How do you brand real estate for Generation Rent?

How designers are changing the conversation in homeownership.

On the London Underground recently I noticed a Modern Toss poster for Atom, a challenger bank aimed at Millennials. A mortgage advisor says: “I hear you lot are into buying ‘experiences’.” His two hopeful clients respond: “Yeah, we’d quite like to ‘experience’ what it feels like to own a house.”

Very droll, but spot on. Every day we see ever more alarming figures telling us that you need in excess of £80,000 to put a deposit down on a flat in London; that house prices are around 15 times the median wage. You could be forgiven for feeling pretty hopeless about the situation if you had ambitions to get on the property ladder.

Screenshot from the Atom website

But what if we shifted the thinking and started to look at things from a different perspective? What if we swapped aspirations from owning a fixer-upper in the suburbs to renting in your favourite city-centre location? Where spending that massive deposit on having fun, and weekends enjoying your free time rather than scrapping woodchip off walls, were celebrated as positives?

That’s quite a change in attitude, especially for the UK where home ownership has traditionally been regarded as the ultimate goal. But it’s one that the property sector is having to address – and they’re tuning into the power of branding as a way to do that. It’s brand designers who are at the forefront of capturing this change in focus and communicating it to target consumers. 

Because jobs for life and forever homes are relics of the past for lots of people, Generation X’s quest for cradle-to-grave security at home and at work is neither appealing or realistically attainable for many Millennials and Gen Zers. It’s a new mindset that developers are realising requires a completely different approach when it comes to brand strategy and design.

Photo by Tekuchi

A quick look at some stats and predictions paints the picture: PWC says that we’ll have reached a rent-versus-mortgage tipping point in most major towns and cities by 2025, with around 60% of people renting.   

As a result of this, we’re seeing big changes in the private rental sector, with a surge in the number of co-living and build-to-rent (BTR) spaces coming onto the market. (Savills reports that BTR has seen a 34% growth in the past year alone, with 140,000 homes completed or in the pipeline.) 

We’re also seeing a shift in modern thinking around materialism. Growing numbers of people prefer car clubs to owning their own vehicle, and Spotify to curating their own record collection. And this ‘subscriber’ mentality is being applied to where many of them choose to call home, too. 

So what role do brand designers have to play in helping developers connect with this demographic? A big part is reframing renting as a positive choice – not something you do while you save for a deposit or because you’ve ‘failed’ to get on the ladder. 

Recently we at me&dave led the brand strategy for Vertus, a three-building BTR development in Canary Wharf, which was the first of its kind on the estate. Of course we needed to celebrate the apartments, the views, the location and communal spaces (etc, etc, etc). But we also had to get across that the development represents something big and exciting, a new way of living that embraces the positives of BTR and makes it attractive. 

There needed to be a shift in messaging – we’re not compensating for lack of ownership here; we’re celebrating a modern lifestyle choice. Leasing a BTR apartment is something to be proud of, freeing you from the commitment of ownership and providing access to a flexible, experiential lifestyle.

We created the brand strapline ‘Lease It Like You Own It’ to represent the fact that BTR doesn’t play second fiddle to homeownership. More and more people want easy access, flexibility and freedom rather than permanent ties, and BTR developments like Vertus are helping to facilitate this shift.

We wanted to zone in on the lifestyle rewards, so we used portrait-style photography to capture confident, fulfilled individuals in their apartments. Brand messaging emphasised that leasing and renewing is quick and easy, and, once you’re in, you can access the community-focused lifestyle, as well as everything that the neighbourhood has to offer. 

The tone of voice was straightforward and empowering to get across that this is an aspirational but accessible proposition. 

The soulless showrooms and formulaic brochures of old won’t cut it here. Instead of focussing on form and function, creatives are developing a new narrative that tells people a story; that talks to them about what life will be like in a ‘place like this.'

Effective brand design is about looking at what makes hearts beat faster in all areas of life (music, fashion, art, photography, food). It’s about people, stories and dreams. And it’s about understanding that the dream doesn’t have to be about securing a 25-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Mark Davis is co-founder and creative director of property branding agency me&dave.

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