Harald Steiner

CEO / European Real Estate Brand Institute


Experts trusting experts

Question. Who are you more likely to trust? Company A, which tries to lure you into their stores with unbeatably low prices in the middle of the pandemic (assuming the area you live in is not under lockdown) in order to really get the cash registers ringing – or Company B, which advises you to stay at home for the time being, even when their stores are open, and suggests that you order online to best protect yourself and your family? The answer is not difficult, even if I have to admit that the question is somewhat suggestive. Be that as it may.

The trust premium

What I’m getting at is this: Company B – as an example of model corporate behaviour in 2020, the Year of Coronavirus, would be the REWE supermarket chain’s subsidiary Penny, which has been running high-profile social media campaigns #erstmalhelfen (#startbyhelping) and #erstmalzuhause (#juststayathome). Penny gets it! It starts by doing everything it can to gain and retain your trust. The importance of trust should never be underestimated, a fact confirmed by a recent and highly regarded study published by the global communications agency Edelman, which states that 75 percent of consumers who trust a brand are loyal to it and even become active brand advocates. Moreover, according to the study, the greater the trust, the greater the willingness to spend money on a brand’s existing and new products. “Trust has emerged as a fundamental driver of purchases”, says Christiane Schulz, CEO of Edelman Germany. “The Five Ps of Marketing – product, price, place, promotion and people ­– are amended”, she adds, “and now include T for Trust”.

When, if not in a crisis?

I would like to explore four of the study’s other key findings: Consumers around the world value security more highly than success. Personal health and family are significantly more important in 2020 than they were in 2019, having surged ahead of image or status. Fear levels have risen and become more closely related to the pandemic, and brands that alleviate fears are trusted (ergo loyalty, ergo willingness to buy) four times (!) as much as other brands. And last but not least, according to the study, conventional communication strategies are reaching their limits; while earned media channels such as news media are losing importance, industry experts are rated as the most creditable and trusted sources of information.

What can we learn from these insights, which, by the way, are in line with the findings of numerous other studies on the same subject? Brands that use a major crisis like the current one to understand what is important to people (employees, consumers, shareholders, partners, etc.) can reflect these values and actively respond to them. To be precise, it’s not even an issue of “can,” it’s an issue of “must”. Brands that treat the crisis as nothing more than a horrible and meaningless curse and sit back and wait for everything to blow over may not come out of the crisis with a very rosy economic outlook. Crises change values. Brands stand for values. When, if not now, is the time to polish your brand profile?

Real estate, real values

What is the current situation in the real estate industry? Is this supposedly “fragile” sector in any position to communicate coherent brand messages during the coronavirus crisis? I would argue that it is virtually predestined to do so. The reasons are even obvious. Seldom before have people yearned more for security, stability and a sense of normalcy. There is hardly anything more symbolic of this than a person’s own home or workplace. Alternatively, just consider people’s increased yearning for a healthy and intact environment. This, too, can be satisfied by a real estate industry that communicates the message of ecologically sustainable construction. Or think of how people’s escalating financial worries can be assuaged by messages related to affordable housing. Or about how people’s desires for social contact can be satisfied in intelligently designed, multi-generational buildings. Admittedly, none of this is new. But it has never been more important than it is today. Values come into focus during a crisis. And brands can sustain these values long after the crisis has passed. Real estate companies are being handed an opportunity to hone and position their brands on a silver platter right now. Seize it!

Building on credibility

I have to disappoint anyone who regards trust as a quick and easy source of extra revenue, or who believes that they can cobble together a marketing campaign in no time at all and then skim off the top. Trust is all about credibility. Trust is earned over the long term, through consistent behaviour. Credibility and consistency, in turn, are based on understanding your own weaknesses and strengths, being aware of how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you, and knowing your position in the market environment. To put it bluntly. If you launch yourself into the saddle, hoping to gallop into the future with your brand, then you need to start by picking the right horse. To take a relatable example from another industry, it would probably be presumptuous for Amazon to launch a marketing campaign praising its working conditions. What Amazon sends out via email to every customer and partner is, thankfully, far more accurate and credible: “To help ensure the safety of our customers and delivery partners, we will now leave packages at your doorstep where appropriate and move back before you collect your package”. Simple and smart.

Expertise with validated data

I already emphasized this factor in a previous blog: Anyone who wants to identify long-term solutions to overcoming challenges like the current coronavirus crisis needs to adopt a reflective, proactive and innovative approach. Identifying value changes early on and regarding them as drivers of constructive disruption is an essential course of action. But the market is as complex as life itself and conclusive insights can only be gained from validated data. Our offer to you at this crucial time is straightforward: Let’s take a detailed look at where your brand is right now and, together, we can profile your brand using accurate data about your company and your market. It’s simply a matter of experts trusting experts.

With branded regards
Your Harald Steiner 

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