This article is an excerpt of the original, published here.
- Why themes are important in tying together the messy parts of your business story
- How to make yourself the future, by identifying and highlighting the past
- How to tie in the original spirit of your business as you evolve beyond its original vision
In January, along with an investment from SoftBank, WeWork CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann announced the We Company, a company’s expansion that keeps WeWork as one of its main businesses, along with two new brands WeLive and WeGrow.
The idea of The We Company is one the founders had for WeWork since day one:
Tracing this leap in their company’s scope back to their roots, we investigated how WeWork went from a way to work to a way of life, looking at versions of their website to guide us through its development. In this first part, we discovered five copywriting insights that can enable any company to capture the hearts and minds of customers, fans, and other stakeholders.
In 2010, WeWork’s first website (V1) was only selling New York City “boutique office space” (similar to Adam and Miguel’s previous business, GreenDesk). The website described WeWork as “beautiful, functional, flexible” and promised to provide “a collaborative and creative environment where innovative businesses and individuals can flourish.”
In contrast with its sparse subject matter, the writing style was unabashedly aspirational, promising to revolutionize the workplace and to be a place “where people come together to create something greater than themselves.” It aimed high, telling customers in deliberate all caps, “WE ARE ONE,” even when they only had 350 members.
This spirit was cultivated by WeWork’s chief brand officer Rebekah, who also happens to be Adam’s wife. We write more about her pivotal impact on WeWork’s direction in the full version of this article.
In 2012, WeWork updated their website to V2. They now wrote of their mission, “In addition to satisfying our members’ practical needs, to empower and inspire them to grow — personally and financially.” While V1 had already demonstrated an emphasis on community, V2 made a stronger promise to help smaller companies and entrepreneurs succeed.
A young Steve Jobs once considered the computer to be the bicycle for the mind. These days, people (like this one) take that analogy even further, claiming that technology gives people superpowers. WeWork uses their language to be emotionally consistent with this claim, invoking words like, “creating, connecting, collaborating and innovating” and emphasizing creator culture and growth. Overuse has unfortunately drained each of these words of the power they once held. If we were to revert them to their original meaning, we can consider the significance of each one:
- Creating has a prominent, borderline-mystical narrative and history
- Connecting has religious and, because of social media, technological connotations
- Collaborating is about bringing people together
- Innovating conveys progress and a better tomorrow
Creating, connecting and collaborating were all themes that were present in V1, but were more emphasized in V2. By placing its brand new members section at the top of the homepage, WeWork brought these values to the forefront. Adding innovation to the mix encourages creation, connection, and collaboration towards change.
In V3 of the WeWork website, the site says, “Our members run the gamut — startups, small businesses, freelancers, writers, independent film makers, you name it.”
Amidst their many different types of customers, WeWork ties them together, saying, “One thing they all share is an entrepreneurial spirit.” Not only does WeWork unify all of their customers, they also ascribe the themes of “entrepreneurial” and “community” to them. They also set the expectation that by paying for WeWork, you become a part of this exclusive, diverse, entrepreneurial community.
One more notable point: their hero text, “Do What You Love,” combines their workspace business with their higher calling. There were mentions of creating, collaborating, and connecting in the “What is WeWork” and “Who We Are” sections. Innovation only showed up in a member testimonial, not in WeWork’s writing. V3 also features much more prominent images of their actual workspaces than V2 did.
In later 2014, V4 of WeWork’s website promised “the space, community, and services you need to create your life’s work.”
The writing was heavy on community and creating in this version, from the “Join our community of creators,” slogan to “WeWork is a platform for creators.” Even V4’s member section was called “Our community of creators.” Below it, they built on their technology capabilities, showing off mobile apps, encouraging customers to “stay connected and stay productive.”
Between the rise in independent contractors, freelancers, non-traditional occupations (e.g., professional Fortnite player), and platforms facilitating exchanges, these changes fuel a change in zeitgeist. More and more people make a living without the traditional, 9–5, corporate life that drove the prior generation. WeWork’s own business of renting out office real estate to entrepreneurs is a symptom of this.
And yet the focus on community serves a strategic purpose. Corporations with deep pockets, expanding needs, and a desperation to provide trendy amenities to their employees, could be open to signing longer-term rentals. The community focus would provide their many employees, or potential hires, with a cool place to work.
Additionally, “productivity” makes its first appearance as a theme. It’s a step away from the previously more spiritual tone. There were still mentions of “your life’s work” and other creative endeavours, but this was the first reference to how efficient and focused employees would be in the space. The “Our Spaces” section said membership “gives you access to our locations in cities around the world.” Prioritizing productivity and international access are key to a more serious tone and an audience of bigger businesses.
In V5, WeWork toned its website to better suit its increasingly corporate audience. The header said, “Space to Elevate Work,” the only trace of its previous voice is the word, “Elevate.” It also cut away “creating” after the emphasis on it in V4. “Innovation” came back after fading out in V3, “connection” was still a constant, and productivity showed up again after its introduction in V4, to continue to appeal to bigger enterprises.
Right below the fold, WeWork promises they’re the place “Where Company Becomes Community.” It’s a strong positioning move: Identifying the antiquated standard, and making themselves represent the changing standard.
Many companies do only the latter, like Lambda School’s “Your new tech career starts here,” and General Assembly’s “We are the future of work.” Explicitly calling out the current, outdated, standard could make each of their statements stronger.
In the update at the beginning of June 2019 (V5.5), the header is “Revolutionize your workplace,” a bit of a throwback to V1’s claim that WeWork was “revolutionizing the traditional definition of the workplace.” Where it used to tell people they sell revolution, now they show it.
For example, rather than specifically highlighting only their large companies, they also show off their range of members with these new case studies, whose links are hosted under the new “Ideas by We” publication (more on that in a future article). It’s not a sign they ran out of ideas — but instead, that they are returning to the spirit that compelled them to start this business in the first place
Creating (“create soulful spaces”) and innovation (“innovative workplace technologies”) are also present themes, but connection, collaborating, and productivity don’t show up in any copywriting. “Meaningful” and “impactful” have popped up, mirroring the opening line of WeWork’s January rebrand announcement: “Nine years ago, we had an idea. We thought that if we created a community that helped people live life with purpose, we could have a meaningful impact on the world.”
WeWork understands the power of symbols and words, and makes use of higher-level themes and abstract ideas to unify the parts of their image and story that could otherwise get disorganized.
Amidst the constant change, WeWork draws inspirations from their roots as they need. But they constantly evolve beyond their previous website. They write not just for the market they have established themselves in, but for the one they want to expand into next.
Thanks for reading! I’m Herbert, the editorial director at Wonder Shuttle. We’re an editorial studio that works with clients such as Shopify, Wattpad, and Twilio to make publications, resource centers, and technical manuals. Our content canvas is a framework that marketers and strategists use to create useful, contagious content.
As of July 2019, SimilarWeb estimates WeWork’s homepage is visited by 50.2% of 2.92m pageviews.
I wrote this article with editorial manager Carolyn Turgeon’s research and writing contributions. Also, Hafid Fachrudin made the illustration for this article.
If you liked this piece, check out our series deconstructing Slack’s writing: