The Intersection of Brand and Real Estate in the Experience Economy


“What is a brand?” I have spent the last 20 years searching for the perfect answer—and found there are more books and more definitions about what brands are than there are rush hour commuters walking around Grand Central Terminal.

When I joined CBRE as its chief marketing officer in 2013, our Marketing team focused on finding an answer that we could apply to our own brand as we set out on a re-positioning mission as part of our world-class ambition.

At CBRE, we have homed in on three facets that we think encapsulate what ‘brand’ means to us:

  1. A promise and trust mark to all of our stakeholders,
  2. The inspiration that drives us to be our very best, and
  3. A filter for making business decisions.

We believe that our brand is a key reason why clients choose our company to solve their hardest real estate challenges and why they come back to us for counsel and answers, again and again. For our employees, our brand is the beacon that attracts the best talent who want to build long and meaningful careers. For our shareholders, our brand serves as commitment to performance, integrity and innovation.

We believe that our brand is a key reason why clients choose our company to solve their hardest real estate challenges and why they come back to us for counsel and answers, again and again.

We also recognize that our people work incredibly hard. They have dedicated themselves to a career aligned around building great outcomes for our clients and for each other. A career in the services industry is about so much more than the money. All of those intangibles that make CBRE great and inspire our people to be their very best every day must be encapsulated in our brand.

Our brand is a filter for making business-critical decisions for the company. People we want to hire, companies we seek to acquire, clients we are pursuing, investments we are considering—all of these decisions go through financial and operational filters. At CBRE, we put them through a brand filter, too. We ask, “Will this person, company, client, investment live up to our brand values and forward our mission?”

As we codified our thinking about our own brand, we began contemplating how branding could be applied to the physical workspace to amplify the power and potential of our clients’ built environments. We asked ourselves, “How can brands and real estate intersect with one another?”

Today, we are living in the experience economy, an age where people expect more from their brands. Proliferation of choice—along with the ability to connect with brands one-on-one — have put increased pressure on them to form emotional and lasting bonds with consumers.

Brands create these bonds by being more than a product or a service. They provide meaningful experiences for and with consumers. These experiences are what drive loyalty, purchase and lifetime consumer value.

In other words, the experience of the brand is the brand, and the physical workplace can play a key role in shaping those experiences.

What this creates is a tremendous opportunity in the real estate industry.

When you intersect the physical workplace with the brand, you can create moments of impact. Collectively, these moments of impact can have a transformational effect on clients, shareholders and employees.

We call this intersection “the branded experience.”

So the question becomes, Where can you put brand in your workplace to have these moments of impact? And do they need to be massive and expensive or can they be focused and efficient to have the same effect?

We found answers by looking at the five key areas where companies can create workplace experiences that embody their brands:

  • The places people work: Like offices, cubicles and workstations.
  • The places people collaborate: Meeting rooms, innovation areas, presentation rooms—any area where employees are collectively together doing things around work and the work product.
  • The places people connect: Cafes, common areas, places where you step away from the work and you socialize.
  • The places people routinely encounter each other: The hallways and common areas where workers pass through every day.
  • The places we access: Those structural places like lobbies, parking garages, bathrooms and other facilities.

Walk into any Starbucks, anywhere in the world, and you find a universally consistent, great experience. At Starbucks, it’s more than coffee. It’s a place to connect, share, work and relax. The branded experience that the company creates is why people line up around the block every morning to pay $5 for a cup of coffee.


The Virgin America experience — from the lighting to the entertainment system — is part of their iconic brand. Image Courtesy of Virgin America.

Step onto a Virgin America plane and you immediately know it’s a different kind of airline. From the mood-lit cabins and custom leather seats, to the most advanced entertainment and service systems in the skies, the Virgin America brand experience marries design, technology and service—truly setting it apart.

In San Francisco, Airbnb, a community marketplace that connects people with rental accommodations, modeled their meeting rooms and areas where workers congregate and socialize to resemble Airbnb listings. For instance, a creative room is designed after an Airbnb listing in Milan, Italy.

These designs are in keeping with the company’s message—“a home is where you belong”—and in doing so prove to all Airbnb employees that they work at a place where they belong. As Joe Gebbia, a co-founder of Airbnb, told Wired: “We wanted to design a space that we considered the most creative place on earth.” They believe that if their employees are immersed in the “accommodations experience,” they will become better at connecting customers to the perfect rentals. The experience of the brand is the brand!

These designs are in keeping with the company’s message—“a home is where you belong.”

TED, the nonprofit that runs the widely popular TED Talks series across the globe, had a very common real estate challenge that they turned into a powerful brand moment. When they took down the fake ceilings in their corporate headquarters and exposed the beams, they were left with a literal network of tangled cables that were crucial to every aspect of their daily operations. TED bunched all of their data, Internet and telephony lines — all things that ‘spread’ their communications — and captured them into an interconnected network of multicolored steel channels. Now, they are visibly spreading “Ideas worth spreading”. The result is a physical and effective manifestation of the TED brand in the workplace.

There are other companies like GE, Coca Cola and Harley Davidson that all incorporate their brand into their workplace at moments of impact. In fact, most world-class companies that value their brand as one of their most coveted assets are doing this at some level.

It takes work and investment to successfully intersect brand and the workplace. But the benefits can be truly substantive and powerful. Done right, clients and employees will implicitly and explicitly know and feel the value that your brand delivers. Employees will live the brand’s core message, ultimately strengthening the brand in everything that they do. And everyone who touches your brand will know what makes you … uniquely you.

Paul Suchman is chief marketing officer at CBRE.


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