KEY LEARNING POINTS
Many people dream of designing their own home but they find the idea of commissioning their own building complex, illogical and scary. If you want your marketing to work effectively you have to look at the process from the typical private homebuilders’ perspective, and ensure all your communication material is simple to understand, and as straight forward as possible. This means: –
- Devising an easy to follow, logical, step-by-step process
- Keeping material succinct, using Plain English and avoiding technical jargon
- Exploiting effective diagrams and good imagery to help explain what private homebuilders can build on their plots.
- Being clear about costs and any rules that are imposed, especially what’s included in any prices, and what isn’t
- Managing people’s expectations and avoiding commitments that cannot be delivered
CAN ANYBODY UNDERSTAND IT?
All the marketing material that is produced to support the private homebuilding process has to be clear to any member of the public, even those who don’t have English as their first language. Remember the people you are communicating with are drawn from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and most are unlikely to understand technical jargon.
This commitment to simplicity and clarity has been rigorously tested in the Netherlands – one of Europe’s leading promoters of private homebuilding opportunities. It is instructive to look at some examples of the communications material developed there, and to recognise how and why they package it up the way they do.
In Holland a hierarchy of material is available, both in printed format and online. It can be loosely classified into these three types: –
- Inspirational material that ‘sells the dream’ and excites people to enquire further
- Informational material that succinctly explains what can (and can’t) be built
- Traditional technical material such as sample contracts, registration forms and the rules and regulations that private homebuilders may have to comply with
To support people as they work their way through the process the teams in The Netherlands also provide customer focused ‘coaches’ that are good at translating technical issues into the sort of language anyone can understand. You cannot just post information online or print some brochures; you must recognise that coaches, or an accessible help desk facility, is also essential.
Our Briefing Note on Support and training for individuals provides further advice on coaches.
There are two types of inspirational material – the first is aimed at internal audiences; the second at the general public.
In Almere and The Hague the municipal teams behind the initiatives there started with a Manifesto that ‘sold’ the vision of the whole development to their politicians, the media and fellow council workers.
This was then adapted to promote and market the concept to the general public.
The characteristics of the public-facing inspirational material are: –
- A clear graphics ‘house style’ is used on everything – the typefaces, colours and approach to diagrams and plans is consistent and recognisable
- Bold photography is employed, often featuring large images of the sort of people who want to build their own homes. Short upbeat testimonials are commonly used too
- Creative artistic impressions give people a feel for what can be built. They often show lots of different house types and a wide variety of designs, so that potential private homebuilders get a feel for the range of homes that can be built
- The plans that identify available building plots are easy to understand, plots are easy to understand, with clear Legends. They explain the part of each plot that can be built on, and the area that cannot, and they also identify what space must be allocated for any vehicles
- Plot numbers, plot areas and plot prices are clearly set out in simple tables
- Where plots are released in phases and they have a dedicated theme – for example single storey homes, a ‘villa quarter’ or live-work properties – the images used (which are often large library photographs) reflect and reinforce this theme
This is one of many Briefing Notes that explain resourcing, planning, land, finance, demand, marketing, consumer support and various technical issues. To see the full range of guidance click here.
For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:
- ‘self and custom built homes’ are properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
- ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
- ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.
Statutory definitions are provided in section 9 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 section 9 which amends the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015.
This Briefing Note will be revised when the Regulations to support the commencement of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 and the Government’s Right to Build policy are finalised.
Plans, illustrations and diagrams
Effective diagrams and good imagery are vital, and can really help people to understand what they can build on their plots
By examining the Dutch documents and websites it’s clear the wording has been ‘polished’ by a good sub-editor or copywriter, and the layout, imagery and design has been coordinated by a professional graphic designer.
Inspire your potential customers
Inspirational material should be eye-catching, clearly understandable to any member of the public, and provoke people to explore further. Test out your material on friends that are not associated with your initiative, and, if possible, make use of experienced copywriters and graphic designers
This material covers items such as ‘Plot Passports’, display panels and site-specific brochures exhibited in ‘Plot Shops’ or at key information points (and the equivalent material hosted on websites).
Everything should also be laid out in the common ‘house style’.
The wording, however, will probably be less ‘promotional’ and more about providing hard facts and figures.
Plot Passports are an exercise in brevity. They are seen as a key information tool that provides a simple and succinct summary of the design parameters for each plot. They add value by acting as a key reference point for a plot purchaser, capturing relevant information from the planning permission, design constraints and procedural requirements in an easily understandable and readily accessible format.
Most are typically between one and four pages long and form part of the marketing material available for each plot. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – the Plot Passports that have been developed in the Netherlands are excellent and the authorities there are happy for UK organisations to adapt the concept for use here (as Cherwell District Council is doing for Graven Hill).
See Briefing Note Design Codes and Plot Passports for further information.
Be clear about costs and any rules
Set out the costs of plots and explain any rules, and be very clear about what is included in any prices, and what isn’t
Be careful what you promise
Manage people’s expectations and avoid commitments that cannot be delivered
Display panels produced for the Plot Shop or public meetings need to be large and bold, with clear plans, legends and captions.
TRADITIONAL TECHNICAL MATERIAL
As people progress further along the sales journey they usually require more and more in-depth information, much of it technical, legal or contractual.
Typically this will include items like draft contracts, any rules that the private homebuilders have to comply with (eg timescales/deadline they have to meet, penalties if they are late and other similar items). Where possible they should be produced in Plain English.
If potential private homebuilders raise questions your team must be available and capable of explaining everything.
Technical documents may not need to be rigorously laid out in the same graphics style, and many of them are produced in-house or word processed.
Useful Dutch websites worth exploring include:
The following Case Studies offer useful insight into the issues discussed in this Briefing Note:
Duneland Ecovillage, Scotland
Homemade @ Heartlands, Cornwall
The Acre – Cumnor Hill, Oxfordshire
Orwell Housing Association – affordable self-finish
Serviced Plots at Penkhull, Stoke-On-Trent
Broadhempston CLT, Devon
Third sector private homebuilding projects
56-64 Blenheim Grove, London
Beauly, Scottish Highlands
The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.
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