The Nova brand and Landsec’s approach to placemaking

Infinite Global’s Tal Donahue talked to Emma Thorne, senior marketing manager for Landsec to discuss the firm’s approach to placemaking, particularly for its flagship London development in Victoria – Nova.

Watch the video, or read the full transcript below.

TD: Thanks for joining us today Emma, could we just start with you giving a brief overview of your role and background? 

ET: I’ve been at Landsec for five years and I’m senior marketing manager with the London marketing team. I oversee commercial development marketing, placemaking, retail, events and communications for the London business.

TD: You mentioned placemaking straight off the bat there! What does the term mean to Landsec and to you personally? 

ET: Placemaking here at Landsec is something that is the key to all of our developments and schemes, whether mixed use, residential or commercial. It’s something that we really want to have at the heart of everything we do. We want it to be the linchpin, the thing that brings together a scheme for residents, workers, the local community, retailers, tourists and visitors. We want the place to be the real heart and hub of everything that we do.

TD: Thinking about where we are speaking today, in the Nova development, what role does physical retail have to play in terms of creating great places, particularly at a time when retail is facing some real challenges? 

ET: Retail is really important in attracting customers and visitors, whilst keeping people who work there happy within that place. We’re lucky in that we’re able to attract a retail in prime central London but that isn’t to say it will always be there. From our point of view, we’d love it to continue and it’s so important – yes you can absolutely shop online, but do you get the same experience that you get when you get into a physical store and see that amazing fit out? You definitely can’t eat online so you still need your restaurants!

TD: You mentioned various stakeholders there in terms of people, how important is a people-first approach to placemaking and where do you start with positioning a placemaking strategy so it resonates with these groups and individuals?  

ET: When we’re creating a placemaking strategy we start right at the beginning of the build. We look at a development’s identity and the vision and values that we want to build within that development. We take those visions and values and put them at the heart of what that brand stands for. That doesn’t just mean the brand-mark, the tone of voice, the website or the brochure. It means how it makes you feel when you enter into a building, or a space, how people interact with you and how you interact with the place as a whole. For example, at the Zig Zag building in Victoria, we wanted to create a building that was sustainable for the environment and gave workers a healthy place to work with fresh air and natural light, which is why we called it the thoughtful building and based our brand and marketing campaign around this.

TD: What you described is almost a key part of the process that we go through when we do our branding projects for a corporate, a law firm or a professional advisory firm, or indeed a property development; we pay close attention to things like heritage and those distinct, unique factors which really connect with stakeholders. You also mentioned websites and brochures for instance, and we call those ‘brand moments’, the moments in which someone is engaging with the brand. What are the other kinds of moments in real estate where people come into contact with the brand? How do you make sure that the vision and the values are being upheld in ‘real’ experiences?  

ET: At Landsec we absolutely believe that everything is experience and this can come in many ways. When you’re bringing a brand to life in a placemaking or retail environment, there’s all sorts of ways to do that. In a retail sense, that could be a ground floor activation – for example at Nova, we wanted to bring a health and well-being element to the space, so we created The Kitchen Garden event. Events are really key for us in bringing the brand to life. However saying that, there are other things that you do to really make that brand and experience. At Landsec, we ensure every touch-point within an office, a retail space, or anything that we develop at ground-floor exemplifies our brand. That could be the concierge staff smiling and saying hello as you walk through the building, making sure passes are ready for people going to their meetings, there is great Wi-Fi access or that there are umbrellas at ground floor for when it rains. All of that adds to the experience brings that brand to life through those moments and touch points.

TD: We’re sitting in Nova today so tell us about ‘brand Nova’. What does Nova mean? What were the ideas and the process that went into creating this place brand? 

ET: Nova is the jewel in the crown of our Victoria redevelopment. Landsec has spent the last ten years redeveloping the whole of Victoria – from 62 Buckingham Gate right the way down to Nova by Victoria Station. Nova is an island site made up of 170 residential apartments, two office buildings – Nova North and Nova South – and what we now call Nova at ground floor which is a collection of exciting restaurants, One Rebel and Flight Club. Those are two newest signings, which are really amazing and have really brought the place to life.

When we started at Nova you would look at it and say ‘we’ve got all of these different things, all of these touch points in this 5.5 acre site, how are we going to create a brand that really plays into each of these things?’ You’ve got so many audiences and customers at different levels. We start at the beginning and have our consultation process, we speak to the local residents, retailers, office workers and then we look at who we want to attract. From a retail point of view what’s our strategy? For Nova it was all about food and bringing in new and innovative restaurateurs. We have Jason Atherton opening Hai Cenato, along with Timmy GreenSourced MarketStoke House, some other fantastic brands who make up ground floor. Looking at all these incredible restauranteurs, we had to look at how we made the brand work for those people.

Next you have the residents, for whom we were creating beautiful luxury apartments. So, who are the people that are going to live in those buildings? Who are they and what does Nova mean to them?

Lastly, you’ve then got Nova South and Nova North, which are our work spaces and they were attracting a different type occupier to what perhaps other buildings in the area might have done.

For all these different customers, we tried to create a brand that overarched all of those different groups that didn’t look to supersede any one brand, but that just enhanced and complemented them all. I think we’ve done that with Nova. Overall, we’re really trying to make it a destination that’s accessible for everybody, not just the people who are directly living or working there, so it’s a place that people want to come to and enjoy.

TD: How do you continue to engage with the brands in the scheme to make sure everyone is still partaking in the vision and values you’ve set out for the place you’ve created? How do you keep Nova a holistic experience as opposed to each brand going off and doing their own thing? 

ET: At Landsec we have a dedicated retail marketing team and it is their job to work with all the brands at ground floor; interact with them; to make sure that the marketing strategy that we put together really complements what they’re doing. The team meets with retailers on a weekly, or monthly basis and feeds in the ideas that we’ve got. We then listen to the retailers and see what they’re looking to promote and how we might be able to support that. That might be through support via our digital channels, through some commercialisation or it might be something we can do via our office which is around the corner from Nova. The key is working together as a team to try and create this holistic marketing approach that appeals to everybody. We want to be inclusive, we don’t want to alienate any one market and that can be a challenge. You can’t say that every event or campaign we do, works for everybody because it won’t.

TD: What is your approach to digital in a place like Nova in terms of both capturing data and insights but also creating experiences that bring the brand to life?

ET: Digital Strategy for us is really becoming more prevalent and more important to our whole marketing campaign. We’ve just consolidated all our digital marketing to one agency which is quite an unusual thing for us to do. We feel that this will give us a holistic view across all of our developments.

We are pushing our social channels, working heavily on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We create handles and profiles for each of our developments and we give them personality, creating really interesting content to go on those channels to engage with people when they come to the area. Any of the activations that we do, whether that’s Christmas or a summer campaign, we promote through our digital channels. There is paid social, but equally there are those ‘Instagram Moments’ we look for. We’ll have pop-ups or displays that allow you to take that Instagram-worthy image. We’re also looking at a public art strategy for Nova that is now geared towards the digital world. Now that could be digital art, but equally it could be art that’s Instagram friendly and has that Insta shot that everybody wants to get.

TD: One of the challenges that continually crops up in placemaking is how a long-term perspective is required so that places can evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of communities over time. How important is it for Landsec to have a long-term perspective on the developments that you are creating and curating? 

ET: When we create a placemaking brand, both in a mixed-use and a commercial space, we look at it from the beginning and we say ‘how can this brand evolve?’ I don’t think you can create a brand now and use it to sell that property or lease those spaces. It has to be something that can evolve over time and has built-in flexibility. It doesn’t mean that by evolving your brand that you move away from your original vision and values of what you think that place might be, you’re just evolving it. That’s something that we definitely want to continue to do with all of our future projects.

TD: How far do you feel there is a risk of gentrification if and when a place brand parachutes into a location and jars with the local community. It’s easy for a brand not to match up with the values and history of a place – is that something you’re cognisant of and how do you mitigate that? 

ET: At Landsec, when we invest in an area and want to redevelop the site we are hugely aware that you have so much history and heritage to consider. We really want to try and preserve and recognise that heritage as much as we can.

When we started on the Victoria project ten years ago, we held a lengthy consultation process and that continued through all of the different developments that we’ve done in the area. We hold these sessions to let people come to us to give their views and we listen. That’s everybody from existing residents, retailers and office occupiers – we take all of their views and opinions on board and we try as much as we can, to be sympathetic in what we’re creating and developing. We also worked really closely with the council, so for Victoria that’s Westminster, and we work very much hand-in-hand with them to try to ensure that the history, heritage and community of the area isn’t lost.

TD: One of the problems that we see in the market with regards to placemaking is the upfront investment required in good infrastructure and good public realm to make sure that the places are connected and conducive to human interaction. How do you approach the public realm and when do you start thinking about the process? 

ET: When we create a development at Landsec we look at the public realm from day one. The public realm is absolutely at the heart of what we do, particularly in a mixed-use development where you have people interacting on different levels within that scheme. It might be making sure that you’ve got a beautiful park and that green space is maintained and enhanced or it could be the retail and making sure that all of that hangs together nicely so it’s not outside the realms that people can’t access it. For example, if you just open Michelin starred restaurants within a space, you’re going to automatically alienate a huge audience. We look for that real mix of use and users of that space and try to create a place that appeals to everyone.

We also make sure that we’re looking at different providers for services for the community. So that might be bringing yoga classes to the area, ensuring you’ve got lots of cycle spaces or just making sure that interaction between people can happen – that kind of spontaneous meeting of people whether that’s just going for a stroll, grabbing something to eat or just sitting down, it’s all there for people to enjoy.