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The influence of branded buildings on dollar signs and demographics, an interview with Stephen G. Kliegerman

Q: Brown Harris Stevens Marketing is an industry leader. You have overseen more than six billion dollars in sales, representing over five thousand units in the New York City area over the last five years alone. What are the reasons clients select you? 

A: I think the decision comes down to our team. We have excellent marketing and design acumen, in addition to over thirty years of experience in the NYC market. This gives us deep industry knowledge. Beyond that, clients recognize how important honesty and integrity is to us and how we stick to the highest level of moral and ethical values. 

Q: When considering their intersection, which metaphorical street do you cross first: architecture or branding?

A: For us, it’s not an either-or decision. It’s both. We believe branding and architecture need to be closely tied.

Q: You have first-hand experience in the luxury real estate market, spanning over thirty years. How has the role of branding in this market changed?

A: Many clients still operate with an outdated perspective of the business from back before competition was so stiff. Back then they didn’t need to separate themselves from the pack. Now, everyone must.

Often, our greatest struggle is convincing our clients that product identification is required for success. Great architecture is not enough without the right branding and awareness.

Q: What has your experience working with branding firms taught you about the unique background required for branding architecture?

A: Amongst many other projects, we’ve worked with branders on multiple projects, including Oosten and 200 Amsterdam Avenue, with The Seventh Art. These projects showed me the importance of working with branders who have architectural backgrounds. They are able to go deeper into the architecture and what it should be, helping to translate the information I give them about the target audience, property, and current trends in the marketplace into architectural moments that will speak to those insights.

Q: How do a project’s brand and architecture interact with one another?

A: All along the way, we are informing not only the branding process but also stepping back to see how the architecture of the building speaks to the branding identity and our target market. In this way, the architecture and the brand inform each other throughout every step of the process.

Q: Have you ever seen branding influence the architecture of a project? 

A: Yes, for example on a project near Columbia University campus, we were struggling with the first architectural designs that came out. No one was happy with the identity and then architecture. So we called in branders that created mood boards to succinctly convey how to create the iconic building we were hoping for. What the branders outlined was very visible and the brand identity astutely conveyed the inspiration and aspirations that the current architect just didn’t seem to be able to pin down. After the branders did their work, it just clicked. The architects were able to take that idea and create a façade that everyone loved and fit the building.

Q: How do you see your role in the development of a building’s brand? 

A: We have a deep reserve of informed insights about the audience’s wants and needs. We then incorporate and provide that information to other teams on the project – developers, architects, branders, and others – in order to create the resumé of the buyers. 

Overall, our job is to inform the other key players on the project while still allowing the branders to translate that information and transform it into a unique identity. We have opinions about designs and feedback along the way, but try to always let the creative teams take the lead.

Q: How important do you believe branding is for real estate properties? 

A: Branding is incredibly important for real estate properties. We’ve seen branding make a tremendous impact on who is attracted to a project. But it takes time and deep awareness to brand well.

For a project at 150 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, we literally created a personal biography and even some life stories about the people who would live there. In the end, we attracted exactly those people. 

For Oosten, The Seventh Art spent six months creating concepts and background stories for who the buyer would be, who would affiliate with the more grownup style of living. That thoughtfulness came through in the final product and buyers really appreciated the brand and design acumen. It attracted buyers who would pay a bit more for a neighborhood that wasn’t as famous as the surrounding or nearby ones. 

Q: What financial impact can great branding make for real estate? 

A: From our perspective, a great brand identity is broad enough to attract many buyer types but narrow enough to immediately speak to our target market.

Great brands have a three-fold financial impact.

First, effective branding helps with absorption and can reduce the time that a developer would have to carry a project. 

Second, well-branded properties are better safeguarded against a down market wherein you have to be more competitive in order to make your product stand out and convey its value.  

Third, properties can demand higher prices, often five-to-twenty percent higher than the average sales price in the neighborhood, depending on the target audience and numbers. 

Oosten is a great example –  the average for that neighborhood was $900-1,000 per square foot, but we were able to close at $1,400 and beyond per square foot. 

If you can attract a buyer to a product that surprises them, they are willing to pay more for it while still feeling that they are getting great value.

Q: What social impact have you seen branded buildings make? 

A: The branding for Oosten is a great example of the social impact that branding for real estate can make. The project is located in an area that had a shady past and near a historically very insular cultural community. We needed Oosten as a brand to communicate to people that our development would be part of an inclusive community, that it would be accepting and welcoming and not to focus on the stereotypes of the narrative. We also emphasized access to Manhattan and infrastructure and restaurants. 

Now that Oosten has become such a success, it has opened the door to other new developments in the area and attracts individuals from new demographics. The branding has changed the makeup of the community and brightened the future for that area.  

Q: What would you say to branding and architecture students about working with sales and marketing professionals?  

A: You need to have an open mind and accept that one doesn’t exist without the other. Take time to appreciate that no one has the One Solution. You need to collaborate and hear everyone’s input, then filter out noise, find the commonality, and ensure that commonality matches your hard data. 

Q: Is branding for architecture more an art or a science? 

A: Branding architecture is both art and a science, but the science part is much smaller. Even when looking at price points, market data, et cetera, all of those factors are affected by the design, amenities, location, and so on. 

Q: What is the consequence of architecture ignoring or undervaluing branding?

A: Then the product suffers. Your building could be extraordinary but not accepted. Even the greatest architecture still needs a spokesperson. If you ignore branding, what you’re really doing is ignoring the target audience, ignoring the market data and trends, ignoring the desires and narratives that attract and give meaning to the architecture.