Brand rating is candid, complicated & controversial

Angry phone calls, hate mails, calling rating process as fake & professionals ignorant, engaging third party to discredit the study and even overt & covert threatening…it seems the builders in this country are too intolerant to accept the harsh reality of their actual brand positioning. Ravi Sinha writes down some of these experiences in the diary.

Ravi Sinha, Real estate journalist, Real estate blogger, Real estate analyst, Real estate brand rating, Diary of a real estate journalist, Property journalist diary, Open letter to builders, Buyer writes to builders, Journalist writes to builders, Property journalists credibility, Credibility of real estate journalists, Media and real estate, Media and property market, Journalists in the property market“Mr. Sinha! I am not happy with your brand rating,” says the angry and hysterical (it sound more theatrical) voice of a builder over the other side of the phone. By now I am used to receiving such angry phone calls.

As a matter of fact, I have rather started enjoying the deep-rooted insecurity of the developers. It is indeed amusing to observe the builders’ easy way out to find fault with the brand rating, media, homebuyers and the entire world at large rather than introspecting as to what can elevate them to a trustworthy brand.

“Excuse me! I am not your Girl Friend to keep you happy. My job is to help the investors make an informed choice in Indian real estate market. I am in no way obliged to keep you in good humour,” I prefer to be firm and nip such discussions in the bud.

Ever since I got into the hitherto-untouched & challenging business of brand rating of Indian real estate developers, I only get the reactions in extreme, depending upon whether the developer has been rated high or low. After all, every builder is a God’s gift to the world of brand, as per his own make-belief metrics.

“But how can you do it?” says another angry voice. My response is, “I have already done it. Do you wish to know the rating process now as how is it done?” Unfortunately, no one is interested in the rating process; all that they wish, want and demand is higher rating for the self which could be showcased and exploited to win over the gullible homebuyers and investors.

Of course, a large universe of the builders wants it for ego massage as well. Showcasing the trophies on the shelf gives them a false sense of superiority; a belief that they have arrived. There is nothing wrong in that, provided they are at the same time not sitting over the scores of dissatisfied buyers and consumer cases.

Brand rating challenges 

In a media market where all the awards and accolades have a price tag, an honest rating & ranking is a shocker for developers

Developers who fail to emerge as Top Ranked try to ‘Convince, Confuse & Corrupt’ the rating and if fail to do so then prefer to Dis-Credit the study  

An honest introspection to understand the Brand Rating and make amends to business practices is not a convenient option for the builders

In a business where most of the companies are non-listed the developers are reluctant to showcase their credentials including the financial figure and yet expect to be top rated

These cribbing of the builders anyway gives me ideas as to how poor is the understanding about brand perception within the sector. And hence, as an exception, when a developer from Mumbai called me to compliment for the last edition of the handbook and at the same time mildly put forward his disappointment with his company’s positioning I was pleasantly surprised. Though the developer too was not happy with his ranking, yet it was a professional conduct, for a change.

“I agree that consumer complaints for project delays are there with our projects,” said a humble voice. “But then you have to understand how much time consuming it is to get clearances in the city. I want to meet you and the team that does the rating to understand where do we as a company lack. I am ready to make changes at the functional level, if it is needed.”

Frankly speaking, such exceptions are few and far between and enough to win my respect, even if it does not reflect in my future rating. I am actually company blind (in terms of my personal opinion and perception) when evaluating the performance of the developers’ brand equity.

A Bangalore-based developer goes on and on. “You don’t understand how will it affect our business?”
My simple and yet curt response is that “I don’t think I am your marketing strategist to think about your marketing goals or strategy.” Some more shouting and I was constrained to give back the offence, “Do you realize that you are talking to a journalist whose phone is on recording mode? I will release your unruly conversation to the media at large.” The developer has been crafty, if not smart, to buy peace now, “No sir! I am not shouting. My voice is like this because I am on the speaker phone.”

One builder even goes to the extent of asking the corrigendum for a published news item in one of the English dailies about our rating and his brand name missing among the top ranked developers. At times I just wonder whether they even know the meaning of corrigendum. Such overt sense of entitlement without any substantial contribution as a brand exposes them as publicity hungry builders.  

Such tantrums also compel me to do some more thorough reference check about the builder, only to find that my rating was actually too liberal assessment. Some very nasty consumer complaints on the Facebook page and other online forums only suggest that their rating should have been even lower.

Do such developers really feel that they own the media because they have advertising clout? And why to blame the builders alone? The conduct of most of the media houses is also that of ‘compromise’ for advertising. When marketing bosses sit over the editor’s heads, then such comprise, give & take and surrender of the soul (read editorial integrity) is inevitable.

“We completely reject your rating,” says an agitated voice. But then the seriousness of the rejection is such that the same developer is hell bent to discredit the study through a number of third parties, including the anonymous respondents. Ironically, none of these respondents come forward for an honest dialogue, when invited for a frank exchange of ideas.

Like Guerrilla Warfare and Guerrilla Politics, it seems there is Guerrilla Communication by the builders. Upset with the not-so-pleasant finding of Track2Realty Best Practices Report some of the builders resorted to Guerrilla Communication to discredit the study. They sent anonymous information seekers to question the Methodology and Scope of Study. 

Sadly, the kind of stupid questions that they ask exposes their not only identity but also vulnerability in front of this journalist. My dear builders! Please send some smart and academically sound proxies to discredit our journalistic endeavour. It is a different matter that you may still not succeed.

Mind it! While the quest for being top ranked is so high, they at the same time expect the drawing room accolades being bestowed upon them. In a business where the majority of the companies are not listed, the challenge for the rating team is to gather the ‘whatever information’ available in the public domain, and then go for a public perception survey, including the users’ experience.

If you ask any of these cribbing companies to share the actual financial data, they instantly get into their shell. After all, it is India’s arguably the dirtiest business where even the debt is not reported in the books and hence nearly every real estate company claims to be a debt-free company.

“How can you deny us a decent coverage,” growls a developer to the marketing team. “We get the kind of quality coverage that we deserve even with mainline English dailies.” By the way, the developer’s definition of quality coverage is top ranking and when he says he deserves, he means he has the money to buy that out.

Unfortunately for the builders, I have not allowed such marketing compulsions to creep into our system and processes. And hence, I am conscious of the fact that I have more haters than admirers within the built environment of Indian real estate. For a large section of developers, I am a negative person. In a way I am probably a bad omen to be maintained a safe distance with and not invited into even industry events. 

“Who knows he will come and find something negative to write about,” is the apprehension that keeps them at a safe distance from me. That anyway does not restrict my access to the information. It also fails to ensure that I will not be critical about what needs to be criticized. I am a negative person at the end of the day anyway because I have consciously failed to learn how to write positive (read glorifying) stories about negative functioning of the business. Anyway, the developers have enough set of positive journalists who join them for cocktails & dinner and what not.

Developers’ obsession to be in the news headlines and at the top of media publicity (that is how their understanding rests about top of the mind recall) is what has paved my way with love-hate journey of brand rating. They anyway continue to live with this reality that with the kind of money power that they have they can earn any award, trophy or brand rating as per their fancy.

Then there are developers who live within the closed doors of pampered coterie of ‘Yes Men’ who only say what the boss wants to listen. They naturally get disturbed when an outsider knocks the doors with a third party neutral observation through the rating to remind them that they are not as great as they have subconsciously started believing to be.

Of course, there are also some custodians of builders’ cause at large to preach me. “You are hitting the builders left, right & center in these challenging times.”
Now to be fair to my profession such preaching demands that I show them mirror to justify the larger cause of the homebuyers, “Had you thought about it when the buyers were trusting you, my rating would not have dented your credibility today.”

Another most funny defence of the developers being ranked lower or not finding themselves in the top 10 is that they have bagged so many awards from so and so group. Some of them even glorify it in the marketing collaterals as “India’s most awarded real estate developer”.

However, the credibility of such awards is so low that any average homebuyer, and I am not talking about the conscious and discerning breed, nowadays understands what it takes to walk away with an award trophy.

By and large every developer, whether ranked high or low (other than being No. 1) has this to say, “I don’t think I deserve to be rated so low.”
I feel from the next time I should put a disclaimer that all the companies being rated are Number One and not a single company is below that. I wonder whether that will stop them cribbing that we have not been fair to them. 

May be the sector would then love to find a big problematic fish like me in their net of mutual appreciation club. I will also turn from a negative person to a nice guy overnight, with guarantee of earning fame and fortune with the builders. The integrity that the profession of journalism demands has anyway been compromised by the fellow practitioners long time back.


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