Perception vs Reality: What happens when they don’t match?

This is a really common phenomenon - organisations that are, or aspire to be, one thing and yet are communicating something quite different - and it can be really hard to recognise when you are on the inside looking out.

In 2019, when we started working with Howard Group - a successful 3rd generation family owned property developer and investor in Cambridge - the external perception of who they were and what they did versus the reality, was markedly different. To the outside world Howard Group was seen as a traditional, rather conservative organisation, steeped in history and focused on traditional property assets - like retail and industrial spaces. In reality, they were involved in very exciting developments; such as cutting-edge technology and innovation spaces designed to drive economic growth in the Cambridge market and state-of-the-art student accommodation schemes with innovative financing structures. In addition, Howard Group also dedicates significant time, resource and investment to an entirely different venture, namely providing growth capital funding to companies that are developing purposeful solutions to key social, technological, environmental or humanitarian challenges. This activity however, was effectively completely hidden from external eyes.

Through our conversations with the Howard Group team, their partners and clients we were able to establish, and importantly, evidence that the image they were portraying – and which was being perpetuated in the market - was not the reality. Our task then was what to do about it?

Howard Group


Strategy / Branding / PR / Web / Print & Digital Marketing / Social Media / OOH / Photography / Moving Image / Signage


Graphic Design / Natasha Alker / Steve Edwards
Moving Image / Rob Sulman
Photography / Ian Cummings
PR & Editorial / Sarah Brereton / Linzee Kottman
Social Media / Linzee Kottman
Strategy / Sarah Brereton / Lewis Robinson
Web Build / Banjo Bray

Developing a compelling purpose

We spent the first few months interviewing a number of Howard Group’s clients, partners and stakeholders, gathering clear, objective insights, which pointed to where their strengths were and the challenges they faced. This enabled us to shape a clear purpose for them, one which the whole organisation bought into: “To improve and enrich lives, through responsible investing in people, places and ideas”. Alongside this newly articulated purpose we developed a value proposition that positioned them as astute and creative property developers and collaborative and patient investors, with a focus on delivering lasting, positive impact in everything they do.

Having developed and agreed this insight-lead value proposition, we could then evaluate everything we subsequently created for them against it, to ensure alignment and consistency of messaging.

Re-discovering the brand

At the point at which we started working with Howard Group, it’s brand also perpetuated the traditional, conservative view of the organisation held by so many externally. You could therefore argue that it wasn’t fit for purpose. However, we wanted to investigate the intent behind the original brand, rather than immediately throwing it away and starting again – where, after all is the value in that?!  We spent time with the agency in London who had undertaken the initial rebranding in 2014 to explore and understand the insights that had led them to form the creative direction they did.  It was clear that a lot of the initial rational and insight was still valid, but that in the intervening five years the brand had been interpreted in different ways by other agencies, effectively diluting it and moving it away from the original intent.

Our job therefore, was to rediscover some of this original intent whilst also evolving the brand to truly reflect the new purpose and exciting personality of Howard Group.  It was also important to create a brand framework that enabled Howard Group to take a blended house approach to the development of sub brands. This was particularly important for its growing property portfolio - where distinctive property value propositions required different identities to attract particular audiences. Doing this thoughtfully, incorporating common golden threads that tied these identities back to Howard Group’s overarching brand -  meant we could establish equity for both the property brand and the overall Howard Group brand at the same time.

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