Hold That Pen! Think Branding Before – Not After – You Sign a Lease

Consider this: Will a particular space help you to take your brand to the next level? Does the location align and accentuate your employees’ needs and values?

At the core of JLL’s freshly redesigned Chicago HQ is The Club, a two story coffee bar with iconic views and an aesthetic that rivals a hotel lobby. Image by Steve Hall ©, Hedrich Blessing | Courtesy of JLL/Gensler. 

Before you sign a lease, consider how the location will support and help realize your brand. If you wait until after, you could be stuck with a location, building features, or even neighbors that detract from your ability to build the culture you envision.

Too often, branding is considered after a lease is signed—to the detriment of the overall brand experience. When executed properly and thought of as part of the site selection process, cultivating an immersive brand experience in the workplace can bring organizational culture and values to life in countless ways. It can infuse a space with more meaning, warmly welcome guests, and spark employee engagement, pride, and productivity. Ultimately, successful brand dimensionalization can help organizations deliver the powerful human experiences that are becoming vital in the future of work.

But these advantages are hard won when brand is an afterthought. Similar to retail, the time to think about branding comes well before you sign a lease or engage a designer. Many executives are just starting to learn about the immersive experience retailers have been shaping for their customers for many years.

A variety of textures and materials can be seen throughout JLL’s Chicago HQ that amplify the brand. Image by Steve Hall ©, Hedrich Blessing | Courtesy of JLL/Gensler.

The Power of a Brand to Influence the Human Experience

Retailers have long known the role that great branding can play in igniting shoppers’ interest—and loyalty. Wouldn’t you want the same from your employees? Likewise, some of the world’s best-known brands are retail ‘household names’—those with brick-and-mortar storefronts that convey a message, a conversation and an experience. What if your organization could achieve the same status that would excite and engage your teams?

Forward-looking organizations across all sectors are now realizing that it’s not just potential customers who can be inspired by effective branding of a physical environment. It’s anyone who spends time in the location in question—and who spends more time in a corporate workplace than the employees themselves?

As ambassadors of the brand, employees should want to ‘play in the box’ of the work that they do, and to be surrounded by the brand they deliver. This desire is rooted in the human desire for purpose and relevancy—which can be delivered through an authentic workplace experience.

Unfortunately, many employees are still largely disconnected from the brands they represent, according to a Gallup poll of more than 3,000 randomly chosen workers. Only 41 percent of the respondents strongly agreed with the statement: “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors.” Roughly a quarter (24 percent) either disagreed outright or were equivocal. This proves that too many organizations are failing to help their workers grasp what makes their work unique and significant to the organization. A physical location chosen, shaped and dimensionalized with the desired brand culture in mind can turn this trend around.

At the same time, many organizations are failing to effectively engage their teams. A recent JLL survey shows that 60 percent of people want more engagement from their workplace—which directly influences their motivation to share information and grow within the organization.

Fortunately, proactive real estate strategy can help turn the tide. By successfully infusing a strong brand into the workplace itself, organizations can attract talent, energize employees, and give them the engagement and fulfillment they crave.

JLL’s new Chicago HQ features a café with booth seating and inviting design elements. Image by Steve Hall ©, Hedrich Blessing | Courtesy of JLL/Gensler.

Five Ways to Infuse Brand into Place

Intentional strategic planning as early as possible in the location selection process is integral to the future of your workforce. The following are a few considerations to inform planning and discussions:

  1. Look around now—how do employees currently experience your brand within the work space? Brand begins with the people who experience it, so first and foremost, understand who you are planning for. What are employee wants, desires, and unmet needs in the space you currently occupy? How can dimensionalizing the brand help fill those gaps? Every element in the workplace, i.e. color, lighting, fabric, materials, surface, and color can amplify the brand. Identify areas of opportunity with surveys, one-on-one conversations and benchmarking, both internally and with other peers in the marketplace. Goals in the fact-finding period should be to learn how employees are interacting with the brand at work today, and also how well current practices are feeding their human experience. What can be improved upon in the future?
  2. Does your real estate portfolio align with your brand? Do the actual buildings in which your teams work align with your cultural values and priorities? The larger portfolio can be used to activate real estate as a platform for brand expression when you look beyond traditional measures like cost per square footage and consider the potential of brand alignment in each location decision. Articulating your brand’s unique culture throughout the portfolio decision-making process can help create meaning in processes like site selection and mobility strategy. For example, one company’s brand might be best served with a highly visible central office in a buzzing innovation cluster, while another’s might work better with a footprint that’s spread out across a market, including a few smaller outposts and co-working options. Data-driven processes like demographics and real estate visualization can help organizations see which locations do, or do not, align with brand values.
  3. How can you build out interior areas that allow employees to fully immerse themselves in the brand? To design a space that orchestrates a positive, relevant human experience with the brand, consider how the layout itself can influence a person’s approach to their work. For example, a workforce whose brand champions innovation and independence will not be best served by a cookie-cutter office design. Instead they’ll reap the benefits of an activity-based workplace where privacy and collaboration are both supported.
  4. Why this, instead of that? Investigate the “why” behind every piece of potential brand expression before signing a property contract and/or engaging a designer. Remember, brand does not solely live in the logo or the architecture. It lives in the hearts and minds of people. Authentic brand expression in the workplace should be purposeful and intuitive, not just aesthetic. The newly launched American Express Centurion Lounges serve as a perfect case in point. The company sought to infuse its branding, “the Art of Service,” into its first-ever customer facing dimensional brand experience. These environments have deployed an experience second to none, empowering customers to engage with the American Express brand on their own terms with meaning and purpose. (visit www.thecenturionlounge.com).
  5. Gut-check: Does the space still work with the overarching brand messages? Or does it feel like a contradiction? All the pieces in corporate brand strategy should work in concert together, including the physical space but also extending to marketing and HR. Think of the coordinated effort as an orchestra—every element has to be right, or it sounds off-key.

Each meeting and conference room at JLL’s Chicago HQ is equipped with technology that makes it easier to collaborate and communicate with colleagues and clients. Image by Steve Hall ©, Hedrich Blessing | Courtesy of JLL/Gensler.

Orchestrating Communication, People, and Space

Organizations are just beginning to understand how branded environments can work in line with their overall corporate strategy. As more organizations bring such conversation into the C-Suite, more will tap into the benefits of working together to synchronize a truly immersive brand experience.

So, rather than simply designing from the shell out and letting real estate drive the bus, bring your project management and development team into the brand discussion well before anyone reaches for a contract—and definitely before a lease meets a pen.

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