Edelman U.S. CEO On Building A CRE Brand For The Return To Normalcy
Brands in commercial real estate will have to walk a tough line in the coming months. As the weather warms and more Americans get vaccinated, the impetus for CRE brands may be to encourage people to travel, come to work, patronize shops and restaurants, sign leases and make deals.
But messages that push for an immediate return to normalcy may ring sour with business leaders and consumers.
“Our most recent research shows that many Americans are still in a state of trauma when it comes to the pandemic,” Edelman U.S. CEO Russell Dubner said on the most recent Walker Webcast. “So as much as we want to express this undercurrent of optimism and this sense of enthusiasm, we have to recognize that two-thirds of Americans are still in pandemic mode.”
As the largest public relations firm in the world, Edelman has been helping companies large and small craft effective marketing campaigns and protect their brands from crisis during the upheaval of the last year.
The return to normalcy that businesses had been hoping to see come to pass this spring is likelier to take place in the third quarter of the year, Dubner said, adding he believes brands would be making a mistake to demand any specific actions from their employees or their customers before that time, including requiring that employees come to work in person.
But the news is not all bad. Some customers may be ready to return to a pre-pandemic kind of business right now. The challenge, Dubner said, is identifying and reaching those consumers who are ready and targeting them with marketing messages.
The other piece of good news is that, by and large, Americans trust their employers and other businesses more than just about any other source of information. Each year, Edelman gathers reams of data about how people in countries around the world feel about the competence and trustworthiness of their governments, the media, businesses and NGOs and compiles it in the Edelman Trust Barometer report. The 2021 report, released in January, found that businesses are seen as more ethical and more competent than the media or government. The implications, Dubner said, are that business leaders are in a unique position to lead their employees and customers and capitalize on their trust.
“As a leader, what do you want to be known for doing during Covid?” Dubner asked. “Your action or lack of action right now will be part of the lore that gets created around you and your brand. Listening to your employees is paramount, because your behavior will serve as a model for theirs. But it’s also an opportunity to ask yourself what kind of company you want to be post-Covid.”
On the webcast, Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker asked Dubner how he thinks CRE companies — especially small, privately held firms without a great deal of brand recognition — should go about expressing and growing their brands. The process Dubner described involves a good deal of introspection.
“There is a handful of core questions that leaders of a company need to be able to answer,” Dubner said. “What are we known for? Who am I in this market? How am I set apart, and how am I living that? How is that identity showing up?”
One other conclusion of Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer report is that trust has recently become more local — people are now likelier than they used to be to trust their colleagues and neighbors than they are to trust journalists and politicians. So while media coverage may be important for branding, cultivating personal relationships is likely just as crucial.
Given the current uncertainty in the world of CRE, there is an opportunity for firms to fill a gap or deficit in their sectors, especially when it comes to trust. Allies and business partners that tell the truth and execute even when times get hard are likely to find greater returns on the other side of this crisis.
“Trust is the foundational currency for the era of stakeholder capitalism,” Dubner said. “When you can combine concrete actions and infuse it with creativity and integrity, that is where trust drives transformation.”
This article was produced in collaboration between Walker & Dunlop and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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