes packaged with a genre-defying vision for architecture, placemaking, and community – but its name certainly helps.  

Stemming from the Latin ‘Barbecana’, meaning a fortified outpost, its name is functionally descriptive, but more importantly, it is brazenly confident – a statement name befitting the scale and ambition of the vision. 

True, a similarly bold approach may not translate to an out-of-city neighbourhood of traditional family homes, but finding a unique or distinctive angle in a crowded landscape of ‘Greens’, ‘Groves’ and ‘Squares’ is important. If your development name sounds like it’s been pieced together in a game of boring-word-bingo, you may not be onto a winner. 

Instead, dig deep into your development’s provenance – its history, culture, architecture, key features, emotional connections. And use your name as the lighthouse for your brand positioning. The two must feel connected, and your name should be one of the greatest proof-points of the story you tell.  

Winning over the locals 

‘NIMBY’ (not in my back yard!) is a phrase often used with relish in the pro-development agenda. While it’s sometimes used derogatively to refer to the perceived privileged attitudes of the middle classes, anyone who is concerned by development on their doorstep surely deserves to be heard. 

In fact, if a new residential development is to be successful in delivering an integrated local community, it must bring locals along with it. 

The age-old arguments around traffic, overloaded public facilities, and interrupted dog walk routes may never be entirely solvable. But there are other ways to bring the locals into your story. Involve them in a meaningful consultation process (not just a box-ticking exercise), demonstrate your understanding of their hyper-local cultures and traditions; and importantly, give them (as well as your new residents) a space to belong within the place that you’re building.  

Parkside Yards, at Berkeley Homes’ The Green Quarter development, is a brand and space specifically designed to bring the locals of Southall into the new neighbourhood. 

Creating personality 

‘Too much character’ is often cautiously avoided by sales-conscious developers. Larger residential developments must have broad appeal in order to sell well, and sales teams don’t need to be hamstrung by a neighbourhood that only appeals to (for example) Gen Z hipsters. 

But this philosophy has its limits. 

While homes and their private spaces should feel like a canvas onto which residents can make their own mark, the public spaces between the homes – if left blank – can feel unfinished. This space provides the core opportunity to create a distinctive, magnetic place-brand identity. 

Features of pride – begin from your brand heritage and identity, and work forward. Is there an art installation, a statue, or a landmark facility that feels right for your brand? Make it special, and give people a reason to feel proud of their neighbourhood. 

A sign in the dirt Description automatically generated
A light touch at Chelsea Barracks


Sight- and soundscapes – take inspiration from the masterminds of theme parks. There’s no need to go full Disney here, but controlling the quality of experience in your public spaces is critical. Have you created an appropriate feeling of arrival at your site entrances? Is your street furniture facilitating the right behaviours (this could be as simple as bins and benches)? What is the sound quality like throughout the neighbourhood, and can you introduce water features, foliage, or even custom-designed soundscapes to soften it? 

Signage – it’s simple, but the most permeating way for a residential brand to communicate with visitors is through signage. Find the right balance, and bring personality to your signs’ tone of voice. From wayfinding and large information boards, to polite notices in flowerbeds – every sign is an opportunity to convey your brand’s personality.   

Selling the story 

For most residential brands, the proof is in the selling. Residential development is a world of narrow margins and significant expenses, so any investment in branding must wash its face from a sales perspective – going beyond just enhancing the lives of new residents and existing locals (though of course this is a valiant ambition). 

The good news is, a strong residential brand should secure both healthy sales and neighbourly happiness. 

Yet this may not always seem obvious to sales consultants and agents, who are used to handling their clients’ main preoccupation with functional features and details (how far is the closest station? what are the service charge fees? how many homes will be built here?). And without a doubt, these details are critical. 

But the biggest gift of a compelling brand story is to get new residents bought into the place just as much as the home. Sell the place, and the homes will sell themselves. 

Sales agents are your first and most powerful brand touchpoint here, and they are gatekeepers of the story your residents will hear. So the easiest way to get your brand to stick? Make sure your agents are bought in. 

Run workshops, invite them to stay, immerse them in the world of your brand. This isn’t about mystery shopping or drilling; it’s about inviting your sales teams to live and breathe the brand and its story. Sell the dream to them first. 

The ingredients of a powerful residential brand 

And just like that – with a distinctive name born from your brand positioning, with meaningful community engagement, with personality in your public spaces, and with a sales team who recite the story in their sleep – you have the makings of a resonant residential place brand. 

Join us at our upcoming event, ‘Destination Branding: Why residential, hotel and co-working brands should talk’ to continue the conversation around all things place, culture and brand.

RSVP to events@boldspace.com