Marketing the Right Products – David Twiggs

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I was speaking recently at the American Association of Retirement Communities national conference in Memphis about “Repositioning the Large Scale Community to be Relevant in Today’s Market” and was asked about effective marketing campaigns. Once you understand your market and have positioned your community to authentically serve relevant lifestyle options, there are some excellent media resources out there for marketing your community.    Ideal Living magazine as a great national example and Center for Carolina Living is a regional platform. However, I quickly turned our discussion to the much-overlooked fact that these media outlets can only convey the story you supply. Marketing can never make up for a product problem and many of our communities have a product problem.

 

If we continue to advertise a 25-year-old story, we will not be attractive to the coming markets. If we cannot actually deliver authentic and fulfilling lifestyle options relevant to today’s market, we will simply fall into irrelevance. The things that drew the people who moved to your community in the past do not motivate today’s market. Not only are we experiencing the change from silent generation to boomers, we are dealing with post recession value shifts and fragmented media.

 

Fixing a product problem is about finding the unique lifestyle options you can provide and creating those opportunities. I work in rural destination and resort style communities so I look at what markets I can develop in addition to the country club sports model that the original developer banked on. Notice, I said lifestyles in addition to, not replacing what we have. Nothing wrong with an element of the country club model but it better not be the only product you offer. The golf centric community market is saturated on all levels and price points but it can still be a strong part of your holistic lifestyle options. If a program you offer is no longer relevant, it will die a natural death. Who is building a new shuffleboard stadium? No one, they are  irrelevant. You had better have lifestyle options relevant to the coming market to attract new growth. We should protect the elements of our lifestyle we love and add complimentary lifestyle options that we can authentically provide. Be Unique. Generic and boring are well represented in the market. You are not trying to attract everyone only those who want your unique lifestyle.

 

For Hot Springs Village, I have developed a Master Plan Workbook in which we explore possible new lifestyle possibilities, housing typology, engagement brands and community branding. Notice this is titled a workbook not an engraved in stone plan. This is an ever changing document. We explore many ideas for lifestyle and community improvements. We don’t implement them all. Some fit some do not, but we are not afraid to explore all options and are daily improving our formally dated products. If you have a unique product, marketing is much easier. Getting picked out of a mass of similar communities is difficult and often leads to wasting our limited marketing dollars.

 

You are welcome to look at the current version of my Master Plan Work Book for HSV. Please remember it is an ongoing presentation piece so some details and all proprietary information such as market studies for housing, hotel, commercial and retail have been omitted. Each community is unique. You can’t simply copy someone else’s model. Look at your products, understand your market, and make sure your story is relevant before you invest your marketing dollars.

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF Masterplan Workbook 1221.2014 UPDATE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tjFZlnYuFQ

Adding Value is a Long Term Game – David Twiggs

 

I wanted to share the great news from Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick SC and talk a bit about pace.  Adding value to create authenticity and the ability to reposition a community does not happen overnight.   The technology project that allowed SLV to become ” High Tech, High Nature,”  a tag line Kirk Smith created back in 2010 when marketing director for SLV,  was developed over many years. Kirk caught on to this concept early and knew the value it would create.  During those years, Kirk and I continued to create other value added products such as the Savannah Lakes Rod and Gun Club,  the Outdoor Adventure Club, and the context brand of the Little River Blueway Outdoor Adventure Region.  We looked at alternative housing typology with smaller footprints and denser design.  In other words, we focused on creating the conditions for future investment.  We did this daily.  The work and value is cumulative.  From planning individual road signs to creating regional partnerships, it is all part of creating authentic value that will attract quality investment.  To the layman, an announcement comes out in a paper such as one below and the thought is how fortunate for them.  In reality it is the result of many years of hard work adding value.  Create the conditions and the investment will come.  Congratulations to Kirk and the SLV Team for having the drive and focus take the value to the marketplace.  Thanks to Bob Stockton for the article below.

 

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New Developers Enter into Contract to Purchase
Resort Peninsula & Undeveloped Village Acreage

Savannah Lakes Village announced last week one of the most significant McCormick County economic development projects since the creation of the Village itself in the late 1980s.

Better Homes and Gardens’ (BH&G) CEO Tommy Stephenson, Joe Todd, BH&G director of new homes development, and their development team have entered into a comprehensive contract to acquire the existing Savannah Lakes Resort lodge, conference center, two townhomes, the lakefront restaurant, and other undeveloped land along Highway 378 and Holiday Road. The deal would also provide access for BH&G to acquire existing homesites located in Savannah Lakes Village to fuel new housing development programs.

“This investment and redevelopment will ignite visitation and home building programs here,” said Village Chief Operating Officer Kirk Smith. “The resort peninsula is a first impression to visitors coming into South Carolina from Georgia, and we are pleased with the potential of Better Homes & Gardens’ acquisition and reinvestment in these important amenities.

“The broad objective is to re-invest in the resort peninsula, lodge, conference center and restaurant to make it a welcoming entrance to the Village and the County of McCormick,” Smith said.

The strategic acquisitions of these assets are part of a larger development initiative to enhance the Village’s discovery and visitation programs and support both residential and commercial growth.

“We are bringing stability to the table,” said Todd. “All the amenities needed for a great community are in place here, but the most important Village asset is the people. We want to help Village residents to grow this community the way they want to see it grow.”

“Beyond the near-term purchase of the assets is a longer-term objective to create various residential and commercial assets for the Village to realize its full potential,” Smith said. “The first phase of the development project for just the resort peninsula, as envisioned by the developers, will represent a multi-million dollar investment.

“Our development partners share in our values of doing this right, while building a good relationship with Village and county residents. They are in it for more than economic benefit. The actions of all parties are to build confidence and trust,” he said.

Increasing evidence of the relationship is visible in new homes under construction: a Discovery Home on Martin Drive expected to be completed in late January; four new models, and three new spec homes under construction. BH&G has begun Village advertising in Augusta media and will announce major kick-off events — ribbon cuttings and open houses — when warmer spring temperatures occur.

Courtesy of the McCormick Messenger, Story by Bob Stockton (Parts Omitted)

 

Conscious Development: Creating Places Where People Thrive

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Density and Intensity of Eureka Springs, AR

David Twiggs

When is development good?  Many projects and developers took a bad rap over the past few years as projects slowed or were abandoned in the wake of the real estate bubble bust.  I have found this a very interesting time as we have been able to really see the wheat separated from the chaff.  Real value became evident from the sales prices. Some communities held and even grew in value while other stagnated and declined. We can read endless statistics on trends in housing types, square footages, amenities and governance structures.  We can study the different margins offered by new construction techniques. Even after sorting through these, I can find clear examples of  communities that remain great places and seem to defy much of the statistical logic.  Exceptions to the rules so to speak, with varying degrees of buildout, widely different amenity focus and different community personalities.

After looking at hundreds of communities from the most successful to the worst failures, I believe that the communities that have sustainable success are those disciplined enough to keep a conscious focus on creating relevant value during initial planning and as the community matures throughout the years.  Often when we think of value in real estate, perceived value is top of mind.  This seems to stem from a bias to the sales point of view.  A marketers creation of urgency and desire to purchase a specific property is creation of  perceived value in the mind of the potential owner. Property must sell for developers to get return on investment and everyone to paid. Nothing wrong with getting paid for working hard.  I wouldn’t use a marketer who did not know how to create perceived value.  In common usage the term perceived value is used generically to say how a resident feels about their property.  However, as creators of communities, we need to sharpen our vocabulary and be specific in what is created and evolved over time.

Truly successful communities have a different vibe going on. The success of great places comes from the sustained satisfaction of the dynamic population overtime. I call this Relevant Value because it evolves to prove or disprove the perceived value at the point of sale. As our products are typically the most expensive purchase our customer will ever make, we have the responsibility to assure that our marketing promises will not only be kept, but actually create inherently satisfying place to continue to evolve where individuals can thrive.

I believe life is happiness based.  Perceived value can be true or false for a potential owner, was it based in reality or just hype.  A property purchase is typically as aspirational as it is functional. Even more so in second home or retirement based real estate purchases.   Perceived value creates sales.  Some promises even when kept turn out to be hollow. The are not inherently satisfying.  Relevant value creates happy people over time.  It does not matter if our development is for  starter homes, a major tourism destination, or a mix of lifestyles and stages; being conscious of creating places that meet the higher happiness needs of the subcultures we attract is our responsibility.  We must focus on the nature of the different subcultures we want to attract and be sure they are complimentary.  We must be specific not generic.  One community model will satisfy everyone.  Yet for years, the second home and retirement market has basically supplied a single model and cast questioning glances at anyone wanting something different. We must make the right promises and keep them.

Recently, I was having a conversation with Todd Zimmerman of Zimmerman/Volk Associates who is doing a market study for a project I am putting together. After discussing the holistic approach I was planning for this project, Todd gave me the language to describe the elements I was trying to influence, a new framework for the terms of  “density and intensity.”  While Todd was much more eloquent and nuanced in his explanation, I simplified it to fit my need.   Density is how the built environment engages people. Intensity is how the mix of cultures engages people  To create relevant value, we must be conscious to address both to these elements. Exactly how we do this varies with the nature of the place we seek to create and the subcultures we seek to serve.  The quality of place we create impacts the happiness and wellbeing of those we seek to attract. That is a fundamental  responsibility of Conscious Development.

Where Have the Real Estate Investors Gone? David Twiggs, AICP

Placemaking Planning: Grove Park Market Drawing by Dr. Yang Luo, Director of Placemaking Hot Springs Village, AR

Placemaking Planning: Grove Park Market
Drawing by Dr. Yang Luo, Director of Placemaking Hot Springs Village, AR

I was recently in two meetings that seemed to be lamenting the same condition. All of the real estate investors have disappeared. The consensus seemed to be, the recession killed the real estate investor. One of these meetings was a discussion by several community professionals trying to revitalize their respective master planned communities. The other was a grassroots organization to revitalize a historic but challenged section of a tourism driven city. This got me thinking about the role of private investment in existing community development and redevelopment.

In my present project, I find that the investor has not disappeared at all. The unsophisticated real estate investor is gone. The easy money for any project is gone.

The amateur buying twenty overpriced lots in pre-sale based on a rendering of what might be built is not a reliable entity as it was in the past. We must now supply sound business plans with specific value enhancing strategies; in other words, we must work hard to have projects worth investing in. The recession has killed the lazy uninformed investor that perpetuated mediocre projects. And that’s a good thing.

So how do we find investors in revitalizing our communities? The recession has brought on so many opportunities for assembling property that had previously been sold. Property may have been abandoned and fell into the ownership of an association. It may have reverted back to a town, county, or state for failure to pay the taxes. There is also the shadow inventory of people who pay taxes and assessments but would gladly rid themselves of an unimproved property if there were a market or an entity that would take it. My point, there is now property available at a low cost basis that was not available pre-recession. What are our plans for that property?

Today’s investor wants to see a clear plan for a property to become marketable and relevant to the present and coming marketplace. There needs to be specific strategies for adding value to specific property. Personal real estate is the ultimate lifestyle product. It fundamentally must have real community and ultra-local value. Community value is the lifestyle improvements you receive by living first in the chosen region and then the specific community. There must be true quality of place. There must be relevant lifestyle options.

Ultra-local value opportunities come from fulfilling the original lifestyle promises for all the properties inside a community. Many developers in the past 30 years focused on the premium lot sales. Waterfront, golf courses, view and open space lots were the cash cows and the remaining interior lots were simply not considered as to the livability. This worked in the sales process because the lifestyle of the premium lots was being promised to all; but  it was  never delivered to all in a livable fashion. The buyer of an interior lot finds that they do not have the access and lifestyle of the lake house across the street. They must get in their car and drive to access the lake or any other lifestyle amenity for that matter. It has no ultra-local value. I define ultra-local value as what I can leave my home and do without getting in an automobile. Can I walk the dog down to the lake, can I access a trail system, walk to the art studio, or bike over to a social area, have coffee and people watch? This is ultra-local value.

Value can be a point source. There is not much value to “your neighbor has great lakefront but you can drive to the access just 3 miles away,” or “you can’t see it or access it from here but there is a great open space just over there that you can drive to.” Property was sold as if the prime amenity had ultra-local value rather than simply community value. Look at where your homes developed. What was the source of that value? How much “gravity” does that point of value have? In other words how large a radius of lots does that value impact. A single private home with a great view radiates no gravity to the neighboring lot with no view. A coffee shop that is walkable from 300 homes radiates a lot of ultra-local value while still supplying community value. While we do want to have premium properties available, the premium price garnered by the view, lake or open space lot could be leveraged much better by allowing common access to that point source value gravity in the form of a neighborhood gathering area. This allows the property value and marketability to be raised over all property in a radius rather than at a single point.

The amount of value gravity will always vary by location within the community. From a technical point of view, the investor is looking for investment areas where the existing socio/spacial value gravity can be influenced. Specific improvements are wanted. Defined, understandable, and doable. In more general terms, we must get to work planning our futures. If we have feasible strategies to improve the livability and relevance of specific areas and market those correctly; the savvy investor will find you.

 

 

Changing Destination Values: David Twiggs

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Who wants to be treated like a tourist?  We are now faced with creating and recreating destination communities to meet a new set of values that have rapidly shifted from the pre-recession model.  Perhaps it was the financial reality check that accelerated the already growing shift in values into the mainstream.  Many have shifted from seeking a tourist experience to wanting to feel belonging and experience self-discovery when we travel, invest in a second home or look for a quality place for retirement.

In 2009, Kurt Anderson began the conversation about a great reset in American values.  He and others speak of a “new frugality” that has resulted from values being shifted away from a consumption-based mentality. Conspicuous consumption has lost favor as a value proposition and is being replaced with a value for simple honest and authentic experience.

This includes a shift away from credit-based lifestyle, which will slow our traditional metrics for economic growth.  Those metrics do not clearly recognize the vitality that can come from formally marginalized places being rediscovered and appreciated.  It doesn’t directly show the benefit of the local shops, restaurants, cafes and services being supported by a shift from corporate destination tourism to destination community based tourism patterns.

When we speak of a value shift, it begs the question “from what.” Dr. Brene Brown (brenebrown.com,) speaks of moving away from a culture where being preoccupied, over scheduled and over connected has become a status symbol and into living wholeheartedly. Technology, industrialization and automation of tasks that formally were part of basic home economics has both created a lifestyle free of what many consider preindustrial “drudgery” but it has also a disconnected us from the basic human processes of thousands of years.

In the past many experiences were designed to allow us escape into artificial environments. Destinations today should seek to bring us into a different rhythm, show as another lifestyle point of view or seek to connect us to nature and the basic systems of being human. The common denominator in this value shift to more authentic experiences is a desire for greater understanding, physical and spiritual growth and renewal. For some this may be a place for adventure, meditation, or learning.  In looking at how to grow tourism or relocation in your community, don’t worry about trying to satisfy this vast array of potential interests, remember you are not trying to attract everyone, you want those visitors and new residents that appreciate the authentic subcultures of your community.  Be who you are. Be inclusive. Share your passion.

Accelerating My Social Media Learning Curve

One of my obsessions over the last several years has been seeking ways to maximize the impact of my passions, theories and concepts to create meaningful work. I have always been one to read the books of design thought leaders in efforts to keep on the front of the curve.  In the past 2 years,  this has drawn me into an evermore connected system of blogs, tweets, and photo services,  Seeing how well this information flowed and constantly connected me to new information sources, I took my first steps into the New Media.  This has been daunting to say the least but I think I am getting a handle on it.

I just read New Media for Designers + Builders  (www.nm4db.com.) It’s a new book from Steve Mouzon, architect and author of one of my favorites: The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability.  This book breaks from Mouzon’s eclectic discussions of design philosophy and dives directly into the tools we design professionals need to be remarkable in today’s world of new media.  We are deluged with “how to” books on marketing, but to say this is about marketing would not do this work justice.  This is much more a users manual for creative folk like myself that understand their process but are seeking a new perspective on communication and making meaningful impact.

“If you are willing to remake yourself, instead of just your marketing, then these principles can be used to accomplish remarkable things for your business.”

The overriding theme is that the mindset of how we do business must change for design professionals such as architects, planners, and builders.  I would include many more knowledge and creativity based professions as falling into this category; making the information in the book relevant to a much wider audience. The fact is that the environment in which we work has changed, we simply must decide if we will individually adapt to be relevant in this environment.

Unlike many books I have read on how to tap into social media, New Media For Designers + Builders gives a pertinent point of view in a context I understand. Being written from the perspective of a design professional, it speaks directly to real world strategies and applications in my field.   It would also apply to any ideas base organization looking to be effective in communicating their message and being relevant in the marketplace.

Reading this book through to the end takes a tremendous amount of discipline.  I could hardly go a page without finding pertinent information that I could utilize.  The temptation to drill down deep into a subject before finishing the entire book was mighty. This was my first experience with an electronic book so highly interlinked.  The links intuitively pull you deeper into each strategy.  In my case, I spent a day and a half down the blogging rabbit hole to unpack ways to  improve my own blog before moving on to the rest of the book.  Being a digital format book, every strategy, reference, or example is instantly accessible with examples and tips.

As easy as it is to drill for specifics, the real value for me was a guide into a framework or philosophy for the use of all these tools.  Exploring the “Age of the Idea” takes some of the concepts touched on by other forward thinkers such as Seth Godin and focuses them on the design and building professions. I can now see how to take my dabbling with my blog and twitter into a strategy to drive real business.

Having finished reading the book, my time with the book has just begun.  Each media node has a manual that explains how to start, refine and connect the system. I used to be concerned that putting my ideas out for others to see would be the worst possible business decisions. That is an old way of thinking.  I agree with Mouzon’s concepts that “patience, generosity, and connectedness” are valid business virtues for our new economy. With the enormous amount of energy we spend creating our passions, it is a shame if our platforms and practices for communication almost guarantee your voice not being heard.  This book is a manual for taking ideas to the audience where the ideas resonate.  Our business environment has changed, only we can decide how to adapt.  I will be using this book daily as I refine how my message can best be communicated.

I recommend New Media For Designers + Builders to anyone who has considered using the new medias to drive ideas.  In my case, I have been attempting to use social media for several months never realizing that each media (node) can feed the others, multiplying the content and connectivity drastically.  Another great aspect of the book for those of us into socio-spatial design, is a glimpse into the new media systems of some of the top thought leaders in our industry.  I found many ongoing resources that really exemplify generosity as a business virtue.

You can find the book at www.nm4db.com.   Steve Mouzon is an architect, urbanist, author, blogger, and photographer from Miami. He founded the New Urban Guild, which helped foster the Katrina Cottages movement. The Guild hosts Project:SmartDwelling, which works to redefine the house to be much smaller and more sustainable. Steve founded and is a board member of the Guild Foundation; it hosts the Original Green initiative. Steve speaks regularly across the US and abroad on sustainability issues. He blogs on the Original Green Blog and Useful Stuff. He also posts to the Original Green Twitter stream. While looking at Steve’s stuff be sure to explore The Original Green website at www.originalgreen.org.