Whether you’re dealing with iconic buildings or nondescript office blocks, branding can be a tricky business. What is the best way to do it without outshining tenants, or, worst-case scenario, deterring them altogether? What are the branding solutions when two tenants want a presence on ground level, or if different tenants occupy all floors of a building? Issues like long-term letting potential, public perception and facilities management all come into play, say the experts, and should be considered from the beginning, when the developer gives a brief.
It is particularly critical to consider branding for landmark buildings designed by renowned architects, says Gill Parker, joint managing director for design consultancy BDGworkfutures. “The branding of a building is a delicate and precise process. If the developer doesn’t brand their building effectively, then the press and public will,” she explains. “Swiss Re’s Gherkin is an example of this. It is harder for potential tenants to envisage how they would take ownership of space in that building when it will always be so associated with another business.”
The branding for the Gherkin should have focused more on user impact, says Parker. “Everybody knows what it looks like but very few people know how it functions as a building. We need to know what it would be like to work in it.”
The same concerns arise with the Ark in Hammersmith and the Shard of Glass at London Bridge. Paul Chapman, who leads the CareyJones interiors team in London, says that developers are becoming a lot more conscious, in a declining market, of needing to take in multiple tenants.
The branding approach depends on the building, says Chapman. You’ve either got a building let floor by floor, each with its own brand – so the main reception has to be fairly neutral – or you have one or two high profile tenants who want a presence in the atrium.
“Developers are starting to look at multiple entrances, or different addresses, as it gives a chance to have two major tenants without a conflict of the perceived building ownership,” says Chapman. An issue arose, he says, when CareyJones worked with L’Oreal’s building, which has multiple brands (Lancombe, Garnier etc) that wanted to maintain their own image. The solution was to bring them all under the banner of L’Oreal and create a unique “point of entry” on each floor. But maintenance costs were a consideration, so it had to be carefully designed.
“You want to find a way of focusing on individual brands, but you don’t want to do bespoke branding,” says Chapman. “You introduce temporary branding (with signs, artwork, carpets, wall coverings) so you can adjust later without changing the base materials.”
“There isn’t a solution to every problem,” he continues, “but you do have to think about brand early in the design of a building.” Often times, though, a building all on its own can say an immeasurable amount about a company’s brand. Hewlett and Portford Homes chose to take space in a CareyJones building in Thorpe Park, Leeds, because it fulfilled their functional needs and matched the image and brand they wished to portray. The fit outs for both tenants each took references from the base building but produced interiors that gave a different feel and different perception of the messages and brand.
Niall Henry, managing director for brand consultancy ICO, agrees that brand goes far beyond a logo on the wall or anything that could be added after a building is completed. “A brand for us is about the initial vision for the building, and that comes down to the relationship between the architect and the developer and the experience they are trying to create,” he says. He doesn’t agree with the people who say that branding for iconic buildings like the Gherkin has been done the wrong way.
The Gherkin, says Henry, would not be as memorable or resonant had it been called City Tower as was first intended. “The Gherkin is always going to be bigger than who occupies it, so by association you’re a great company because you’re in a great building,” he says. “The stronger the design, the greater the need for the tenants to step back and be associated with it as an expression of who they are rather than try to take over.”
Henry points out that Transport for London has signed an agreement to lease a chunk of office space at the Renzo Piano-designed Shard of Glass. “They’re just very excited to be going in there, so they’re not going to rename it TfL Shard, even though Ken Livingstone has quite a big ego and he’d probably love to do that.”
As far as multiple tenants go, “money talks,” Henry says. “If someone wants to pay a lot of money and says, ‘We’re going to take most of the building, so it’s going to be our branding,’ then there is not a lot you can do about it.” He believes, though, that the best branding is subtle and is about experience in a building. Signage, for example, should be designed for function and should not be about companies flashing their colours around (advertising firms, he’s talking to you).
“If all aspects of the building are designed well, then the people who use it will have a good experience and therefore, by association, it will be good for your brand. It’s another component of brand.”