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Stand out Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

Quick: What’s the first thing you think of when you see white fencing or Georgian architecture?

Bill Ebbing hopes New Albany crosses your mind.

After all, The New Albany Co. has featured these signature items in all its developments since the idea’s birth from the minds of Les Wexner, owner, and Jack Kessler, chairman, in the mid- to late-’80s.

It’s all about establishing a brand for your product or service.

“The brand for New Albany was to raise the bar for not just residential [development] but creating a master-plan community that’s world class,” says Ebbing, the company’s president. “The planning, quality of architecture, image with the white horse fence, large setbacks — that’s been in place from the very, very beginning.”

The beginning came when Wexner built his own home in the area, says Jim Vutech, principal at Conrad, Phillips & Vutech Inc., the marketing, advertising and brand-building firm that helped establish the New Albany “brand.”

“He felt, ‘If I can build a wonderful environment for myself, maybe I can do that for others,’” Vutech says of Wexner. “From the beginning, it was destined to be different. He wasn’t doing it as a developer; it was a personal decision of his.”

The power of the brand, Ebbing says, comes from the goals of the planned community: aesthetic beauty, lifelong learning, health and wellness, and the reputation of doing good.

By creating a partnership with the Village of New Albany and making sure every detail followed the brand, the company has seen success in sales: More than 160 new homes, lots or existing homes were sold last year in the country club community alone. The results are unprecedented, says Lu Klaiber, vice president of sales and marketing for New Albany Realty, considering the price points of $600,000 for the average home and $120,000 for the lot.

Look in the mirror

The first step to having a successful brand is to find out what’s special about your company, says Vutech.

“A brand is basically what defines a product or service,” he says. “It really comes down to the attributes of a company that separate it from its competitors. It becomes kind of an asset that needs to be protected and nurtured and reinforced.”

For The New Albany Co., the brand of “raising the bar” and “world class” was established before the first home was ever sold. The first steps: Researching the concept and choosing a top-notch team to ensure the quality of the planned community.

“New Albany is not about where you live, it’s about how you live,” Klaiber says, quoting one of the company’s slogans.

Wexner and Kessler — both of whom live in the community — visited country communities such as Williamsburg and the James River plantation houses for ideas.

Then they solicited their “dream team.” Among them: Gerald McCue, former chairman of the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Architecture and retired dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, as well as founder of MBT Associates in San Francisco; Laurie Olin, former chairman of Harvard’s Department of Landscape Architecture; New Albany Country Club Architect Jaquelin T. Robertson, principal of Cooper, Robertson & Partners in New York; interior designers Keith B. Irvine and Thomas J. Fleming of New York’s Irvine & Fleming Inc.; and golf course designer Jack Nicklaus.

Next, The New Albany Co. had to prove its worth, keeping the brand intact in every aspect of the community, Ebbing says. The details had to be consistent, from the residences to the business park: the white horse fences, the wide open setbacks along the road, preservation of natural features such as creeks, and dedication of land to the park system.

Ebbing says another key was to establish partnerships with the community, working with local government leaders to create a historic village center study, for example, or meeting with the historical society early on to choose road names taken from the founders or prominent families of the village.

Partnering with the village, the township and the schools helped bring the entire community to reality, he says.

“One of our biggest selling points for the business park is that it’s part of the community, not out in the middle of nowhere acting on its own. It’s embraced by the community,” he says, noting it’s attracted such tenants as Abercrombie & Fitch, Aetna U.S. Healthcare and Express-Med Inc.

Tell the world

With the concept developed, the company needed to spread the word, even before it began building.

“Our challenge from a marketing standpoint was to communicate to potential home buyers not what New Albany was then but what it would eventually become,” Vutech says. “Basically, we were asked to sell a product that didn’t exist.”

Initial materials focused on the expertise and qualifications of the original team.

“That became the foundation of the brand,” Vutech says. “Based on their reputations alone, there was no doubt that New Albany would be a world-class development.”

The key to a successful brand, Vutech says, is communicating it “clearly, consistently and often.”

Vutech says a worthwhile exercise for any company establishing a brand is to audit every point of contact with its potential customers, from the way the phone is answered to the style of the invoices, the Web site, sales literature, trade shows, news releases and vehicles on the street.

In addition, branding must be continued once it is established.

“Before we do any development,” Ebbing says, “we try to go back and focus on those four aspects: aesthetic beauty, lifelong learning, health and wellness, and doing good.”

Listen

Continued success of any brand, says Vutech, whose firm also has done branding for the likes of Children’s Hospital, Duffy Homes and Energy.com Corp., means keeping a handle on customer reaction.

A company could choose to measure goals of profitability, productivity, specific sales or volume, or employee morale to determine whether the brand is working.

“We routinely do what we call account planning, but it’s basically making sure you establish benchmarks and that you can quantify the effect that the marketing is having,” Vutech says.

Often, the results are measured through the use of focus groups, surveys or mail questionnaires.

In the beginning, The New Albany Co. focused on telling its story through the architecture and homes in the community, says Klaiber of New Albany Realty.

“But we reached a maturity point where we needed to market the community as a whole,” she says.

Now, for example, The New Albany Co. funds the Classic Signature Series events, inspired by Wexner’s wife, Abigail, and sponsored by the New Albany Civic Association. The series includes cultural, educational and entertaining events for the community — such as fireworks and a festival for the Fourth of July, concerts in the parks and a lecture series.

“Everything we do, every subdivision, office parcel, marketing component we put in place helps to reinforce that brand,” Ebbing says.

And having a brand, Vutech says, will separate successful companies from those less successful.

“There’s an awful lot of clutter in the marketplace,” he says, “and I think the only way to break through that is to have a clear understanding of who you are and translate that well to all of your audiences.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.


At the speed of byte How SubmitOrder.com got its brand up and running — in just two months By Joan Slattery Wall

In a hurry? Haven’t got 10 years to build and cultivate a brand like The New Albany Co. did?

JT Kreager, president of SubmitOrder.com, and his public relations agency, Lord, Sullivan & Yoder, know it can be done more quickly if necessary.

Timing was ripe in the online world when the idea for SubmitOrder.com was hatched. At the end of last April, Kreager met with LSY, telling the firm he wanted a July launch date for the e-commerce order fulfillment company.

“After backing out the anticipated production time leading to the launch, we were left with one week for planning,” says Rob Cathcart, director of marketing services for LSY.

For two days in the first week of May, the PR firm met with 12 members of what would become SubmitOrder.com’s management team. During that brief time, the group determined the prospective customers and competition, outlined the values of the company, chose the company name and decided how to launch the company and utilize the role of marketing and public relations.

“The fact that we had those two days together, with everybody in the room, helped us move a lot faster because we had it all condensed,” says Carroll Conklin, the LSY executive vice president and director of strategic services who headed up the meeting.

Within a week to 10 days, the firm gave SubmitOrder.com a marketing plan proposal, and then LSY began putting the plan into action.

  • First, LSY conducted a media audit, determining who was saying what about e-commerce so they could decide how to contact media, and held media training for SubmitOrder.com’s key executives.

  • Then came the pre-launch activities, which included employee meetings, trade show preparations, media and competitive monitoring and production of a videotape of customer testimonials, the Web site and print ads.

  • Finally came the launch phase, with news releases; e-mail blitzes; media tours, road shows and trade shows; print advertising in such publications as Fast Company, Fortune, Interactive Week and Ad Age; and Web merchandising.

How do they know they were successful?

SubmitOrder.com was launched July 22, 1999. By the end of August, the initial sales goals had been achieved, preparing new customers for the holiday buying season, Cathcart says.

In addition, SubmitOrder.com’s name had appeared in articles, ads and other press coverage yielding more than 117 million “impressions,” or estimated sets of eyes that had exposure to the company.

The success didn’t get past outsiders, either. In December, Silver Lake Partners and The Barksdale Group, Silicon Valley firms that invest in technology and Internet companies, invested $75 million in SubmitOrder.com to acquire a majority stake. This allowed the start-up to secure its venture capital objectives: obtain money to grow and access to networking and partnership opportunities in their industry. Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.