Why workplace branding matters to corporate culture

Bringing the unique points of a brand to life throughout the workplace can transform a humdrum office with far reaching benefits for employees and organizations.

December 12, 2017

Thoughtful branding can infuse a space with more meaning, warmly welcome guests, and spark employee engagement, pride and productivity. Yet many organizations still seem to consider the job done once they’ve slapped the latest logo on the lobby wall.

“Retailers have long known the role that great branding can play in igniting shoppers’ interest—and loyalty,” says Aaron Spiess, Executive Vice President of Big Red Rooster, JLL’s brand experience team. “It helps people understand what makes the organization behind it special. Now, forward-looking organizations are applying the same principles to their offices, recognizing that it’s not just potential customers who can be inspired by effective branding of a physical environment—thoughtfully designed workplaces can excite and engage employees too.”

Workplaces that work for employees

Although many organizations have brand guidelines for phrases and images, even the best-defined brands are often not fully understood by employees. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 41 percent of employees actually know what differentiates their company’s brand. And 24 percent either disagreed outright or were equivocal about this statement: “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors.”

“Too many employees are disconnected from the brands they represent,” says Speiss. “A physical location that enables teams to experience their brand first-hand as part of their day-to-day work can turn this around.”

It’s not just about impressing the outside world with better brand ambassadors, either. When employees are immersed in an environment that’s clearly, and favorably, unique to their company, they feel a deeper sense of pride in being part of the team. Yet it’s not the norm – a recent JLL survey found that 60 percent of people want more engagement from their workplace.

Branding the workplace can also be especially valuable for recruitment among notoriously job-hopping Millennials, who want more than just a great office—they want a workplace that’s unique and meaningful.

First impressions of a brand—and beyond

A great lobby is the most high-profile branding opportunity, but it’s also just the beginning. “Effective brand experiences are ones that carry throughout the workplace,” says Speiss. “By using the right color palette and graphics, and even the right layouts, workplace designers can help bring to life the corporate culture all the way through from the lobby, to the huddle space in the back corner.

Take JLL’s Chicago headquarters, where design elements reflect its people-first mantra – whether it’s the 20 different types of seating to suit all preferences and requirements to a massive wall of photos highlighting employees doing things they love outside of work.

Clear interpretation of a brand has also worked well at Office Depot’s new headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida. There, the workplace quite literally reflects the brand’s core office supplies business by picturing them in bold oversized graphics, naming common areas after them, and including factoids about them in wayfinding systems. But while it’s literal, it’s also artful, helping to boost support for the renovation among employees.

Breaking through roadblocks

Companies face many challenges in getting their workplace branding right – and timing is just one of them.

“Companies should be thinking about branding even before signing a lease,” says Speiss. “When considered as part of the site selection process, branding can be fully baked into the workplace vision. Simply letting real estate drive the bus, and designing from the shell out, can be very limiting.”

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.

It’s also important to avoid working in a vacuum to understand how branding could play out. “Every element in the workplace, from the layout to paint color and light fixtures, can amplify the brand,” says Speiss. “No single person should govern those decisions – instead organizations should identify areas of opportunity with surveys, one-on-one conversations and benchmarking. Learn how employees are interacting with the brand today to uncover opportunities to improve their future experiences.”

Another challenge is understanding the fine line between brand expression that is simply visually pleasing, and meaningful design that changes the way people work and interact with the organization.

When Hickory Farms sought to reinvigorate its brand and make it cool again, the company relocated its corporate headquarters from Toledo in Ohio to Chicago. The 66-year old company’s smaller, more collaborative office opted for more of a start-up style with carefully selected visible elements that communicate its new vision.

“Authentic brand expression in the workplace should be purposeful and intuitive, not just aesthetic,” says Speiss. “It’s important to think beyond the logo and architecture to craft experiences that have meaning and purpose.”

Organizational leaders are only now beginning to understand the value of branding their work environments but momentum is building, Speiss believes. “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,” he concludes.

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