Using branding to build social media to build trust—nice!
Dennis Murray had an old problem with a unique twist. Murray had a strong concept for an online community—use social media to generate interaction in the physical community around us. But while he had all the smarts for new media, Murray needed some good, old-fashioned, real-world brand engagement to make it all happen.
The Homesweet idea
So here’s Murray’s idea: It used to be that you could go out and leave your back door unlocked; everyone knew their neighbours and the kids in the street all played together after school. Things have changed. Technology has shrunk the globe but those living right next to us are now virtual strangers.
Enter Homesweet, a closed social network that hopes to reconnect people with old-fashioned values: neighbourliness and safety through familiarity and support.
It’s about winding back the clock to when we all knew our neighbours and we felt safe and secure in our own homes, says Homesweet founder Dennis Murray.
“Despite the growth in social networking worldwide, there’s a feeling of disengagement from your local community. People tend not to know their neighbours,” he says. “There’s a need for something like Homesweet that brings together like-minded people and connects them with local service providers within an atmosphere of trustworthiness, and builds their collective sense of belonging to their community.”
Daniel Thurston, owner of 4i’s, became involved while the idea was still a nameless concept.
While other online social networks are open to anyone anywhere, Homesweet creates ‘socio-local networks’: neighbourhoods confined to natural geographical groupings of people that can contain up to 16,000 households. Members are security checked to ensure everyone’s safety, and can create their own network profile, enabling them to socialise, find and book local services, learn about and promote community and private events, and buy, sell or trade locally.
“As far as we know, it’s a unique concept,” says Thurston.” We conducted research around the world and could find no direct comparison.”
Defining the need
Together with Homesweet chief executive Nicole Phillips, 4i’s designed and administered ‘friends and family’ market research to establish what householders felt was lacking in their community in terms of security and interaction, and to gauge their appetite for products and services that could be delivered by Homesweet. The branding brief emerged once the product, pricing and distribution model had been refined.
“We defined the intrinsic, ‘soft’ qualities of the organisation, distilled its essence into an idea that was sincere and easily expressed, articulated the tangible attributes that would inform the language and behaviour of the brand owners and other internal stakeholders, and then developed a ‘brand expression toolbox’ to help market the business,” explains Thurston. The name, Homesweet, was 4i’s first concrete brand identity output.
Expressing the values
While the brand platform was about connectedness and the benefits of interacting in a friendly, secure environment, it was important to communicate Homesweet’s other values: sustainability, self-determination, and a comforting degree of predictability—Homesweet’s promise is that homeowners in all neighbourhoods will enjoy the same degree of customer service, quality and openness.
“We also wanted to convey professionalism and scale,” says Thurston. “It’s not just some guy cobbling together a bunch of households, providers and advertisers—this is a community-building business with large aspirations and the resources to make it happen.”
The main component of the branding imagery is the cell. As the basic building blocks of life, Thurston says cells are a great metaphor for Homesweet and the concept of neighbourliness.
Bright and playful, they incorporate iconography suggestive of variety and largesse. Additional cells can be made up as required.
“Each of Homesweet’s functions is self-contained, but they all sit together perfectly to ensure easy user access,” says Thurston. “The business is organic and very human-oriented; it will evolve according to the needs of the community.”
Bold colours express the friendliness and richness of the network itself. Homesweet is the opposite of minimalist, pretentious and standoffish, says Thurston.
“We broke down the brand expression elements into a toolbox system, creating a simple modular solution. The stationery, signage and uniforms feature an organic arrangement of cells. The website starts out there, but is built on Web 2.0 functionality. It’s a shell into which members, service providers and advertisers upload their profiles, updates and offers, and then freely interact.”
Engaged at every step
By including Murray and Phillips in every step of the process, 4i’s ensured their continued input and absolute buy-in.
“Because they were so well integrated into the process, they felt comfortable handing the creative problem-solving responsibility over to us,” says Thurston. “They are now living the brand because they’ve been fully immersed in it since conception.”
“The work that 4i’s has done on the branding is absolutely sensational,” says Murray. “The process has been very clean, very focused. We wanted something that had a sense of the old familiar values, a little bit of nostalgia in it. For example we selected the Mini as the brand vehicle because it has those emotions attached to it. As brand developers they fully engaged me in the process of thinking about the whole brand. I couldn’t have asked for more.”