What we learned

Ramifications of the Rent Reform are already being felt
During the relatively short period of time that this monitor has been compiled in, there have already been changes. Mergers (not least Affinity Sutton and Circle), the gradual emergence of brands that feel more aligned to the world of property development (such as A2 Dominion Group), creation of sub brands (for example Thames Valley Housing and ‘Fizzy’) and some investment in brand generally (including One Housing Group). So the need to address brand and communications is not completely lost on the sector.

However, overall, few invest in brand and those who do, don’t always spend wisely
Achieving a position in the top quartile of this monitor should not encourage complacency. For many, the quality of communications is not of a high standard. Comparing the results to previous monitors in other sectors, reveals a significant gap in quality. Where investment is made, it is not always made well, with some poor quality design, writing and production in evidence.

Looking professional without looking profligate
Of course the underlying challenge is to maintain the professionalism and quality of brand communications, without it costing the earth, since the core purpose of housing associations is to help those in need. It is almost as important to not give the impression that things have cost. The cost of poor quality design or failing to invest at all, may be greater than investing carefully in quality. Furthermore, a quick look at players such as Bromford demonstrates it is possible to look professional without looking profligate.

Basic purpose is articulated quite well but there are few rich stories
Perhaps the most important area to ‘get it right’ is in articulating core purpose. Though fundamental core purpose is articulated reasonably well by many, the results are dry and homogeneous. There are too many who lay claim to be ‘leading’ and too few who tell the rich story of their founding, and the difference they make to people’s lives. All too often, messaging is buried too deep in the website, is too lengthy or non existent, or far too internally focused and relating to ‘where we’ve come from’ not ‘where we are and where we’re going’.

Sector defined by bright colour, happy shiny people and iconography
There is a clear ‘vernacular’ of the sector and one that fails to stretch into newer services, and audiences. Crucially, in a market where it matters more than ever to know what you stand for and stand out, there are few that do. This provides a real opportunity to differentiate.

Brands are struggling to stretch across new audiences and services
Since visual expression and housing association ‘vernacular’ fails to stretch sufficiently, rather than investing in developing a more sophisticated visual language, some are developing sub brands instead. Whilst this will sometimes inevitably be the right answer, all too often the family of brands is managed awkwardly. The user journey between websites can be confusing and the equity of sub brands isn’t always skilfully bestowed back onto the master brand.

What it means

1. Consider the cost of doing nothing – you can’t afford not to invest in your brand and communications.

2. Your customer profile isn’t as clear as it once was – you need to communicate with everyone in a more sophisticated manner and don’t forget new, and different audiences such as the finance community.

3. Articulating your purpose well matters more than anything – in doing so, ensure you are facing outwards and telling the ‘feelings’ as well as the ‘facts’ of your story.

4. Build more stretch into your visual language and messaging – and do this before you consider developing new sub brands since it might be all you need.

5. In developing sub brands create a discernible ‘family’ – ensure the relationship between your various brands is clear and that your master brand benefits from the ‘lustre’ of everything you are doing.

6. Break out of the housing association vernacular – now more than ever you need to stand out.

What next

However well or otherwise your brand is performing, changes should be informed and not undertaken lightly. Any brief should be shaped by an understanding of what you need to do to compete and ‘stand out’ in your landscape, and above all, meet the demands of your corporate plan. The first step towards this is carrying out a detailed audit of your existing brand and communications. If you’ve been included in this report, we can carry out a more detailed audit of your brand. If you haven’t then we’d be happy to do the same.

We do much more than compile our Abel monitors. We’re a creative consultancy of communications specialists. We specialise in brand identity, brand and marketing communications, and internal engagement. We develop strategy, write copy, design creative and implement our recommendations. We focus on business-to-business, higher education, financial services, Government and public sector. We’re Frank, Bright & Abel. Not who we are but what we do and how we do it. Whatever you want us to be get in touch.