Come fly with me

So the tweets have hit the fan this week over that eternal angst of the sector –  ‘why does nobody like us?’. Colin Wiles, as ever, makes a solid set of points. We’re not a failed brand, people do like us, we provide a good product. Similar thoughts are echoed by Speye, who in turn notes the dysfunctional and splintered nature of the sector and the bodies that represent it. It does somewhat remind me of the Judean People’s Front ala Monty Python.

Teenage-esk self doubt aside for me the point needs to be made that we are still piss poor at promoting the our work beyond the sector. The product itself is good (by and large).  The selling of it, not so much.  In my interactions with some of the greater good the great and the good I put forward the case that we either need to change the nature of the beast or get better at highlighting the good work it does.  Labels matter little if your product is good but your PR men/women/goats are asleep at the wheel.

Part of the solution to this lies at the feet of our professional bodies. The NHF (Judean People’s Front) and CIH (The People’s Front of Judea).  How many times have they been doing the sofa rounds on morning tv? How many appearances have they had on question time? I appreciate a lot of hard work goes on in the background but frankly the general public doesn’t give a flying fuck about that.  We need a much bigger, bolder and visible presence. As Peter Hall has previously noted we need to go beyond just talking to ourselves.

Being loud works.  Part of the reason UKIP was so popular for the European elections was because Nigel Farage said things stupidly, but regularly. He’s got the old English chap routine nailed down and like Boris ‘gaffaw hurrmph’ Johnson people like them because they have a certain style and personality. More importantly their ‘brands’ are known.  None of that boring, bland comms malark eh Nick Aitkin? (for an interesting counter point on this subject see Rob Jefferson’s blog In defence of #ukhousing comms).

Like it or loath it we are still pretty unknown outside of the sector.  I was born and raised in Worcester we have had no council housing for years. All social housing in the county is owned by social landlords. Yet most still refer to it as council housing. I have lost count of the times I’ve had the conversation explaining this fact, even to those living in social housing.  If we can’t even get our brand right with our own customers we can’t hope to sway public opinion.

So it is not so much that the brand social housing is broken, just that it has never been properly marketed. Half-truths and gossip have run amok in the absence of solid propaganda.  Case and point Orbit and the Apni Hawelli housing scheme PR incident.

A guest speaker I saw last year made a very good, if slightly disheartening point.  It was on the subject of branding, customer satisfaction and profitability. He highlighted Ryanair and Virgin Airways, noting that one was consistently slammed for poor service and satisfaction levels, the other was the darling of the sector. One was recording record profits whilst the other struggled to break even.  Guess which was which? Sometimes being good at your job is not enough.  If people want a rival’s product they will buy it.

We provide a better product, it is cheaper, more secure and in the long run provides a greater public good than our rivals in the private sector. We need to ensure the public knows this, can benefit from this and ultimately buys into the idea of social housing as much as the need for it.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

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3 thoughts on “Come fly with me

  1. Annemcx

    Hi, there are some very good points amusingly made in here, to which I would add that housebuilding is a functional exercise, not a relational one. It’s about putting up bricks and mortar and making sure they stay up, collecting rent and managing services, and as a result the housing sector is good at that and less good at how it expresses itself.

    To not recognise the great strides that have been made in the last few years by some of the Housing sector however would be unfair. In doing the Connected Housing research, I think there’s many more Housing organisations that are becoming more consumer oriented in terms of how they sell themselves, (in branding terms there is now a better sense of engaging looks and feel, user experience design and brand personality coming through). But for a sector that has a ‘purpose beyond profit’ at its core in social housing, it’s remarkable how few think of themselves as business hubs for the communities they live in, in a consumer-led way.

    You’re right to lay some of this at the door of the People’s Liberation Front, and People’s Front of Judea aka NHF and CIH in my opinion. There’s a sense of ‘profit first’ there that tends to drive culture for the rest of the sector and which actively disengages, and a great deal more could be done to think about networked business modelling in that way that they could lead.

    I don’t think the answer is in more selling actually, because that’s one way traffic, and it doesn’t build trust. The answer I think is in more engagement, more listening and listening smarts using networked intelligence. Great marketing is all about response not more shiny broadcasts; it is two-way. Relational, as well as functional concerns need to come to the surface now, supported by leaders in Housing that are receptive to hearing what users want and that are interested in giving it to them.

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    1. I think key to the ability of the sector to continue doing the great work it does is to change the manner in which the outside world sees the sector. I agree flashy marketing won’t help with our customers (a relationship where genuine 2 way conversation is key) but we need to be slicker in self-promo.

      We have to manage both the relationship with the people and communities we serve but also be smarter in the game of politics. A bolder, more charismatic public presence is required. Public opinion sways votes, votes sway parties, parties decide funding and policy. If the public doesn’t know/understand what we do they will never be on board and thus neither will the muppets in Parliament.

      Will be very interested to see the fruits of your labour. Sounds like you guys are doing some interesting stuff!

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  2. Tim Morton

    Thanks for this both,
    I saw the placeshapers videos and found them powerful
    This one explains their raison d’être https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Qta32_J00Tk this one stresses the links twixt health and housing https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T-od5iXaDGQ
    Knightstone also produced a good one that showed quality homes and real people khttp://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2014-05-21-Knightstone-s-Little-Castles-film-aims-to-change-perceptions-of-social-housing
    As for what we call it, I worked as an independent tenant adviser on the Worcester transfer, and in many other places too. Perhaps one of the oddest was on a West Midlands estate in the early 1990s where I was told I should speak to the private tenants. This was a surprise as it was still early days in Right to Buy, on closer inspection it became clear that the private tenants were in fact ex tenants who had used the right to buy, I said “oh you mean owner occupiers” they said “Yes, Private tenants”
    Lastly I do think there is a perception of who can access social housing, another new build hard to let estate, one social landlord advertised properties in the small ads with only a phone number, lots of folk came forward thinking it was a private landlord, 70% were eligible for social housing but hadn’t registered with a social landlord.

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