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The future is bright: Deenie Lee on marketing & apprentices

Deenie Lee is marketing expert and director of Lagom Marketing and the Property Marketing Strategists. Working with property investors and operators, as well as in further and higher education, Deenie is passionate about providing more opportunities for young people and changing the perception of apprenticeships. Through her business Lagom Marketing, Deenie provides guidance to businesses that haven’t traditionally considered the scheme, providing strategy for the business and mentoring their marketing apprentices. Deenie also recently launched the Property Marketing Strategists, bringing together property investors, operators and marketing experts, ensuring the sector is future-proof for our post-Covid world.
Deenie Lee Whinney Insurance

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I have worked across education, property and youth marketing. I was part of the team that launched Connexions Card, a loyalty card for young people in further education, and is where my love of working with young people came from. I was also part of the team that reinvigorated the Apprenticeship programme at the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), which came from the Learning & Skills Council’s restructure. When I left NAS and moved into student accommodation it wasn’t long before I had launched an apprenticeship programme across the UK arm of the global student accommodation provider, Campus Living Villages (CLV).

The apprentices I worked with at NAS and CLV have developed extremely successful careers. Their ongoing successes are still some of my proudest career moments. 

You’re passionate about increasing the number of apprenticeships, particularly in the marketing sector where uptake has traditionally been low. You’ve recently launched a service where you mentor and support apprentices. Can you tell us about this and how businesses can take advantage of the new apprenticeship scheme?

The campaign for the apprenticeship programme has made great strides in changing perception in recent years, but it is still too frequently seen as only for chefs, engineers or plumbers. There are over 130 apprenticeships available from accountancy to junior content creator. For many young people who don’t want to go the route of university it can be the perfect way to develop a profession. For companies, it means you can cost-effectively build skills in-house. Yet so many traditional desk-based departments do not consider apprenticeships to build a team, worried about the time and investment to get it started. I’m on a mission to change this by showing it’s an investment with a great return. 

Many start-ups and small businesses may not have the budget for an experienced marketing director, outsourcing to agencies or getting a non-marketing professional in-house to pick up the work. This can sometimes result in patchy marketing. I’m a firm believer in building up an in-house team, with loyal and productive staff often providing the best results. By demystifying the process, I give businesses advice on how to access funding as well as provide strategic marketing direction, mentoring and guiding their apprentice or junior teams. I’ve had great results with busy teams, feeling supported by knowing their apprentice is getting the best support possible. I’m starting to see companies that wouldn’t typically have considered apprenticeships now taking up the offer.

You’re also an entrepreneur, recently launching The Property Marketing Strategists. Can you tell us about this new venture?

As a marketer, I’m passionate about strategy. A great marketing strategy works across the company, propelling your business forward much more effectively, and connecting every facet of the business from the product, customers, staff to sales. It’s about breaking down silos and making sure marketing is part of everyone’s agenda.

My new venture is a joint initiative with fellow marketing consultant Sarah Canning. With over 30 years of experience in property, we noticed property organisations don’t always get the most value from marketing. So after a long walk on the South Bank, The Property Marketing Strategists was born. We’re on a mission to ensure marketing becomes an integral part across the business. Launching only last week, we’ve been overwhelmed with the support from the industry and we’re looking forward to  making a tangible difference in the property sector.

As part of this new venture, you recently published the report Property Marketing Survey. Can you tell us about your findings?

We launched the survey to confirm many hunches we had about how marketing was viewed in the sector. Many proved correct, but we uncovered many more striking things. One of the most notable differences was between what leaders expect a marketing department to be doing and what marketing departments think they should be prioritising. If this isn’t aligned, then we can start to see problems. This also add weight to the argument that marketing professionals need to sit on the board to ensure alignment of purpose across the organisation.Whilst both groups agreed that Brand Development and Reputation was the most important function, surprisingly we saw that 59% of non-marketers thought  this was a top priority, compared to 50% of marketers. Marketers also placed growing the B2C (39%) business above B2B (33%), with non-marketers giving equal weight to B2B and B2C (50%).

On the topic of brand, we found that senior leaders didn’t believe that brand was an essential factor in consumer choice, with over 20% noting brand as unimportant. When delving further into the comments, we discovered a misconception of what a Brand truly is. Non-marketers saw this as a name and logo, not understanding it’s everything,  from the product to how the customer experiences the brand.

The survey is available to download from The Property Marketing Strategists. For those working in the student accommodation, build-to-rent, co-living or private rented sector we’ve also launched a programme of webinars.

I noticed you’ve got a webinar coming up about how the private rental property market has changed due to the Coronavirus crisis. What do you think the future of private rental will look like?

We know Coronavirus has changed the world in the last year. What we don’t yet know is what bits we want to keep and which bits of that change we can’t wait to say goodbye to. How we socialise, learn and live has changed drastically. Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) is one of those sectors that has personally felt all of this. University students were asked to attend universities and then spent much of the term isolated in their student accommodation. Operators and universities had to adapt quickly to deal with operating a hybrid learning programme, which soon became solely online, and a growing infection rate within their local communities.

The sector’s ability to adapt its student residential programmes to online schedules to ensure that students could belong to the community, whether at home or their student premises (whilst still running a building), deserves a lot of credit.

For the next cohort starting in September, we hope that we can live restriction-free, but it feels like the ability to deliver a hybrid of online and in-person learning will not go away. Students will demand flexibility, and maybe they won’t need to be on campus all day, every day, choosing instead to live part at home and part on campus. This will shake up student accommodation as, for so long, their operating and financial models have been based on a 42-week rental contract.

When it comes to long-term renting vs mortgages, even though the government has prioritised supporting first time buyers in the budget, I believe we will see more young people being comfortable with the idea of longer-term renting. The growth of the PBSA market has seen this generation become used to a standard of community living. Plus, we all know lack of housing remains an issue in this country and the idea that you can rent and have a workspace, leisure and health facilities all onsite is attractive. I love the idea of the 15-minute city, and after this last year, we really can all see how beneficial having everything you need within 15 minutes would be.It is a huge opportunity to shake up how we design homes, cities, town centres and offices. At The Property Marketing Strategists, we’ll be at the centre of this debate.

Like a brand’s purpose, marketing can no longer be an afterthought. What’s your advice to any start-up or business thinking about their marketing?

Everything you want your business to be is part of your brand. Your brand is your story, heart, pulse, and what your customers will trust. If you put this at the centre of how you build your company up, you’ll not only start with the very fire that made you want to start a business but you’ll also reap the rewards of benefiting from a strong brand that can aid your growth.

My other piece of advice is to think beyond your start-up objectives. You may focus on your achievements in the first one or two years, which may be small. But think about how it could be scaled and diversify if you chose to in the future. This will help ensure you build flexibility into your brand. 

I’ve worked fast growing clients in the past, but their brand wasn’t designed with flexibility in mind. This can create a costly rebranding exercise or backpedaling to make a brand fit into a new direction or strategy.

What’s next for you?

I’ve an exciting year ahead. Now that The Property Marketing Strategists is up and running, Sarah and I have lots of ideas we are working on to continue to highlight our mission. The Property Marketing Lounge webinar series launches next week, discussing our recent survey results with industry experts. You can book your place in our first episode here or view our upcoming schedule here. With Lagom Marketing, I am excited to be very close to announcing a new relationship with a training provider, making it even easier to get an enthusiastic and hardworking apprentice to work with my clients.