WeWork's failed IPO has been chewed from almost all angles and will be studied in business schools worldwide. So let's get back to branding basics. In fact, let's first ask why have we skipped all the branding basics when it came to WeWork?
It was Marty Neumeier, who managed to dissect the many aspects that create a brand. According to Marty, a brand is a gut feeling about a product, a company or service.
Boy did WeWork made us feel good. Their prime locations, state-of-the- art interior designs, innovative social environment, social status, a community sense where people really felt a part of and much more. Going to work at a WeWork facility was and still is fresh. Work is no longer just tasks, targets and goals, thanks to WeWork it's fun.
To fuel this feeling WeWork has declared in its initial mission statement “Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness… Philosophically, we believe in bringing comfort and happiness to the workplace,” and promote the ideal that “living a conscious life means choosing to live proactively and with purpose”. Who doesn't want that? And at prime locations with interior design we could never afford as individuals. A dream come true.
So while WeWork nourished a great relationship with its' consumers, creating a first of its kind community, it overlooked a major market segment- the investors. If there is one thing that creates a strong brand it's trust.
I'll say it again - If there is one thing that creates a strong brand it's trust. Contrary to what consumers where presented with, investors saw the bottom line. With a failing business model where too much of WeWork's space dedicated to communal area, membership did not cover the costs. In 2017 Fast Company described WeWork as "The most, losing money, innovative company". Investor's trust was broken and was reiterated loud and clear.
Now let's get back to branding basics. Marty Neumeier in his definition of a brand said: "It's not what you say it is", in this case WeWork's mission statement, "It's what they say it is!", the investors. Unfortunately, WeWork chose to overlook the basics of branding in the false belief that a good story is all you need.
A good brand story is a great start, not to mention a differentiating factor in a saturated market. However, a good story needs to be grounded on great values. These values need to be part of every step and action a company takes. A gap between your actions and values will result in mistrust. It's as simple as that. In this case if we look at WeWork's mission statement of "…living a conscious life means choosing to live proactively and with purpose” and comparing it to the recklessness behavior the company has displayed time and time again (part of which brought to the replacement of Co-Founder, Adam Neumann) created a gap that can no longer be mended bringing to a mistrust by investor.
As Marty Neumeier puts it, "If a brand looks like a duck and swims like a dog-people will mistrust it".
Calling out all brand skeptics out there, who utilize WeWork's case to seed doubt in branding and define a brand's purpose as a smoke screen, there is nothing further from the truth as this articles demonstrates. If anything, WeWork demonstrated that a true brand is much more than just a good story. It takes values, trust, a strong positive correlation between the two and responsibility for a brand to be strong and remain so.