Transforming a staid property company into a dynamic one
The old, stuffy Land Securities has been transformed into bright, engaging LandSec
When Miles Webber joined Land Securities as group corporate affairs and sustainability director in May 2015, he could not have failed to spot the irony that one of Britain’s largest property companies had its headquarters in a rival’s development. Today, the rebranded Landsec is celebrating 18 months in its new headquarters, located in one of its flagship developments in London’s own Victoria – a vast, open plan single floor space with new modular furniture and flexible working – as the company embraces a new way of working, a transformed culture and a new brand identity.
‘We were an old-style formal company, where we produced pink memos in triplicate, and I’m not kidding,’ explains Webber. ‘Today, we’ve gone digital. There is no paper. We’ve changed our tone of voice. There’s no dress code. We are open plan – the walls have come down – but we don’t hot desk. We’ve created neighbourhoods, and you’re always guaranteed a desk in your neighbourhood. It’s all very exciting, and I still get a buzz when I hear people say the new name.
We were an old-style formal company, where we produced pink memos in triplicate
‘I think if you were to ask anyone here Are you the same company as Land Securities in the Strand or are you Landsec in Victoria?, they’d say Landsec. It is not just the physical change. It is the totality of the change. It is the way that we work. It is our physical look and feel. It can be little things, but they are so important. We have a catering bar in the middle of our business lounge [in the new HQ] so that everything is just really easy for people when they arrive.’
Indeed, so successful has been this innovation that Landsec is introducing it into future developments. To be fair to the board, it had long recognised the need for change. Webber was appointed with a remit to change the status quo. ‘When I arrived, they had already started thinking about purpose and had come up with some quite interesting ideas about what the fundamental mission was, what was the purpose of the business and what were its values, and they were all pretty good,’ he explains. ‘The Exco had taken this on as a project. I had some brilliant foundations in place that suggested it wasn’t going to be a huge jump. The key was to accelerate progress, and to explain that all the brand does is to simply amplify that. It becomes the vehicle for delivery, first internally and later externally as and when and how, because remember most of our assets are whatever they are called: they are not called Landsec. Bluewater is Bluewater.’
But Webber concedes that explaining that brand ‘means more than something that you put over the door, that it was something deeper’ was difficult for a 75-year-old property company, that is essentially an asset allocation business. ‘It needed a fair amount of work,’ he says. ‘We had to go on a What is a brand? journey, and, when we got to that point, then say We’re going to pivot away from what we were now into something else.’
The journey started with data. Working with Beaconsfield-based Value Engineers, Landsec conducted both quantitative and qualitative surveys, tracking its perception against peers in the industry. There were about 60 to 70 direct interviews ‘which were so rich in data around who we were, how customers perceived us, our strengths and weaknesses’. Known internally as ‘customers by the power of four’, the stakeholders polled included employees – ‘they were so much a part of this process, we co-created with them’; partners, which included supply chain plus investors; customers, which accounted for about 40 per cent of the surveys and ranged from customers of customers, such as shoppers, to clients leasing floors in a development; and communities, which included politicians, local authorities and community partners.
Webber explains that the data ‘confirmed our belief that we were a thoughtful company that had a pedigree against our competitors. Land Securities was regarded slightly differently, which was great because we thought that’. But conversely such strengths were also held up as weaknesses, with respondents querying whether the company was actually arrogant and aloof. Indeed, one respondent claimed that Land Securities regarded itself ‘as the Goldman Sachs of the property world’.
Our existing customers loved us, thought we were brilliant, but it was an absolute wall of silence beyond that principal circle. The penetration of our brand fell off a cliff
Value Engineers took all the responses and distilled them into a ‘circle of love’. Webber explains: ‘There are people in the circle of love for Apple who would queue up if the company brought out an empty box. They would sleep out overnight to get it because they love everything Apple. But yet the Apple brand penetrates beyond this circle. Our circle of love was pretty intense. Our existing customers loved us, thought we were brilliant, but it was an absolute wall of silence beyond that principal circle. The penetration of our brand fell off a cliff.’
Disappointingly, customers just outside the circle also did not think Landsec had a great reputation for customer service. The problem was that Land Securities had adopted a myopic view, and had simply listened to the inner circle all the time.
‘There’s a level of customer that does not care about our brand, they go to Bluewater or Trinity Leeds and don’t worry about Landsec – it is kind of irrelevant for them – but our B2B customers are looking for us,’ he adds. ‘For River Island or Topman or Apple, knowing who your landlord is and knowing that they will deliver the environment that is critical to them is important.’
Indeed, when property decision makers were asked Who would be your landlord of choice?, Landsec was shocked to see how low down the list it appeared. And when they were asked which assets Landsec owned, they failed to name them, incorrectly citing The Gherkin (Safra) and the Cheesegrater skyscraper (CC Land).
‘There was no sense of who we were, let alone choosing us as their preferred suppliers in the property space,’ he adds. But the findings also emphasised how generic the property industry was. Respondents were apathetic about which property company they worked with because they didn’t really understand the differences between them. ‘The drive to be distinctive was really fundamental,’ says Webber. ‘When we asked customers the top seven factors driving their decision, the first two were obvious – location and asset, followed by price – but the next five were all value judgments, such as customer service, based on their perception of a company, and on those we were trailing our competitors.’
But Webber concedes that, while it was generic in the main, some competitors had ‘become more insightful and innovative in their customer development’, adding: ‘We had become focused on the capital allocation side of our business rather than the delivery part. While that’s important, because that is our overwhelming reason to exist, we must provide a fantastic and credible experience for customers because that drives the fundamental business.’
Having crunched the findings from its data audit, Webber took the decision not to ask Value Engineers to propose a strategic solution but instead held a second tender for an agency to undertake the next stage of the journey. ‘It was clear to me that the data had to stand and fall on its own to ensure the integrity of the project,’ he explains. ‘We brought in another agency to help us with the answers.’
When he presented the Exco, and then the board, with the findings to date, Webber promised that the next stage of the brand development would drive Landsec’s net promoter score up. ‘We really thought about what the data was telling us, and therefore what it was suggesting to us, and we then went on the most fantastic journey of co-collaboration with our people, which for me was the perhaps the most exciting part of the process.’
Having developed its mission and purpose, the next stage was to distil these into a brand idea. ‘We brought customers into the room. We had seven or eight workshops where we brought in a mix of our ‘customers by the power of four’. Shoppers were offered £50 to join a focus group to talk about what they felt about their day at Bluewater, say.’ The purpose of the workshops was to reflect on the findings of the audit, creating a brand idea that captured these but also took the business forward in a distinctive way that allowed all our people to find their role in it.
‘For me, Landsec’s purpose had to be every single day. It had to everything you did when you came into work. It had to meet that NASA test, where JF Kennedy asks the janitor what he is doing and he replies Helping to put a man on the moon. That was the test for us: could we get to that level in a rather staid property company?’ says Webber. ‘Could we get the guys on our security desk to tell you what the brand idea was?’
For me, Landsec’s purpose had to be every single day. It had to everything you did when you came into work.
Working with Covent Garden-based Pollit & Partners, Webber and his team spent the next six months trying to achieve that ideal. ‘I have to say they were absolutely superb,’ he adds. The brand idea evolved into Everything is experience. ‘It was a deliberate play on ‘experience is everything’, which everybody knows. There were a couple of reasons for this. The experience bit is a bit ying yang. The experience bit is us. It’s the trust in us – we’ve got the experience when the markets get a bit choppy: we’ve lived through every property cycle there has been. For the investment community, that works a treat. The other bit, which was more important for us, was that Everything is experience, so whether you’re working in finance stamping that form, it is how you work with your internal customer, the experience you are providing every single day, that is what you will be measured on.’
The brand was tested in ‘three or four territories’ to see that it resonated across the business. ‘We broke it apart to see how it worked for everybody; would it work for the security guard at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth or for the concierge in the Zig Zag building in Victoria? Would it work for the CEO? Yes, it would.’ After developing the brand book, attention turned to the physical manifestation. The board had always stated that, while happy to come on the journey, the brand name Land Securities was off limits.
‘How often do you get a FTSE 50 company to change its name? Not often.’ Webber justified Landsec as ‘an evolution of the name’. ‘It wasn’t so radical, but when we put the words together in a new font, it became quite exciting. It became a new name of a new company with a new brand idea, a new set of values and a new physical environment. It was unbelievably transformational.’
The last stage of the journey was to embed the brand across the business, and for this Webber recruited his third agency, culture change company Bigrock. All Landsec’s employees were brought to its Victoria headquarters for a series of programmes, known as ‘creating the experiences’.
‘Everyone was put into mixed groups of 40 to 50 people, and we spent an intense few days embedding the brand through a series of customer service programmes, given that that was one of the belters that came out at the beginning,’ he explains. There were three rooms – mind set, process and learning. In the mind set room, staff were encouraged to write down everything about the business that irritated them or that they thought were not right. These anonymous views went straight to the board. They were then encouraged to change their mind set, by thinking about ‘experiences’ the whole time.
We have four people on our brand team who did an audit of every piece of collateral that would have to change. We estimated it would be a couple of hundred items: they came back with 9,500 across the business
‘What am I delivering? How am I delivering it? What is it? What is my experience?’ explains Webber. ‘In the process room, they learned nine skills – tricks and tools – to help them. The learning room was all about understanding what the customer wants, how do you work with them, how do you understand their agenda when they diverge from yours. Again, they learned another nine skills.’
On the final day, the staff were shown three case studies where they were challenged to apply the techniques they had learned. When they were asked if they understood Everything is experience and their role in delivering that, 98 per cent said yes. The Landsec brand made its first external appearance last year with the launch of the company’s annual report, entitled The A – Z of experience, on 12 June.
The writing style was more ‘human’ than in previous years while the photographs of the board were more casual. ‘Physically, the brand change is done,’ says Webber. ‘Changing the domain name was not so easy, there was a little company in South Africa that had Landsec so we had to buy that. These kinds of things – when you get into the mechanics of the delivery – come at you like a train. We have four people on our brand team who did an audit of every piece of collateral that would have to change. We estimated it would be a couple of hundred items: they came back with 9,500 across the business. When you walk down Oxford Street and spot a CCTV camera that says Land Securities, you’ve got to be relaxed. It will eventually all get done.’