Unifying a house, all under one roof
The Aster Group is a leading social landlord and housing developer in the South. They provide affordable homes for rent, open market purchase and shared ownership and provide specialist care and support for older and vulnerable people. They own and maintain 28,000 homes and provide housing, care and support to 75,000 customers.
Our indirect involvement with Aster can be tracked back to 2006. Before their merger, we were a creative partner for Testway Housing Association, now an integrated member of the Aster group. Our current partnership with Aster began with a website tender in late 2015 and has resulted in an on-going partnership for on and offline brand activation.
Making ‘One Aster’ a reality
The Aster Group was formed by the coming together of multiple associations, each with their own identities and ways of working. In 2015 Aster realised the structure and brand hierarchy was confusing and misaligned, causing resident communications, business processes and their opportunity for growth to be significantly held back.
We successfully tendered for a new group website designed to help align the fragments of the business, address the online user journeys and streamline digital processes and transactions.
Through our discovery process, it quickly became apparent that although the group had begun the process of unifying the group under a single ‘One Aster’ message, the brand proposition itself needed to be defined and understood, then supported by an identity and visual system that encompassed the changes required, providing firm brand foundations for the future.
So, our journey began with website discovery and quickly transformed into brand definition. Brand discovery started immediately, aware the time sensitive goal was to deliver the group's digital objectives. Workshops were held with senior teams, both customer facing and operationally focussed. The primary outcome was a new brand position that established Aster as a commercial business, not a social landlord. In a considered shift, it was identified that the move was necessary to attract and retain corporate funding, acquire new build opportunities and attract private and shared ownership buyers. This position also helped support the Aster property division that was very successful in its own right.
Beyond the brand definition, we worked closely with the brand and communications teams to develop a new group identity and visual system. A new identity had to showcase a departure from ‘warm and fluffy landlord’ to a grown up, mature and strong property developer. The resulting identity transformed Aster from a lower case, rounded edge word mark and symbol to an all upper case, sophisticated, sans-serif single word mark that created the feel of authority, strength and trust. The word ‘Group’ was also added to the name, a first for Aster, to signify that where there had once been multiple brands and a confusing structure, there was now a single unified, ‘One Aster’ business and brand.
To build the brand we harnessed the value embedded in the identity and brought it to life with a new visual system. The foundation of the system was taken from the A of Aster. The angled line created by the capital A and reflected in the sections removed from the A and the R became the Aster ‘A-line’. A 68.3 degree device that would become a consistent anchor point for all visual communications. In association with the A-line, the brand colours (based on the incumbent but refined after identifying available colour spaces in the competitor landscape) and a visual asset, either image, message or colour led, made up the core components. The resulting system made allowances for creative freedom, but facilitated a consistency and style that would become synonymous with the Aster Group.
Putting the A (on) line
Through our discovery process and audience mapping for the new website, it quickly became clear that the overall digital objective for the business was to be ‘digital by default’. Customers used a mix of on and off line processes which caused front and back office issues and prevented a joined up approach across the business.
In addition to the alignment of online services, the objective was to reposition the brand for customers, corporates and partners, ensuring Aster looked like and behaved like a trusted and reputable property developer with a footprint not only in the South, but nationally.
Our process included staff, customer and stakeholder consultation, audience mapping, user journey definition, site map planning and wireframes, as well as design and development.
The brand was to play a key part in the visual journey. The A-line was prominent and effective in the online space. The website journey was clearly defined for the two primary audiences, new customers and corporates, with a 50/50 gateway signposting each to relevant sections and content. Information was provided for existing customers, but to support the business and brand shift, their signposting was reduced in priority.
3rd party systems were integrated. These included See My Data for existing customers to pay rent, view their history and view statements; Intend – a way for Aster to procure partners; Browsealoud for visually impaired users and Networx to manage the online recruitment process.
The website was built using a Laravel PHP CMS which enabled Aster to build their pages using block types. This provided flexible page templates that retained style consistencies but allowed Aster to build pages around content, not content around fixed templates.
What would a 37% increase in brand recognition do for your business?
We made it happen for Aster. Talk to us about how we can make it happen for you.
Aster – activated
The activation of ‘One Aster’ has gone beyond the identity and website.
We have been actively involved in vehicle livery, literature creative, social media, internal team training and have art directed and provided assets for updates to the Aster sales website.
In addition to the above a key delivery for the brand was the review and reposition of the group tone of voice. This process was completed alongside the development of the identity and visual system. The journey began with a discovery workshop that discussed and evaluated existing communications – how words were used, the type of words used, the effectiveness of the language and where it was felt improvements could be made.
We then worked on creating a new voice for the group that was better aligned to the new ‘One Aster’ way of thinking, translated the brand into meaningful copy and one that created consistency and relevancy as a major player in the market.
The new tone is positive, vibrant and confident. It removes jargon and acronyms, remains dynamic, cuts to the point and avoids waffle, introducing short, sharp sentences to maintain punchiness. The key rule of thumb being… don’t write it if you wouldn’t say it out loud!
We provided before and after examples, developed a ‘Guide to Communicating’ and trained internal teams on how to use it and write effectively, both on and off line.
‘A’ successful start, long may it continue.
Since the website went live in January 2016, we have experienced huge success against objectives.
Users doubled from 6,000 to 17,000 in 10 months. Page views increased from 20,000 to 120,000 in the same time period and the bounce rate reduced by 55%.
Against our objective of streamlining and facilitating online support and transactions, the percentage of Aster customers signing up for an online account has risen from 15 to 250 per month and that number continues to grow. Monthly visits to these accounts have also seen significant growth, rising from an average of 100 visits per month to a consistently maintained high of 1200.
The customer call centre has also reported a reduction in calls from an average of 25,000 to 17,000 per month and repairs now reported online have risen from an average of 20 to 200 per month.
From a corporate perspective, the website has helped open the door to numerous new opportunities. Joint ventures with Linden Homes and Galliford Try have resulted in a record new build year in 2016, developing 825 new homes. As a result, Aster were awarded a ‘highly commended’ in the Best Partnership Category at the annual National Housing Awards. The Group's strong governance and financial viability have also enabled them to retain the highest HCA rating possible, G1 and V1, following the regulator's in-depth assessment.
The brand has evolved and embedded itself in the market. Recognition measurement shows an awareness rise of 37%. Aster also have Amy Nettleton as the Chair of the National Housing Federation and the NHF South West Home Ownership Group.
As a group, Aster posted pre-tax profits of £34.1m, a further 20% on previous years and has committed to investing £500m on new homes over the next 5 years.
Our part in building the Aster Group brand may still be in its relative infancy, but the brand is starting to mean more and more by the day. We look forward to supporting and enabling its continued rise to the top.
View the Aster website here
Customer account sign-ups have risen from 15 to 250 per month
37% increase in brand recognition and awareness